The UK’s Secretary of State for Business and Trade, Kemi Badenoch, hit out at the University of Sussex recently. In an interview with The Times in February, she called out the University’s “high minded” culture among both the students and faculty, pinpointing attitudes towards Africa that inspired her Conservatism. Badenoch studied Computer Systems Engineering at the University of Sussex, gaining her Master of Engineering degree in 2003. She targeted the “snotty, middle-class north Londoners” and “stupid lefty white kids” she felt she interacted with during her time at university, who used their privilege to gain better access to education. 

The Times has recently tipped Badenoch to become future Conservative Party leader, given her close loss to Liz Truss for leader in September 2022 and prominent role in government currently. In the interview, Badenoch began by answering what made her want to become a Conservative, stating that it was her experience at Sussex.

Badenoch later comments that she knew she was Conservative when “being a decent person didn’t get me the money or job position I wanted” in comparison to those around her at university. Badenoch was born in Wimbledon, London, however her family originates from Nigeria, and Badenoch has spoken widely on racism and race relations within the UK. 

Badenoch went on to speak about being driven “insane… [by] how [Sussex students] talked about Africa.” It was the “high-minded” nature among students and faculty only expressing the “need to help Africans” that resulted in her claiming that they “didn’t know what they were talking about.” Badenoch has attributed her loyalty to the Conservative Party to her experiences at university, clashing with those on the political Left throughout her career. 

Image: GOV.UK

Prior to Badenoch’s interview with The Times, she had a long history in Parliament of commenting on race relations and colonialism, particularly within institutions and schools.  Whilst seemingly emphasising her experience of “stupid lefty white kids” during her time at Sussex, Badenoch supported a report compiled by the Commission on Race and Ethnic Disparities that declared Britain was not institutionally racist in April 2021. She clashed with Labour front benchers on the matter during a debate on the report, in which Labour accused the Commission of “cherry-picking data” and “gaslighting”. Badenoch argued that “It is wrong to accuse those who argue for a different approach as being racism deniers or race traitors” and stated that those who think differently should not be hit with racial slurs. 

Badenoch’s parliamentary history shows that she apparently does not believe that Britain ingrained racism, nor did she claim such in the recent interview. Indeed throughout her campaign, she has championed the stance that “our country is falsely criticised as oppressive to minorities.” Rather, her attack appears to be specific to the student and staff body at the University of Sussex, rather than a more generalised claim of racism in the UK. 

Badenoch – then Kemi Adegoke – sent a poignant letter to The Badger in 2000, during her time at Sussex, that relayed her fiery opinions and negative impressions of the paper and her peers. She wrote: “I must point out that I am a poor, black, female, gay (Okay, I’m not but I did think about it once) disabled if you count the myopia, Christian student. I have also been called ‘forrin’. You couldn’t get more minority into one person like that if you tried.”

The letter attacked The Badger’s article topics and target audience and blamed “the more insulated parts of this campus (ENGG)” for her “jaded”, “cynical” and “right wingish” views. Her letter discussed feelings of apathy with the paper’s contents, claiming that “once you’ve read one you’ve read ‘em all.” It seems Badenoch’s recent outburst of disapproval of her time at Sussex is not the first time the University has fallen victim to Badenoch’s wrath. 

There are connections between her dated letter to The Badger and her recent interview with The Times. Most significantly, Badenoch targets the student body as either  “apathetic” towards Students’ Union elections or prone to doing “the exact same thing their predecessor did” if elected. Her opinion on student culture at the University clearly has not changed in the 21 years since she left. 

However, the University has made great strides in race relations in recent years, with new and encouraging modules looking at different global perspectives rather than focusing on a eurocentric narrative. There is an upcoming project looking at the Black student and staff experience at Sussex; those involved have been reached out to for comment on Badenoch’s voiced experience.

Despite Badenoch lashing out at the University of Sussex on multiple occasions, she is recognised on the University website page on their “long and rich history with Africa,” naming Badenoch as a “young trailblazer” alumnus of ‘Sussex in Africa.’

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Sussex Faces Tory MP Badenoch’s Wrath

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