Lord Simon Woolley has made British history by becoming the first Black man to be named the head of Cambridge University’s Homerton College. This distinction makes him the first Black man to be appointed the head of an Oxbridge college — “Oxbridge” being a portmanteau of the words “Oxford” and “Cambridge,” the two most prestigious universities in Great Britain — and the third Black person in Oxbridge history to be appointed.
Two Black women — Sonita Alleyne was elected as head of Jesus College, Cambridge in 2019, and Baroness Amos at University College, Oxford in 2020 — have held the role in the past.
The BBC is reporting that Lord Woolley, who is the founder of Operation Black Vote, has also served as the leader of the Race Disparity Unit by then-Prime Minister Theresa May.
“Its history, from its origins in the East end of London, and its values of inclusion, dynamism, and integrity, along with its vision to be a beacon of hope and academic excellence, make this a must-have role,” Lord Woolley said in a statement provided to the BBC.
“He has the vision, purposefulness, and humility to bring together students, staff, and fellows over our shared aspirations to help young people from all backgrounds feel at home at Homerton,” said Dr. Louise Joy, the vice-principal of the university.
Lord Woolley overcame great adversity, as a child, before achieving his position. He grew up in council housing (the British equivalent of American government housing) and was adopted as a child. And even though he initially dropped out of school and graduated with no A-levels (the British equivalent of an American high school diploma), he eventually went back to school and got a master’s degree.
Lord Woolley was knighted, and made an Officer of the British Empire, during Queen Elizabeth’s birthday honors in 2019.