Rashmi Samant, who had been in news recently for creating history by being elected the president of the Oxford University Student Union (SU), has stepped down after the emergence of her old social media posts that were declared “racist” and “insensitive”.
The posts, some from 2017, included a photo of her visit to Malaysia with the caption “Ching Chang”.
Though Samant claimed the phrase translated from Mandarin to “eat the plants” and was a joke about her being unable to find any vegetarian food at the temple, Chinese students said the term was a reverse Google Translation not used by native Mandarin speakers.
One of her captions was a play of words about the holocaust with a photo at the Berlin Holocaust Memorial.
Issuing an apology about the same, Samant contended this was an attempt at punning on words that was hampered by the fact that she is a “non-native English student” and that she “wouldn’t even dare to be insensitive”.
However, Jewish students have accused her of being “insensitive”.
Samant was also accused of transphobia as she wrote “women, transwomen and men” in one of the posts, thus separating women from transwomen.
The Oxford Campaign for Racial Awareness and Equality (CRAE) has condemned her actions.
Samant has released an open letter of apology after the furore. “Regrettably, I alienated people within our wonderful student community to the extent that they deem me unfit to be the leader they rightfully deserve. I sincerely apologise to every student who has been hurt by my actions or words and seek a chance to gain your trust in me again,” she wrote.
The Oxford University Chinese Society (OUCS) responded to Samant’s initial apology by saying: “Regrettably, we have not yet heard anything directly from Rashmi Samant. Her long-overdue public apology does not seem sincere to the OUCS. In her apology letter, Rashmi seems to be avoiding addressing her mistakes directly, and it does not show her taking responsibility for her insensitivity to race or ignorance towards the trans-community. We cannot see Rashmi as the SU president we ‘rightfully deserve’ or trust.”
The Oxford Student Union Sabbatical Officers issued a statement to apologise for the “hurt and discomfort caused by the actions of the president-elect” and said: “Oxford SU has a no tolerance policy towards discrimination. Racism, transphobia, and anti-Semitism have no place in our organisation.”
A by-election will now be held to choose a new student union president.