Posted on October 15, 2007

‘No Bongos or Shisha Pipes’: Multicultural College Faces Race Row over Student’s ‘English Party’

London Daily Mail, October 11, 2007

The rugby captain at one of Britain’s most ethnically diverse universities has been forced to apologise after inviting students to an ‘English party’.

Fellow students accused Timothy McLellan of racism after he sent out an invitation to the event, promising ‘no bongos, shisha pipes or Arabic music’.

The backlash was so severe that he has emailed more than 3,000 students at the School of Oriental and African Studies admitting the poster was ‘naive and ill-conceived’.

The law student said he was only trying to make a joke out of the fact so many social events at SOAS, part of the University of London, had ethnic and multicultural themes.

In his email Mr McLellan, 20, said: “The aim of the poster was not to alienate or discriminate but rather to express that this party was, unlike most SOAS events, going to have a more mainstream vibe.

“The choice of the word ‘English’, which I now regret, was not intended to mean that it was a party for white English students but was rather intended to express that the party’s vibe reflected England’s mainstream culture, which in itself is not racially exclusive.

“Equally, the decision to use the examples of bongos, shisha pipes and Arabic music, which I also regret, was not designed as a slur on their respective cultures or to suggest that they are not a valuable part of English multi-culturalism.

“They were simply singled out as typical stereotypes of student life at SOAS.”

Mr McLellan admitted he was wrong not to have said sorry immediately when students first confronted him.

SOAS is thought of as one of the most ‘right-on’ colleges in the country and is the only one specialising in Asia, Africa and the Middle East.

Its patron is the Queen.

Of 3,700 students, more than 1,200 are from outside Europe.

Aileen Puhlmann, co-president of sports and society at the SOAS student union, said: “When I saw the poster I could see the irony in it but at the same time you could make a big deal of it, especially here.

“You could blow it up into something it clearly wasn’t meant to be other than a good night out.”

“It could either make people laugh or offend and, unfortunately, it offended.”

It is understood the event passed off without incident at a pub in Holborn last week.