Is the University standing for something or falling short?

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“Loony, entitled, race hustlers” and “hoity-toity grievance mongers” are the names given to the members of the #RhodesMust Fall movement. Denigrated as militant activists, the protests of #RMF have led many media enterprises to call its members childish and unruly. But does the stereotype of students as ‘militant’ and encouraging censorship have any founding?

‘Wait But Why’ has conducted research into the Y Generation in light of their high rate of depression and general unhappiness. We are a generation raised by the baby-boomers whose expectations of life were lower than the reality. We, however, have expectations vastly higher than reality; the Y Generation is, unfortunately, full with people suffering from superiority complexes and ‘middle-class angst’. It is this attitude that has begun to cloud political debate and has given left-wing politics a bad name.

But, contradictory to what the journals such as the Daily Mail and Spectator would have you think, #RMF is not entirely composed of ‘the Y Generation stereotype.’ In fact, #RMF raises some very pertinent and relevant issues around diversity in Oxford, but unfortunately they are issues that are being compromised by the attitudes of its members.

Oxford has never given in to the ‘political correctness’ movement, and undoubtedly it never will. Free and open debate is certainly the most effective way of confronting opposing views. The Oxford Union, one of ‘Britain’s last pillars of free speech’, provides a forum to discuss even some of the most controversial views.

Speaking to the Telegraph, Vice-Chancellor Louise Richardson said “We need to expose our students to ideas that make them uncomfortable so that they can think about why it is that they feel uncomfortable and what it is about those ideas that they object to”.

She, along with other academics, have argued that the Rhodes statue can serve an educational purpose, standing as a reminder of the atrocities Cecil Rhodes committed. Similarly to Richardson, The Oxford chancellor, Lord Patten, says that university is a place where people should engage with ideas, rather than attempt to shut them down. He says, “We should tolerate freedom of speech and freedom of inquiry right across the board. That’s what a liberal, open society is all about”.

Further to this, Patten has said that students in support of the #RMF movement “should think about being educated elsewhere”. He suggests China as an ideal place of study, given that they are not allowed to talk about ‘western values’.

But we should not play the ‘free speech’ card without acknowledging what the #RMF movement is truly about. As the non-white students of Oxford are acutely aware, the university’s student population is overwhelmingly white; however, the solution is not obvious. As more and more graduates struggle in the evermore-competitive job market, Oxford cannot introduce any form of discrimination.

As Richardson says, “In Oxford’s case we are not competing nationally, we are competing internationally. We are competing for funding, we are competing for staff so we are really operating on a global market, which was less true historically.”

Oxford can, however, make efforts to combat internal prejudices. The application process, it has been often claimed, is highly weighted towards those with confidence in interviews who fit the Oxford ‘type’ – i.e. students from private schools. It has also been statistically proven that of two candidates with the same grades, a black student is much less likely to receive and offer than a white student.

Delingpole would have us brush over the atrocities of Rhodes as “autres temps, autres moeurs”, but this would be vastly overlooking the issues and problems that remain in the present day. His claim that Oxford is “colour-blind” is, of course, highly naïve. It is a fact that two hundred years ago the Western world supported slavery of Africans, a business that took away African people’s identities and nationalities, grouping them all under the heading ‘black’, or ‘other’. This notion of ‘otherness’ is still present today, and is a notion that will not disappear without considerable effort from all people of all races. Therefore, to say that Oxford is a fair, unbiased institution is inaccurate as it ignores the racist undercurrents that – unconsciously or otherwise – still govern Western society.

As Richardson puts it, “There are far more important things to be dealt with at this university than whether a statue that stood I am not sure for how many years – stands or falls.”

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