OUSU and JCRs across Oxford have voted to donate money to newly launched student campaign Common Ground, which aims to challenge institutional racism at the university and increase the numbers of BME and lower income candidates applying.
A motion passed last week by Pembroke JCR committed them to a donation of up to £150. It acknowledged that Oxford remains, “overwhelmingly middle class and white, both demographically and in terms of its curricula”, and that Common Ground will “examine Oxford’s colonial past in the context of its present-day inequalities and interrogate Oxford’s imperial legacy.”
Pembroke JCR President, Hope Oloye told Cherwell: “Common Ground sounds like a great campaign.
“Looking at the modern day manifestations of Oxford’s imperialist past is an incredibly worthy cause.”
She continued: “Pembroke JCR is committed to promoting the equality of all of our members and so providing funding for a platform from which we can discuss race that otherwise wouldn’t take place is the least we can do as a body to support our BME members.”
Further JCRs that have donated include Regent’s Park, Hertford, Balliol, Trinity, New, and St Peter’s.
There are also further motions due to be debated in coming weeks.The amounts donated range from £100 to £300.
Only Lincoln JCR voted against proving any money whatsoever.
Oxford University Student Union (OUSU) is giving £350 from its ‘project incubator’ scheme.
The money will come from a discretionary fund that totals £2,000 and that can be donated to any student run project at the University.
Common Ground plans to use the money raised to hold a symposium to debate issues such as the relationship between class, race and admissions, decolonising the curriculum, and what it means in 21st Century Britain to be “young, gifted and black”.
This will take place over the weekend of 10-11 June, alongside talks, poetry readings, film screenings, and art exhibitions.
The project has received national attention from Vogue UK.
In an interview as part of Vogue’s ‘Girl on a Mission’ series, Beth Davies-Kumadiro, one of the founders of the project, defined the project via four key words: decolonise, contest, engage, support. Speaking of decolonisation, she said: “When people from different backgrounds come here, Oxford should make space for us as we are, not just accept the “culturally acceptable to upper class and white” bits, and crush the rest.”
Expanding on the topic of “contest”, Davies-Kumadiro continued: “So much of the status quo is taken for granted as just “what Oxford is like” when freshers arrive.
“Honestly, a lot of elite networking still goes on at Oxford, and the gross over-representation of those from elite backgrounds makes for quite a bizarre social scene.
“You quickly get used to people calling anything they didn’t come across at school “edgy”; there’s some exoticisation of blackness and hair-grabbing; people who wear black-tie regularly also try to throw grime nights.
“At Common Ground we want to disrupt any idea that this kind of behaviour is “normal”. It isn’t. So, we’re calling out the stuff we don’t like, explaining why we don’t like it, and taking the piss out of it a bit.
“Basically, instead of giving up on Oxford, we’re contesting what it can mean to be here.”
A second year student at New College said: “I’m so glad that students are organising to accomplish what the University can’t, or won’t.
“At my college and across the University there’s still a distinct under-representation of students from black and minority ethnic, and more socio-economically deprived communities.
“Clearly something must be done to encourage more people from these backgrounds to apply, and to help ensure that they are valued members of the university when here.”
A spokesperson for Common Ground told Cherwell: “We have had amazing support from most colleges and college reps at every college are organising an event at their [college] for the weekend of the symposium.”
But some in Oxford did oppose the donations.
One Balliol student told Cherwell: “I understand that Oxford is still too white and dominated by the middle and upper classes, but the University is working hard on this and runs a lot of outreach work. Why do we need to donate money towards it as well?”
The campaign follows revelations reported by Cherwell in January that Oxford made an offer to just 45 black applicants at undergraduate level in its 2016 round of admissions, compared to 2,050 to white applicants.
This meant that while 26.3 per cent of white applicants received an offer, just 16.8 per cent of Asian and 16.7 per cent of black applicants did.