Scholars choose not to toast Rhodes

Rhodes scholars chose not to toast colonist politician Cecil John Rhodes at their ‘Going Down Dinner’ on Saturday. The dinner signals the end of the class of 2013 Rhodes Scholars two year scholarship at the university.

The Rhodes Trust replied to Cherwell‘s request for comment by saying it was a “a collaborative process with the Scholars to find their preferred wording for the toast this year. The Trust worked with the Scholars to craft a toast for their Going Down, and was happy to do so.

“The Rhodes Trust is proud of its contribution to Oxford. Without these international Scholarships, the student community would be less diverse, and Rhodes Scholars both in Oxford and around the world are keen advocates of social justice. The change to the toast reflected the wishes of the Going Down class, and we propose to actively involve each future Going Down class in the scripting of future toasts.”

British-born Cecil Rhodes was the Prime Minister of Cape Colony in 1890 where he enforced racial segregation policies. Rhodes University in South Africa was named after him, where he set up the Rhodes scholarship which supports selected international postgraduate students to study at Oxford University.

Though the decision to change the toast was an indepedent decision on behalf of the Rhodes Trust and the Rhodes scholars, it was appreciated by the Rhodes Must Fall Campaign, which campaigns against similar homages to Rhodes. They describe themselves as “an organisation determined to decolonise the space, the curriculum, and the institutional memory at, and to fight intersectional oppression within, Oxford”.

They have spent this Trinity term campaigning for greater representation of BME students and greater racial sensitivity. Two events of particular precedence have included their stand against the Oxford Union’s ‘colonial comeback’ poster and their protest outside Oriel College which holds a Cecil Rhodes statue.

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In relation to the most recent event, Rhodes Must Fall stated on their Facebook page: “We honour the hard work of those, both within and outside the Rhodes Community, who unwaveringly dedicated their time and energies to tabling the issue of the toast and raising why it is problematic.

“Rhodes Must Fall Oxford believes that it is through violent cultures and traditions like the toast to Rhodes that the colonial mind-set – which is still alive and well at Oxford, and in Britain in general – sustains itself. We believe that such cultures and traditions have no place in a scholarly environment in the 21st century.

“We further understand that the issue of the toast will be further deliberated on within the Rhodes Community, and will keep a close eye on the developments. We maintain that we will not rest until violent and oppressive practices of this nature are totally eradicated, and oppression itself intersectionally rooted out from Oxford!

“Rhodes is crumbling, and the process of his inevitable fall is well and truly in motion at Oxford!”

Kirandeep Benipal, chair of the Campaign for Racial Awareness and Equality (CRAE) and organising member of Rhodes Must Fall, told Cherwell “I think it’s brilliant. I’m astounded and in awe of the initiative taken by Rhodes scholars who clearly feel the need to deconstruct the narrative of celebratory colonialism which shrouds the ‘prestigious’ scholarship that they hold.

“Rhodes scholars tend to be the most intelligent, forward thinking students on campus- so it’s in many ways, unsurprising that they chose to take the campaign to decolonize to their own community. If Rhodes scholars can recognise how problematic the uncritical celebration of colonial figures is, so can the institution which perpetuates it. The decision not to toast was a powerful act of resistance against the legacy of Rhodes. I commend them.”