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Students petition for removal of Rhodes statue, protest planned for Tuesday

In the wake of protests following the killing of George Floyd and an upsurge of anti-racist movement across the UK and within Oxford, there have been renewed calls for Oriel College to remove the statue commemorating Cecil Rhodes that currently stands above the city’s high street.

A petition calling for Oriel College to take down the statue currently has – at the time of this article’s publication – over 3,900 signatures. A protest is planned for Tuesday, organised by Rhodes Must Fall Oxford as well as Oxford student groups and Oxford community members. The Facebook event page states it will be peaceful and socially distanced. 

This comes after a statue of Bristol slave trader Edward Colston was toppled and thrown into a harbour during protests on Saturday. The day after, a banner stating “Rhodes, You’re Next” was put up on University Church, opposite Oriel College where the statue currently stands. 

Rhodes was a student at Oriel in the 1870s, and left money to the college on his death in 1902. A prominent imperialist, Rhodes explicitly believed in the superiority of the Anglo-Saxon race and advocated vigorous settler colonialism. A scholarship programme in his name has been awarded to more than 8,000 overseas students. 

The Rhodes Must Fall in Oxford (RMF) campaign began in 2016, with university students calling for the statue to be removed, as well as for better representation of non-white culture in the curriculum and improved measures to combat racial discrimination. The campaign was ultimately unsuccessful, with the college deciding to maintain the statue after alumni threatened to withdraw millions if it was removed. At the time, Oriel stated that the figure is “a reminder of the complexity of history and of the legacies of colonialism”.

A press release by RMF published on Monday stated that Oxford continues to “venerate its racist past” via the maintenance of “colonial iconography and a predominantly white curriculum”. The movement currently describes itself as one “determined to decolonise the space, the curriculum, and the institutional memory at, and to fight intersectional oppression within, Oxford”. As well as the removal of the statue, the movement’s current aims as detailed on their website are tackling broader colonial iconography, reforming the Eurocentric curriculum and addressing the underrepresentation and lack of welfare provision for Black and minority ethnic students and staff. 

Oriel College released a statement 9th June, saying: “Oriel College abhors racism and discrimination in all its forms. The Governing Body are deeply committed to equality within our community at Oriel, the University of Oxford and the wider world.

“As an academic institution we aim to fight prejudice and champion equal opportunities for everyone regardless of race, gender, sexuality or faith. We believe Black Lives Matter and support the right to peaceful protest.

“The power of education is a catalyst for equality and inclusiveness. We understand that we are, and we want to be, a part of the public conversation about the relationship between the study of history, public commemoration, social justice, and educational equality. As a college, we continue to debate and discuss the issues raised by the presence on our site of examples of contested heritage relating to Cecil Rhodes.

“Speaking out against injustice and discrimination is vital and we are committed to doing so. We will continue to examine our practices and strive to improve them to ensure that Oriel is open to students and staff of all backgrounds, and we are determined to build a more equal and inclusive community and society.”

Image credit to Wikimedia Commons.

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