A long-running dispute at Oxford University over a statue of Cecil Rhodes, Britain’s imperialist seen by many as the architect of apartheid in South Africa, has gained momentum this week after more than 150 scientists said they would refuse to teach college students where the monument sits. .
The researchers sent a letter to the college saying they would reject claims from Oriel College, one of the university’s 39 self-governing entities. to give lessons to his students and to attend or speak at college-sponsored events, among other activities.
The boycott is the latest high-profile protest in complex calculations taking place in Britain and several other European countries over their colonial past and the slave trade. In museums, public spaces and schools, a long-standing discourse is changing, arguing that colonizing powers have brought “civilization” to African countries, with many critics arguing that too little is being done to counter the past.
On Wednesday, some students at Magdalena College at Oxford University removed a portrait of Queen Elizabeth II, the ruling monarch, arguing that the British monarchy represented colonial history.
The British government has largely opposed such calls, and a cabinet minister promised earlier this year to “save Britain’s statues from awakened fighters”.
“What has stood for generations should be considered carefully, not removed at the whim or command of the damn mob,” said Robert Jenrick, the minister at The Telegraph.
As a result of the Black Lives protests, thousands of protesters gathered in Oxford last June to demand the removal of the Rhodes statue. Protesters across Britain also marched on monuments to Winston Churchill, and in Bristol, protesters tore down a statue of slave trader Edward Colson, whose profits played a major role in building the city. The statue, which was dumped in the city port, is now on display in a museum.
Cities such as Bristol in England or Bordeaux and Nantes, on the Atlantic coast of France, are forced to admit that they have flourished through the enslavement and forced labor of many. Belgium sent its “deepest regrets” to the Democratic Republic of the Congo for the millions of deaths and devastating damage it had caused during decades of colonization, and local authorities in Antwerp removed a statue of King Leopold II who was behind the colonization.
At Oxford College, Oriel has for years broken down over the fate of the statue of Rhodes, a remarkable feature of its main building on one of Oxford’s largest streets. While the governing body of Oriel College said it supported its removal, the college announced last month that it would not remove the statue, citing financial concerns and arguing that the operation “could go on for years without certainty about the outcome.”
Instead, he promised to raise money for scholarships for students from South Africa and to organize an annual lecture on the heritage of Rhodes, among other initiatives.
“We understand that this nuanced conclusion will be disappointing for some, but we are now focused on taking practical action to improve the reach and everyday experience” of blacks and minority ethnic students, college vice-chancellor Neil Mendoza told The Telegraph.
(In addition to serving as vice-chancellor of the college, Mr Mendoza sits in the House of Lords, the upper house of the British Parliament, as a Conservative MP.)
Simukai Chigudu, an associate professor of African studies at Oxford University and one of the academics who initiated the boycott, said Oriel College’s counterfeits were insufficient.
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“For years, Oriel did not give in to the statue,” said Dr. Chigudu. “They are not acting in good faith, so we will not engage in good faith activities with them.”
According to the Oxford University College system, students attend lectures, seminars and sessions in small groups, known as lessons, all created by the college to which they are connected. While professors are also associated with colleges, they can train students from different colleges if needed.
The boycott means that the 150 participating professors who are from other colleges at the university will not teach any of the 300 Oriel students. They will also not participate in conferences or other events organized by the college.
(The boycott will not affect Oriel’s graduate students, as graduate students are enrolled in classes through their Department of Law or Philosophy, for example.)
A representative of Oriel College students did not respond to a request for comment.
Oriel College said in a statement Thursday that the decision by academia not to teach college students would have a “proportionate impact on our students and the wider academic community at Oriel, which we are all obliged to care for.”
Rhodes ‘legacy was contested at Oxford University even before his death: in 1899, 90 scholars signed a petition against Rhodes’ visit to Oriel College for an honorary degree.
“I grew up in Oxford as a child and I remember there were already some problems around the statue in the 1980s,” said Danny Dorling, a professor of geography at the university, who signed the letter, saying the statue’s presence was a stain. For the reputation of the university.
In 2015, students signed a petition and staged a protest against the monument, following the leadership of students from the University of Cape Town in South Africa, who successfully demanded that such a statue of Rhodes be removed.
Since then, the Rhodes Must Fall movement at Oxford University has staged several protests against the statue, with renewed vigor over the past year.
Born in Britain, Rhodes studied at Oriel College in the late 19th century before becoming prime minister of the Cape Colony in South Africa in 1890. Through his diamond company, De Beers, Rhodes annexed large tracts of land and settlers and soldiers he commanded killed thousands of civilians. Biographers and critics of Rhodes have highlighted his racist views, saying his discriminatory policies against locals have paved the way for apartheid.
Rhodes died in 1902 and in his will donated today’s equivalent of nearly £ 12 million – about $ 17 million – to Oriel College.
Dozens of international students also study at Oxford University each year through the Rhodes Scholarship, which was created through Mr. Rhodes’ will. Previous recipients include Bill Clinton and former Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott.
Following protests in Oxford last year, the governing body of Oriel College commissioned an independent commission to investigate the possibility of the statue. He supported the removal of the statue, as well as a plaque commemorating Rhodes on another street in Oxford.
In a 144-page report, the commission reminded the college of Rhodes’ past: its nose policies “increase racial segregation” and its actions are “responsible for extreme violence against the African people,” according to a quoted professor.
“Does the college want to maintain such a central symbol of racial segregation at a time when society and institutions such as Oxford University are working hard to tackle this legacy decisively?” William Beinart, an honorary professor of African studies at Oxford University, the report said. .
Prof. Dorling, who signed the letter this week, said the boycott was aimed at a demonstration disappointment at the inaction of Oriel College.
“You can’t keep the racist statue on the highest plinth in a college building,” said Professor Dorling, adding that removing it was only a matter of time.
“The question is how many – months, years, decades.”