This month, some of the students decided to do something about it. Fourteen black male students posed for photos outside the historic gates of St John’s College, and posted the images on social media. The original post has now been liked more than 5,000 times on Facebook.
Dami Adebayo, one of the students in the photo, explains why they decided to post the image: “Young black men don’t grow up thinking they’ll make it here. They should.”
According to Adebayo, part of the problem is the image of universities like Cambridge.
“A lot of people have this perception that it’s not for the more diverse people — it’s for the posh white male,” he says. “But we’re trying to say if you’re a black male, a black woman — or any type of background — we are here. We do exist here. And we are thriving.”
For Adebayo and the rest of the group, there remains a lack of role models for academic excellence in black communities in Britain — particularly for black men.
“We want to act as role models in what I call the ‘academic lane,'” he says. “Because young black people have lots of great role models in sports, music and acting. But there’s not enough black people out there doing things in an academic capacity that are inspiring the youth to chase those sorts of dreams.”
The students were inspired by a similar project at Yale University. Though, Adebayo concedes that using only men in the photo may have been a mistake.
“In hindsight, we feel that we definitely should have integrated it (with regard to gender), because really we are just trying to say it is for all black youth.”
Adebayo says he hopes that campaigns like this will have an impact on the number of black students applying to Cambridge.
“Just look at who is applying. It’s an incredibly low number (of black people),” he says. “That number has got to increase. It should be as diverse as possible.”
This article originally appeared on Pri.org. Its contents were created separately to USA TODAY.