Oxford's oldest student newspaper

Saturday, July 2, 2022

Why we need to have a conversation about race

Safa Dar encourages the Oxford community to openly discuss the issues surrounding race

It’s no secret that Oxford has a diversity problem: only 13% of accepted applicants in the 2014 admissions cycle were BAME students and, according to statistics collected by OUSU’s Campaign for Racial Awareness and Equality (CRAE), around 59% of BAME students at Oxford reported feeling unwelcome or uneasy due to their race or ethnicity.

Why then, you ask, should we even bother having a conversation that makes all of us (read: some white people) uncomfortable?

When I came to Oxford as a Fresher, enamoured by the diverse faces lining the glossy pages of college prospectuses, I misguidedly believed that the quad of my college, too, would be littered with a similar assortment. Boy, was I wrong: (a) nothing ‘litters’ Oxford quads unless it’s Trinity term, in which case, croquet away and (b) more or less everyone was white.

At first I thought there’d been some mistake: maybe all the BAME students were hiding in a closet somewhere; surely I just hadn’t discovered them yet. But as the weeks passed by I realised that this really was it – Mansfield wasn’t big enough to hide in anyway. Even at my lectures, where students from other colleges would also be present, I struggled to spot another brown person amidst the sea of white faces.

While I listened to my friends in the US and other universities in London talk about their international or BAME friends, I came to accept that most of my peers at Oxford were white, and that if I wanted to fit in here, I’d have to swallow my difference as if it didn’t exist.

The danger of under-representation at places like Oxford is that it can create a sense of comfortable homogeneity for the majority of its students. If you hardly ever come in contact with BAME students, you’re more likely to remain comfortable in your own assumptions about the world and are able to turn your head the other way when it comes to issues of race. It is only when we are confronted with the daily reality of issues surrounding race, such as micro-aggression, that we are forced to think and talk about them. In this ‘Oxford bubble’, it’s easy to think that these issues “don’t affect us”. Yet, it is perhaps all the more important to have this conversation in the places where BAME students are the least visible: to remind our peers, and ourselves, of the challenges that we face. To remind ourselves of the legitimacy of these challenges, and to remind our peers to respect them.

This is a conversation that we need to have, because it is a conversation about living as a community. A community where there exist inequalities which need to be acknowledged, rather than swept under the carpet and hidden like some dirty secret. This is a conversation, not about fear and blame, but about understanding. More importantly, this is a conversation that strives to give the small and scattered BME community in Oxford a voice which, due to lack of numbers, is yet to resound. Perhaps the first step in ensuring that these voices are heard is convincing our JCRs and MCRs to participate in Race 101 workshops run by CRAE. As a responsible community of students, the least we can do is let the conversation begin.

Support student journalism

Student journalism does not come cheap. Now, more than ever, we need your support.

Check out our other content

Most Popular Articles