Cecil Rhodes: Oxford vice-chancellor warns against ‘hiding our history’ in row over statue of colonialist

#RhodesMustFall movement comes into renewed focus after removal of Edward Colston statue in Bristol

Protesters call for removal of Cecil Rhodes statue in Oxford

The vice-chancellor of Oxford University has warned against “hiding our history” as the row over the controversial statue of Cecil Rhodes intensifies.

On Tuesday, a large demonstration was held outside Oxford’s Oriel College as part of a long-running campaign to get rid of the statue of the colonialist.

Speakers said the statue is a symbol of racism and imperialism, and called on the college to remove it from the High Street entrance of the building. Demonstrators also protested against systemic racism and police brutality following the death of George Floyd in the US.

Vice-chancellor Louise Richardson said she did not want to give a “binary” view on whether to remove the statue, which belongs to Oriel College rather than the university, but said “we need to confront our past” and “learn from it”.

“My own view on this is that hiding our history is not the route to enlightenment,” Prof Richardson told the BBC.

“We need to understand this history and understand the context in which it was made and why it was that people believed then as they did.

“This university has been around for 900 years. For 800 of those years the people who ran the university didn’t think women were worthy of an education. Should we denounce those people?

“Personally, no – I think they were wrong, but they have to be judged by the context of their time.”

The #RhodesMustFall movement has come into renewed focus after the removal of the statue of slave trader Edward Colston in Bristol, which was later thrown into the city’s harbour before being retrieved by local authorities.

Earlier this week, governors at Oriel College said the institution “abhors racism and discrimination in all its forms” but that the college continues to “debate and discuss” the presence of the Rhodes statue.

Prof Richardson said the conversation around the statue was a crucial one that she was “delighted to see our students engage in”.

“This is the kind of issue I think that, you know, universities are designed for,” she said. “We should be having questions about who should we accept money from, what are our responsibilities with that money, how do we judge people, what lens do we use to evaluate people ethically? Today? In the past?

“These are all really important debates and the whole Black Lives Matter debate is a critically important one and I’m delighted to see our students engage in it.

“But these are complex issues. The kind of issues that colleges are designed for.”

Prof Richardson said efforts to diversify the student body at Oxford, which has long faced criticism for a lack of diversity, are continuing as she announced the university’s first college in 30 years and welcomed an £80m donation from the Reuben family, whose name has been given to the new institution.

Part of the funding will go towards a scholarship programme for disadvantaged students.

On diversifying, Prof Richardson said: “We’ve made progress. It’s slow but it’s steady. The number of BAME students for example has increased from 14.5 per cent to 22.1 per cent in five years. The number of black students, admittedly from a low base, has gone up 100 per cent.”

Prof Richardson said the focus of the university was not on statues from the past, but on the experience of students in the present.

“I would hate to think that any black student or student of any background would think that Oxford would be an unwelcoming place,” she said.

Reuben College, which had been known as Parks College when it was established last year, is due to take in its first students in the autumn of 2021.

The college will focus on climate change, artificial intelligence and cellular life.

Register for free to continue reading

Registration is a free and easy way to support our truly independent journalism

By registering, you will also enjoy limited access to Premium articles, exclusive newsletters, commenting, and virtual events with our leading journalists

Please enter a valid email
Please enter a valid email
Must be at least 6 characters, include an upper and lower case character and a number
Must be at least 6 characters, include an upper and lower case character and a number
Must be at least 6 characters, include an upper and lower case character and a number
Please enter your first name
Special characters aren’t allowed
Please enter a name between 1 and 40 characters
Please enter your last name
Special characters aren’t allowed
Please enter a name between 1 and 40 characters
You must be over 18 years old to register
You must be over 18 years old to register
Opt-out-policy
You can opt-out at any time by signing in to your account to manage your preferences. Each email has a link to unsubscribe.

By clicking ‘Create my account’ you confirm that your data has been entered correctly and you have read and agree to our Terms of use, Cookie policy and Privacy notice.

This site is protected by reCAPTCHA and the Google Privacy policy and Terms of service apply.

Already have an account? sign in

By clicking ‘Register’ you confirm that your data has been entered correctly and you have read and agree to our Terms of use, Cookie policy and Privacy notice.

This site is protected by reCAPTCHA and the Google Privacy policy and Terms of service apply.

Register for free to continue reading

Registration is a free and easy way to support our truly independent journalism

By registering, you will also enjoy limited access to Premium articles, exclusive newsletters, commenting, and virtual events with our leading journalists

Already have an account? sign in

By clicking ‘Register’ you confirm that your data has been entered correctly and you have read and agree to our Terms of use, Cookie policy and Privacy notice.

This site is protected by reCAPTCHA and the Google Privacy policy and Terms of service apply.

Join our new commenting forum

Join thought-provoking conversations, follow other Independent readers and see their replies

Comments

Thank you for registering

Please refresh the page or navigate to another page on the site to be automatically logged inPlease refresh your browser to be logged in