Several societies have condemned Oriel College’s decision not to remove a statue of Cecil Rhodes, in spite of recommendations from an independent commission. The campaign leading the movement, Rhodes Must Fall Oxford, stated that the statue is a “visual marker of the priorities of this institution. It offers a clear public reflection of who the University of Oxford was designed to serve and who it was designed to exploit. By stalling the decision process then refusing to remove it, Oriel College has chosen to reinscribe that violent colonial vision onto our community – locally, nationally, and internationally.”
Rhodes Must Fall in Oxford have called for three criteria to be met by Oriel College: “transparency in correspondence”, “transparency in cost analysis” and to “maintain their prior commitment to removing the monuments”.
Oxford Stand Up To Racism published a statement saying “the decision by Oriel college to keep the statue of white supremacist Cecil Rhodes in place on the college building overlooking the High Street is yet another example of the attempt to deny the demands of the Black Lives Matter movement… Students will be joining the protest [on] Tuesday 25th May to protest Oriel’s decision and to raise the demand that Rhodes Must Fall.”
The Oxford Student Union said: “We are disappointed to hear that Oriel’s Governing Body will not be removing the Rhodes statue due to the regulatory and financial challenges involved in the process. Dismantling systemic racism in Oxford is one of the greatest challenges this university community has faced, but we believe this is no excuse for inaction… Cecil Rhodes is a symbol of colonialism, white supremacy, and racism, all of which have no place in Oriel College, nor any other part of this University.”
They also detailed their action going forward. The Student Union “are in contact with the JCR and MCR at Oriel College and look forward to working with student campaigners on this issue. We ask the Governing Body to reconsider its decision, and listen to the voices of the Oriel students, the students of this University, and the citizens of Oxford as illustrated in the report’s recommendations and proceed with the removal of the statue of Cecil Rhodes.”
Leader of Oxford City Council, Councillor Susan Brown, stated: “I am personally deeply disappointed that Oriel College have chosen today to backtrack on their previous decision to remove the Rhodes statue and ignore the views of the commission on this crucial part of their work. For people in our city this was the most important action that Oriel College could have taken to show an acknowledgement of the discrimination of the past and they have failed to act.
“Whilst it is good news that they are accepting the other recommendations of the commission to address the legacy of colonialism, I fear that these measures will not be enough to inspire confidence without this important symbolic step. The legacy of thinkers like Rhodes still extends long tentacles into our society and it is well past time for all institutions to tackle the difficult issues of colonialism and discrimination.”
A spokesperson for Oxford City Council said “We note the college’s decision not to remove the statue, but we are ready to progress any planning issues should they revise this decision. While the government’s new policies on historic monuments gives the Secretary of State for Communities a final say in any planning approval to remove historic statues and favours ‘retain and explain, it also says each case will be considered on its merits and exceptions can be made.”
Oriel College defended their decision to maintain the statue’s place, saying: “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.”
OULC and OUCA has been contacted for comment. Oriel College declined to give further statement.
Image Credit: Matilda Gettins