Indian student uncorks varsity race row

February 17, 1995

An Indian student's attempt to discover why he was refused entry to the elite Cambridge University Food and Wine Society has left a distinctly bad taste in the mouth.

Udi Goyal's investigation prompted a university inquiry into claims of racism at the heart of the student club.

Mr Goyal, a second-year natural scientist, concealed a tape recorder in his pocket when he went to confront the society's president, undergraduate James Arnold.

On the recording, Mr Arnold is heard to offer Mr Goyal several reasons for being excluded from Cambridge's inner circle of wine appreciation. These include the claim that the Food and Wine Society was "a very English society" and "they don't want one million ethnic minorities".

Mr Goyal was told "to be honest, it's a white society" but also that "if you were a very formal Indian you would easily have been invited" but he was not asked since he was "not a total gentleman". Mr Arnold says on the tape that many of his friends were from ethnic backgrounds but that he had to follow tradition, with regret.

"I'm sorry, there are still some elitist institutions in this university and you are going to have to deal with it," he says.

Rex Thorpe, a junior proctor of the university, investigated Mr Goyal's complaints and interviewed the officers of the society.

Mr Arnold was dismissed as president but Mr Goyal's claim that the society is racist was not substantiated. Dr Thorpe concluded: "The society should be free to operate as before." Mr Arnold will not suffer any further punishment.

The new society president, Stephen Elliott, a fellow of Trinity, said the racial mix of members reflected that of the university. "There are absolutely no racist conditions of entry and never have been," he said. "It is not selective in the sense of cliqueishness. We have meetings in a small room."

He added he asked Mr Arnold to resign for "bringing the society into disrepute". Mr Goyal, who played excerpts from the tape at a student meeting, now claims he is the victim of a backlash.

He said he had been mocked by student newspaper Varsity for trying to create a cause celbre at the same time as standing for the student presidency of Trinity College.

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