A Pembroke student has founded a new initiative to widen access to Afro-Caribbean students.
Hope Oloye, a third year Biomedic at Pembroke, said “Oxford needs to take an active approach” in tackling racial inequality at university level. She is one of many students taking active steps to do so.
Oloye has created a mentorship programme and prize scheme – the Afro-Caribbean Tyler Prize – to improve access for black students. The programme involves an essay competition in which each entrant is given one-to-one support from a current or former Afro-Caribbean Oxford student. This aims to assist the improvement of academic writing and essay skills in the sciences, humanities, and social sciences.
Oloye began working on the new scheme before Lammy accused Oxford of “social apartheid” last week, but emphasised that his comments have helped to highlight the need for change. The data may have been shocking to many, but according to Oloye: “The data’s hardly surprising, you only have to look around Oxford to realise it has a diversity problem.”
Oloye’s decision to found this programme came when she “realised nothing was being done by my college to combat their incredible whiteness”. She emphasised that one third of black offer-holders do not take their place, in contrast to an average of 13% for all other ethnic groups.
Oloye went on to say: “I think we have to be careful not to further propagate the idea that Oxford isn’t a place for black students, because lot of the current discourse has the potential to deter prospective Afro-Caribbean applicants.
“I know so many capable students that didn’t even consider Oxford because they felt like it was an institution solely for white students, which breaks my heart.
“The reality is that not only are they missing out on one-on-one time with leading academics, the university is missing out.”
Speaking about her initiative, Oloye said: “The ultimate success of this scheme will be measured in the evolutionary changes in Oxford’s demographic intake.
“Through the development of academic skills, the creation of culturally relevant contacts at Oxford and the demystification of the University, we hope to increase the submission of strong, confident applications made by Afro-Caribbean students.”
The scheme operates at a specific school in East London but is open to any Afro-Caribbean students across the capital. It concludes with a celebration day held at Pembroke, when those taking part will be able to tour Pembroke and other colleges.
The day will also include a Q&A with a panel of Afro-Caribbean students. The impetus behind the prize giving is to give pupils the chance “to become more familiar with Oxford and, perhaps more importantly, feel that Oxford is in fact a place for them”.
After this year’s success, Oloye wishes to expand the project to inspire younger children across the country in order to “better combat the complex set of societal issues that affect young, black pupils across the UK”.
The programme is aiming to “demystify” the University and to address preconceptions which Oloye believes “can often prevent Afro-Caribbean students from accepting a hard-earned offer”.
Oloye further criticised the University for inequalities amongst their academic staff, saying: “Only 6% of Oxford’s teaching staff are BAME and even fewer are black. How can Oxford claim to be a world leading academic institution, when their research is conducted by the same voices?”
Speaking more about the need for the programme, Oloye said: “As much students hate to admit it, Oxford is a place that opens doors. “Leading law makers, politicians, journalists and academics, have studied here and to break down the deeply entrenched systemic inequalities that Black people face in this country, we need to be in these positions. Only then will we truly see the change we need.”