While Labour politician Khan’s parents moved to Britain from Pakistan, ex-One Direction star Malik was born to English-Pakistani parents in Bradford.
Black History Month organisers condemned the joint campaign between the union and the University of Kent as “ill thought” and “misdirected” before asking whether black icons would be celebrated during Asian Herigage Month in May.
Students have also been quick to criticise the union’s decision, denouncing it as “racist” and “an embarrassment”.
The university’s African-Caribbean Society assured students it had nothing to do with the campaign.
Malik and Khan were chosen as poster boys for Black History Month celebrations at the university alongside Dame Kelly Homes, Shirley Bassey, Sir Trevor McDonald and Britain’s first black professional footballer Arthur Wharton.
Kent’s Student Union President Rory Murray apologised to “any individuals who were upset, uncomfortable or offended by the image shared”.
“Whilst we made every effort to include black & minority ethnic students on the planning for the month, clearly, we haven’t got it right on this occasion. For that, I again apologise and will ensure we do better.
“I am, however, uncomfortable at the level of some of the criticism aimed at those who made this decision as I believe that those black students have equally valid views on their race and culture.
“I hope that the passion ignited in many people in the last 12 hours will continue and that students will become further involved in leading our black and minority ethnic work.”
But Murray’s apology has been blasted as “forced” and “patronising”, with some students even suggesting he should resign as union president.
Kent Union’s star rating on Facebook has also dropped from 4.5 to 1.3 stars as students and graduates have taken to social media to share their outrage.
The University of Kent and Kent Union released a joint statement this morning.
A spokesperson said: “We would like to apologise for any offence or upset caused.
“In the planning stages of Black History Month, Kent Union worked with students to develop a campaign that celebrated a range of ethnic cultures. However, we can see that many of our students disagree with the direction the campaign took and that a mistake was made.
“We are unitedly committed to equality and inclusivity, working hard on behalf of discriminated-against groups, promoting an inclusive culture of equality of opportunity and taking positive action to promote diversity.”