Rhodes Must Fall in Oxford (RMFO) held a press conference early Monday morning to layout its new objectives and agenda following Oriel College’s decision January 27 not to remove the statue of Cecil Rhodes that has come to epitomize the movement.
The movement placed significant focus on what they deemed the “dictatorship of a small number of donors” and such donors’ supposed coercive effect on college and university policy. They especially noted the reversal from the listening exercises Oriel promised in December.
They said in their statement, “It is clear that Oriel has been influenced significantly by the threats of donors keen to maintain symbols of Cecil Rhodes, as has been demonstrated by the threats of donors keen to maintain symbols of Cecil Rhodes, as has been demonstrated in a report written by Oriel’s development dictator.”
“Put simply, Oriel sold out.” the collective said. “It sold out when Cecil Rhodes first poured his blood money into the College. And it sold out again when it decided that the voices of wealthy alumni were more important than the voices of the students committed to their direction, protection and care.
This was part of an overarching critique of “the larger problem of the neoliberalisation of higher education which is exemplified by cuts in government spending on education.”
RMFO also emphasized its commitment to free speech and democracy, citing their participation in the Oxford Union debate on January 21 and saying, “We have debated, petitioned, discussed, and listened.” They claimed that motions passed in JCRs and MCRs were indicative of widespread student support for their demands.
RMFO also flipped a critique of their movement, which has argued that they are interested in avoiding uncomfortable debate. They said, “Our campaign has never been about safe spaces. But the Chancellor [Chris Patten] is clearly keen to carve out a safe space of his own, where debates about colonialism can be silenced and swept under the carpet.”
Most significantly, perhaps, the movement released seven demands going forward including a decolonized curriculum, payment for “the work of anti-racist students and staff”, and for the University to “cease public smear campaigns” of the movement.
The press conference continued after the statement with questions from the media.
An uncomfortable moment arose when, pressed for details about other buildings that might be renamed, an organising member cited concern for democracy as a reason not to propose candidates for recontextualisation.
It was also stated that RMFO sees that it has not lost as “the game wasn’t played fairly” and as a result would redouble their efforts.
After the conference, organising member Andre Dallas told Cherwell that, “The wider movement and curriculum changes seem pretty well-perceived. The statue is a more divisive. If after listening exercises, involving all the stakeholders and weighting their views fairly, it was seen as a good idea not to take down the statue, we would be open to that rather than the farce that occurred.”
When pressed, he said that “one of the main critiques of the statue is that it affects more impactfully descendants of those oppressed be colonialism. In my opinion, then, the opinions of those alienated by the icon should be weighted more heavily.
“It is more nuanced than a simple numbers game given that the space is so skewed. A majority of a colonized space ignorant of the crimes of colonialism”, he said, citing that the Provost of Oriel had been unaware of the extent of Rhodes’ crimes, “might not representative.”
Rhodes Must Fall in Oxford’s “manifesto”:
First, we want a reckoning. We want Oxford to acknowledge and confront its role in the ongoing physical and ideological violence of empire. This requires an apology and increased scholarships for black students from Southern Africa.
Second, we want a commitment to recontextualizing iconography celebrating figures of grave injustice. Murderous colonists and slaveholders belong in books and museums, not on the sides of buildings. This requires the removal and rehousing of statues and portraits, and the renaming of buildings.
Third, we want a decolonized curriculum. We want to hear the voices suffocated into silence by a Eurocentric academy. We want to study different systems of knowledge and explore the work of people who deviate from the white Western canon that we are forcefed.
Fourth, we want representation for people of colour at all levels of the university. This requires, amongst other things, blind marked applications and implicit bias training for all academic staff.
Fifth, we want an immediate end to the outright racism people of colour face on campus. We want effective recourse for students, academics and non-academic staff to deal with racist discrimination and harassment. This requires race workshops for all incoming student cohorts. This requires an effective system for students and staff to report incidents of racism, which acknowledges the intersectional way that oppression based on racism interacts with oppression based on class, gender disability, and other grounds.
Sixth, we want the University to take responsibility for the culture it perpetuates. We want the work of anti-racist students and staff to be recognised and institutionalised. This requires payment for our labour. This requires a specific sabbatical position for Race at the Oxford University Students Union and paid Tutor for Race positions at both college and university level.
Seventh, we want the University and all related bodies to cease smear campaigns, and private intimidation, of our movement and our members.