All Souls is launching a new scholarship for Caribbean students in an attempt to atone for the legacy of slavery which helped establish its wealth and prestige.
The college’s fellows have agreed to launch an annual scholarship scheme, funding graduates from Caribbean countries to study at Oxford. The college will also give a five-year grant to Codrington College, a higher education college in Barbados.
The scholarship is reportedly intended to recognise and commemorate the suffering of slaves who contributed the college’s success. In 1710 former fellow Christopher Codrington, a slave owner and sugar cane plantation tycoon, endowed the college with £10,000 – a sum worth around £1.5m in today’s money.
The sum, left in Codrington’s will, was used to commission the architect Nicholas Hawksmoor to design the Codrington library, which was opened in 1751 and bears his name to this day.
All Souls is now one of Oxford’s richest colleges, with an endowment approaching £300m, despite admitting no undergraduates. It was one of many Oxford colleges to be implicated in the Paradise Papers revelations, with the college investing funds offshore in the Cayman Islands.
Codrington also established Codrington College in St John, Barbados – an Anglican theological college affiliated with the University of the West Indies which claims to be the oldest theological college in the Western Hemisphere. All Souls intends to give £100,000 to the college over five years.
A spokesperson for the college said: “All Souls is pleased to be funding scholarships for graduate students from the Caribbean, and to support Codrington College in Barbados in this way.”
Common Ground, a student-movement that states its aim as examining “Oxford’s colonial past in the context of present-day racism and classism”, told Cherwell: “Actions which the University take are often characterised by ‘one step forward, two steps back’; small, often tokenistic, changes have consistently been used by the University to bolster its reputation and justify further inaction.
“Thus while we welcome what All Souls have done, we are cautious about endorsing such action until we are sure that it represents only the first step in a process heading towards broad and systemic change in Oxford.”
The move by the college comes after student protests in June last year over Codrington’s legacy. In one protest, Oluwafemi Nylander, a prominent member of Rhodes Must Fall Oxford and campaigner against colonial commemoration at Oxford, stood shirtless outside the High Street entrance to the college, with a chain around his neck and ‘All Slaves College’ painted on his chest in red paint.
Concerning the wider debate over the need for Oxford to address and atone for historical injustice, Common Ground told Cherwell: “[we] want to encourage all members of the University to openly discuss, engage with, and question Oxford’s links with colonialism and it’s disturbing past. Public spaces are, and will always be, political. The people we display and celebrate are expressions of our present day values. The statues we have here in Oxford are not only reflections of the past but indicate our values today.
“Common Ground believe these steps are not enough. We accept these are good steps in the right direction but we want to draw attention to the fact that more needs to be done. We want to push for change such as the re-naming of the Codrington library, and the re-locating of his statue to somewhere like a museum where it can be understood in its colonial context.
“The explicit glorification of a figure such a Codrington is in the context of disproportionally low numbers of black students at Oxford, problematic admissions procedures, and a Eurocentric curriculum. All Souls could, for example, actively work to give much more support to the study of Caribbean history across Oxford and work towards decolonising the archaic Oxford curricula.”
Under All Soul’s new scheme, one scholarship per year will be available to a Master’s or DPhil student who is a resident or national of a Caribbean country. The scholarships will provide the tuition fee and living costs for the student.