Oxford students have expressed disappointment over the response of the Dean, the Very Revd Prof Martyn Percy, to allegations of racism at the Christ Church Porters’ Lodge.

As Cherwell reported in Third Week, two black Oxford students alleged that some porters at Christ Church treated them adversely on the basis of race. In one incident, black students entering the College were asked by a porter whether they were “construction workers”. Porters have also persistently asked a black member of the College to show his Bod card, even as his white guests enter College premises unchallenged.

Responding to the allegations, Professor Percy told Cherwell, “We are sorry that some members of the University appear to have felt it inappropriate to be asked to show their University cards. 

“At the beginning of any academic year, it is normal practice for our Custodians and Porters to ask to see proof of identity on a regular basis for the first month or so.

“This is an especially busy time for tourism. As a newcomer to Christ Church myself, I have also been asked to show my ID on entry on several occasions, and I applaud the thorough and professional approach taken by our porters and custodians.”

Prof Percy’s response has been the subject of vocal criticism. Dylan Collins, a Rhodes Scholar and member of Christ Church, took to social media to voice his concerns.

He said, “I am extremely disappointed in the Dean’s response. I enter and exit the grounds multiple times a day, every day, and have only been asked on one occasion for my identification after a particularly busy Evensong. I’m not sure what the Dean means by ‘regular basis’ or which ‘normal practice’ he refers to.”

Linacre Rhodes Scholar, Paul Amayo, who was asked whether he was a “construction worker”, remarked, “I find the Dean’s comments dismissive and very troubling; he fails to acknowledge not only that a wrong has been done to us but by endorsing and even applauding the porters’ behaviour he ensures that racially biased acts will continue to be carried out under the guise of professionalism.”

Ntokozo Qwabe, a Rhodes Scholar at Keble, labelled the Dean’s response “dismissive” and the “ultimate model of how not to deal with issues of race when they arise”. He added, “[Prof Percy’s comments] reflect a grave lack of leadership and failure to provide direction when needed most. This whole saga shows just what an existential burden it is for a person in black skin to experience racism in supposedly progressive institutions which are dominated and led by white people (who, by necessity, have not ever had to deal with existing in a black skin).

“The correct way of dealing with this case would have been, at the very least, to get all the relevant parties to the table and to begin a conversation about the issues which arise from it.”

OUSU’s newly elected Black & Minority Ethnic Students’ & Anti-Racism Officer, Nikhil Venkatesh commented, “All allegations of racism are very serious, and I was disappointed that the Dean, in his response to this story, dismissed the allegation rather than taking it seriously and promising to investigate it thoroughly.”

Aliya Yule, TeamWomen candidate for OUSU Women’s Campaign Officer, remarked, “By refusing in his statement to even acknowledge that the porters seemed to consistently only ask students of colour for their Bodcards, it indicates the college does not take accusations of racism seriously and is willing to ignore the experiences raised by several students of colour.”

One student, however, “trusted that the Dean will ultimately respond to student concerns appropriately.”

In a fresh response to students’ reactions, Prof Percy told Cherwell, “We do take such matters very seriously, and when they are reported to us, we seek to address them with appropriate rigour. When issues like this come up — very seldom, I am pleased to say — we deal with the concerns carefully and conscientiously. We have no further comment to make regarding the specific incidents that you refer to.”