Students at St Aidan’s College have reversed the decision to cancel a partnership worth thousands with a Ugandan literacy charity after some complained that supporting it would perpetuate a “white saviour trope”.
After complaints from the charity, the Literate Earth Project (LEP), including pointing out that the charity is almost entirely African-led, student organisers clarified that the “demographic challenges” of a predominantly white student population meant it would be “tricky and contentious” to support the charity.
The LEP proceeded to contact St Aidan’s Principal Dr Susan Frenk, who then promised to raise the £4,000 predicted to have come from the fashion show, saying “there will be a lesson for all the students involved” about carrying out consultation before committing to a charity.
The Show has since reversed its decision to cancel the partnership. The “white saviour” concerns were raised after a marketing post on the Fashion Show’s Instagram page, apparently from the charity’s official website, showing images of black children smiling. The charity had not approved the use of the pictures, and were not told the background to the “white saviour” allegations in the initial cancellation of the partnership.
Student organisers of the Aidan’s Fashion Show have not responded to requests for comment, while the University distanced themselves from the decision, saying “opportunities to develop leadership skills” is an important part of “wider student experience”.
LEP states its mission is “to grow inclusive and equitable education initiatives in low and middle income countries by putting books and digital literacy tools in the
hands and minds of children.” It was founded in October 2020 and focuses on establishing libraries and providing books at school and community sites across Uganda.
Trevor Anderson, Chief Operating Officer of LEP, has since said there had been “significant miscommunication” in the process. He added: “discussions about race
are more difficult now than ever but there is a significant portion of the population who feel that a white voice has no place to speak about race and most only listen and follow.
“Even clarifying questions about what a person of colour says can be taken as questioning them, and that is unacceptable to many. Sometimes that leads to a dynamic where someone is guessing about what action they should take, rather than having a productive conversation. This is part of what happened here.
The charity defended the student organisers, saying “I can assure you concerns about white saviourism are not held by the student leaders of the fashion show we have engaged with.
“They, like us, agree that white people should be more than comfortable lending a hand (or money) to a cause that helps people of colour.
“It is absolutely true that such efforts and funding should go to organizations led by those who the organization is attempting to help, which is why our board is majority African”.
“Students of African descent raised completely valid concerns about a marketing post, which our organization wasn’t aware of, that some found to be inappropriate. They encouraged their friends to ask some tough questions of us to ensure our work is actually having an impact rather than, like so many
organizations operating in Africa, just utilizing images of African children to fundraise while often having little, no or even negative impact on the continent. We have since assuaged those concerns.”
The University told Palatinate that the charity continues to have a good relationship with the College, and that the charity will be holding a session on their work to students later this term. A spokesperson said: “Durham University aims to offer a wider student experience to rival the best in the world and opportunities to develop leadership skills are an important part of this.
“The St Aidan’s College Charity Fashion Show is a student-led initiative, with advice and guidance available to student leaders from University staff.”
Image: St Aidan’s College