Al Sharpton attacks Oxford University for failing to admit enough black students: 'How could you be so bright and so dumb at the same time?'

Exclusive: 'Oxford can figure out the most difficult aspects of philosophy and explore the intricacies of science but can’t figure out how to get admissions of black students'

Maya Oppenheim
Wednesday 06 June 2018 18:26 BST
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More than one in four of Oxford’s colleges failed to admit a single black British student each year between 2015 and 2017
More than one in four of Oxford’s colleges failed to admit a single black British student each year between 2015 and 2017

Legendary civil rights campaigner Reverend Al Sharpton has condemned Oxford University for failing to admit enough black students, arguing the institution has an “exclusionary admissions strategy”.

The acclaimed TV and radio talk show host, who spoke at the Oxford Union on Tuesday night, questioned how such a prestigious institution could have what he described as a retrograde racial diversity policy.

Rev Sharpton, who was a White House advisor to former president Barack Obama, said that 95 per cent of the crowd he addressed at the union was white.

His comments come after it was revealed that more than one in four of Oxford’s colleges failed to admit a single black British student each year between 2015 and 2017.

Last month, figures revealed several of the most prestigious colleges – including Balliol, University and Magdalen – each admitted two black British students as undergraduates during the three-year period.

Overall, white British applicants were twice as likely to be admitted to undergraduate courses as their black British peers. While 24 per cent of the former gained entry, only 12 per cent of the latter did.

“You see places as prestigious as Oxford with an exclusionary admissions strategy,” Rev Sharpton told The Independent.

“Oxford can figure out the most difficult aspects of philosophy and explore the intricacies of science but can’t figure out how to get admissions of black students. It seems contradictory – how could you be so bright and so dumb at the same time?”

“Ninety-five per cent of the crowd was white. I told them they need to work with groups like Operation Black Vote, who I have been coming to the UK with since 1991.”

Operation Black Vote is a non-partisan, non-profit national organisation that was established in 1996 to tackle the black British and ethnic minority democratic deficit. It centres its energies on voter registration, lobbying politicians and mentoring schemes.

“In Oxford, out of 29 colleges, eight colleges did not have one black undergrad admitted between 2015 and 2017,” Rev Sharpton, who Mr Obama described as “the voice of the voiceless and a champion for the downtrodden”, said.

“Last night I said that we have the great symbolic heartwarming picture of a person of colour marrying into the royal family which we all support, but you have the undercurrent of exclusion in places like Oxford.”

While about 3 per cent of the British population is black, according to the most recent census, only 1.9 per cent of the roughly 3,200 students admitted to Oxford in 2017 identified as black Britons.

Oxford University – which has been contacted for comment – admitted it needed to do more to improve student diversity after the latest figures were unearthed last month.

Samina Khan, Oxford University’s director of undergraduate admissions, said the university was working hard to change.

“The reason for that is that you are looking a very different applicant pools. One is very large – that is the white pool in terms of who gets three As and above (at a A-level) – and the other one is very small,” she told the Today programme.

“We are not getting the right number of black people with the talent to apply to us and that is why we are pushing very hard on our outreach activity to make sure we make them feel welcome and they realise Oxford is for them.”

David Lammy, Labour MP and the former higher education minister, said: “The truth is that Oxford is still a bastion of white middle-class southern privilege. That is what it is.

“They have to explain why you are twice as likely to get in if you are white as if you are black and why you are more likely to get in if you are from the south than the north of England when you apply.”

Earlier this year, The Independent revealed black students pursuing a place at university were 21 times more likely to have their applications investigated for suspected false or missing information than their white counterparts.

Ucas said it was “extremely concerned” by the figures, released under freedom of information rules, and had launched an investigation.

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