Collin Edouard, a master’s student at the university, was left “shocked” after an employee prevented him walking into St Catharine’s College this week.
He said he informed the porter he was a student and gave the professor’s name and room number, but was only allowed to continue after a white friend vouched for him.
Mr Edouard told The Independent the experience showed the “implicit bias” faced by black students at Cambridge.
He said: “My experience being grabbed by an employee was traumatising. I felt shocked and I still feel uncomfortable going through porters lodges.
“There is a reason the man felt entitled to grab me as I entered the building. I find it challenging to find another reason other than implicit bias.”
Professor Sir Mark Welland, master of St Catharine’s College, apologised to Mr Edouard for the “unacceptable” treatment he suffered.
But Mr Edouard, who is studying music at Wolfson College, does not want the apology to be seen as a “stopping point” and hopes there will be conversations about the “larger issue”.
Speaking to The Independent, the 32-year-old said: “This is only the beginning of a movement that will hopefully minimise implicit or explicit biases. I encourage people of colour at this institution to speak out regarding any form of injustice.”
In a statement published on the college’s website, Sir Mark said he wished to make a “sincere and public apology” to Mr Edouard.
He said: “While we were taking reasonable measures to secure the premises during a protest nearby, Mr Edouard was initially physically prevented from accessing the college by an employee. This was entirely unacceptable in the context of a student attending a supervision.”
Sir Mark added: “Our processes did not ensure that Mr Edouard was treated with the highest level of respect and courtesy that we aspire to.
“We are aware that, despite our best intentions, he felt singled out based on race and we are truly sorry for the distress this has caused him.”
The college is now investigating the incident and said it would share any learnings with the rest of the university.
It comes after other black students’ experiences have been in the spotlight – with racist chants in student halls and a banana thrown at a black graduate hitting the headlines.
In November last year, the president of one of the most prestigious debating societies in the UK resigned after a blind black Oxford student was reportedly “dragged by his ankles” out of a debate event.
Ebenezer Azamati, a PhD student from Ghana, was removed from the Oxford Union event by a security guard when he tried to return to a seat before the debate began.
An investigation by The Independent revealed the number of racist incidents in universities across the UK surged by more than 60 per cent between 2015 and 2017.