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BREAKING: Oriel College will not remove Rhodes statue after commission’s recommendations

Oriel College’s Governing Body has responded following the results of an independent commission which were revealed by The Guardian last night, choosing not to remove the statue of Cecil Rhodes. The commission advised that the statue was removed alongside a plaque on King Edward Street which features a portrait of Rhodes. They also urged the College to publish a statement that definitively detailed the extent and nature of their association with Rhodes and his legacy.

Oriel College’s statement explained: “The Commission backed the College’s original wish (made in June 2020 and reaffirmed again by the College yesterday), to remove the statue, whilst acknowledging the complex challenges and costs presented by its removal in terms of heritage and planning consent. The Governing Body has carefully considered the regulatory and financial challenges, including the expected time frame for removal, which could run into years with no certainty of outcome, together with the total cost of removal.”

“In light of the considerable obstacles to removal, Oriel’s Governing Body has decided not to begin the legal process for relocation of the memorials. Instead, it is determined to focus its time and resources on delivering the report’s recommendations around the contextualisation of the College’s relationship with Rhodes, as well as improving educational equality, diversity and inclusion amongst its student cohort and academic community.”

Further regarding the statue, they continued: “the Commission’s report also acknowledged the considerable planning and heritage considerations involved in the removal of the statue which is situated on the College’s Grade II* listed High Street building. Removal of the statue would be subject to legal and planning processes involving the City Council, Historic England and the Secretary of State for Housing, Communities and Local Government.”

“The Commission noted that any application for planning permission to remove the memorials is not only likely to face considerable costs, but also complex challenges in the planning process, particularly since the Government’s policy, in relation to historic statues and sites which have become contested, is to ‘retain and explain’ them.

“However, the Governing Body recognised the need for a lasting and visible contextualisation of the Rhodes’ legacy, memorials and historical association with the College.”

Rather than removing the statue, they have agreed to establish a task force to consider the recommendations for the contextualisation of the Rhodes statue within the commission’s report (along with other suggestions) and to oversee their implementation. They will also commission a virtual exhibition to provide “an arena for contextualisation and explanation of the Rhodes legacy and related issues of relevance to the College’s objectives”. Furthermore, they plan to contextualise the Rhodes legacy and memorials in both their physical and virtual formats.

Lord Mendoza, Provost of Oriel College said: “My sincere thanks go to the Chair, Carole Souter and the expert Commission members for delivering an extensive, rigorous and considered academic body of work. It has enabled the College to achieve a productive resolution to a complex series of issues, and most importantly, we can now set-out deliverable measures that can demonstrably improve the educational equality, diversity and inclusion of the College and its community.”

“It has been a careful, finely balanced debate and we are fully aware of the impact our decision is likely to have in the UK and further afield. We understand this nuanced conclusion will be disappointing to some, but we are now focused on the delivery of practical actions aimed at improving outreach and the day-to-day experience of BME students. We are looking forward to working with Oxford City Council on a range of options for contextualisation.”

The commission also recommended that the College fund fellowships in fields related to addressing Rhodes’ legacy, alongside lectures and new outreach initiatives addressing race and colonialism. The report called upon the College to encourage applications from BAME backgrounds. On these, the College responded that the Governing Body has agreed to “create the office of Tutor for Equality, Diversity and Inclusion who will be a Fellow and Trustee of the College, develop a strategic plan for improving educational equality, diversity and inclusion, ensuring it is embedded more formally in the College, fundraise for scholarships to support students from Southern Africa, enact a 2016 decision to have an annual lecture on a topic related to the Rhodes legacy, race, or colonialism, institute an annual student prize (e.g. for an essay, artwork or photography) on a topic related to Rhodes legacy, race, or colonialism, provide additional training for academic and non-academic staff in race awareness, [and] introduce further outreach initiatives targeted at BME student recruitment”.

Oriel College noted: “the funds equivalent to that remaining in the Rhodes legacy will be used to help resource these initiatives”. They continued that “Oriel College has already undertaken a number of initiatives aimed at improving equality and diversity, including a one-off College scholarship for a postgraduate student from Africa, and a yearly donation to the Target Oxbridge programme, which aims to increase the chances of students of Black African and Caribbean heritage, and students of mixed race, getting into the Universities of Oxford or Cambridge.”

“Oriel’s admissions for UK-domiciled BME undergraduates are slightly above the University average (21.5% compared with 21.4% in the three years between 2018 and 2020) and that for students with black African and Caribbean heritage, it is also slightly higher during the same period (3.9% compared with 3.2%).”

The commission’s decision was originally planned to be released in January but was delayed due to the pandemic, along with a “considerable volume of submissions” and their desire to “consider all submissions carefully”. According to Oriel College, the commission “received and reviewed well over a thousand written contributions from students, alumni, associates of the college and the general public. A majority of the submissions to the Commission backed the retention of the statue.

Rhodes Must Fall has been contacted for comment.

Image Credit: alf~commonswiki / CC-BY-SA 3.0

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