A long-running controversy at the University of Oxford over a statue of Cecil Rhodes, the British imperialist who is considered by many to be an architect of apartheid in South Africa, gained new momentum this week after more than 150 academics said that they would refuse to teach college students. where the monument sits.
The scholars sent a letter to the college saying they would refuse requests from Oriel College, one of the 39 self-governing entities that make up the university. to teach his undergraduate students and to attend or speak at events sponsored by the college, among others.
“Confronted with Oriel’s stubborn attachment to a statue that glorifies colonialism and the wealth it has produced for the College, we feel we have no choice,” they wrote in the letter seen by The New York Times.
The boycott is the latest protest action in a complex settlement taking place in Britain and several other European countries over their colonial and slave trade past. In museums, public spaces and schools, there is a long discourse in which it is argued that colonizing powers bring a civilization to African countries, while many critics argue too little to confront the past.
On Wednesday, some students from Magdalene College at Oxford University a portrait of Queen Elizabeth II removed, the ruling monarch, arguing that the British monarchy represents colonial history.
The British government mostly did not resist such calls, and a minister promised earlier this year to ‘save Britain’s statues of the awake militants’.
“What has existed for generations should be considered thoughtfully, not removed on a whim or on the orders of a fierce mob,” said Robert Jenrick, the minister. said in The Telegraph.
In the wake of the Black Lives Matter protests, thousands of protesters gathered in Oxford last June to demand that the statue of Rhodes be removed. Protesters in Britain also erected monuments dedicated to Winston Churchill, and in Bristol protesters demolished 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’s harbor, is now on display in a museum.
Cities like Bristol in England or Bordeaux and Nantes, on the Atlantic coast of France, were forced to admit that they thrived through the slavery and forced labor of many people. Belgium sent its “deepest regret” to the Democratic Republic of Congo for the millions of deaths and devastating damage it inflicted during decades of colonization, and local authorities in the city of Antwerp removed a statue of King Leopold II, who was behind the colonization. stood.
In Oxford, Oriel College has for years debated the fate of the Rhodes statue, which is a prominent feature of its main building in one of Oxford’s largest streets. While the governing body of Oriel College said it supported the removal, the college announced last month that it would not be removed the statue, referring to financial concerns and arguing that the operation “could take years without the outcome being certain.”
Instead, he promised to raise money for scholarships aimed at students from South Africa, and to compile, among other things, an annual lecture on Rhodes’ legacy.
‘We understand that this nuanced conclusion will be disappointing for some people, but we are now focused on delivering practical actions to improve outreach and the daily experience’ of black ethnic student, Neil Mendoza, college trial. tell The Telegraph.
(In addition to serving as a college provocateur, Mr Mendoza sits in the House of Lords, the British Parliament of the British Parliament, as a Conservative lawmaker.)
Simukai Chigudu, associate professor of African studies at Oxford University and one of the academics who started the boycott, said Oriel College’s opponents were inadequate.
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“For years, Oriel was rebellious about the statue,” Dr Chigudu said. “They do not act in good faith, so we will not engage in good marriage activities with them.”
Under Oxford University’s system of colleges, undergraduate students attend lectures, seminars, and small group sessions, known as tutorials, all instituted by the university to which they are affiliated. Although professors are also affiliated with colleges, they can teach students from different colleges if needed.
The boycott means that the 150 participating professors, who are from other colleges at the university, will not supervise any of the 300 undergraduate students from Oriel. They will also not attend conferences or other events organized by the college.
(The boycott does not affect Oriel graduates, as graduate students study through their department – for example Law or Philosophy).
A student representative from Oriel College did not respond to a request for comment.
Oriel College said in a statement On Thursday, the decision of academics not to engage in college teaching activities with students would have an “equal impact on our students and the wider academic community in Oriel, to whom we are all concerned.”
Rhodes ‘legacy was disputed even before his death at the University of Oxford: in 1899, 90 academics signed a petition against Rhodes’ visit to Oriel College to obtain an honorary degree.
“I grew up in Oxford as a child, and I remember there were some problems with the statue in the 1980s,” said Danny Dorling, a professor of geography at the university and signer of the letter. presence was a stain on the university’s reputation.
In 2015, students signed a petition and protested against the monument, following students at the University of Cape Town in South Africa, who successfully demanded that a similar statue of Rhodes be removed.
The “Rhodes Must Fall” movement at the University of Oxford has since organized several protest marches against the statue, with new force over the past year.
Rhodes was born in Britain and studied at Oriel College at the end of the 19th century before becoming the Prime Minister of the Cape Colony in South Africa in 1890. Through his diamond company, De Beers, Rhodes annexed large tracts of land and killed the settlers and soldiers he led, killing thousands of civilians. Biographers and critics of Rhodes emphasized his racist views, saying that his discriminatory policies against indigenous peoples paved the way for apartheid.
Rhodes died in 1902 and in his will donated today’s equivalent of almost 12 million pounds – about $ 17 million – to Oriel College.
Dozens of foreign students also study at Oxford University every year Rhodes Fair, which was presented by Mr. Rhodes’ will was established. Previous recipients include Bill Clinton and former Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott.
Following the protests in Oxford last year, the governing body of Oriel College commissioned an independent commission to study options for the statue. It supports the removal of the statue, as well as a memorial plaque commemorating Rhodes in another street in Oxford.
In a 144-page report, the commission reminded the college of Rhodes’ past: his policy in the Cape “intensified racial segregation”, and his actions were “responsible for extreme violence against African people”, according to one professor.
“Does the college want to retain such a symbol of racial segregation at a time when society, and institutions such as the University of Oxford, are working hard to tackle this legacy decisively?” William Beinart, an emeritus professor of African studies at the University of Oxford, wrote in the report.
Prof. Dorling, who signed this week’s letter, said the boycott was aimed at displaying frustration over the inactivity of Oriel College.
“You can not keep the statue of a racist on the highest pedestal of a university building,” said prof. Dorling said, adding that its removal was a matter of time.
“The question is how many – months, years, decades.”