I just finished reading this article by a history student at Oxford. It was an interesting and impassioned read, but I couldn’t help but feel that, in talking about how people were missing the point of the campaign to remove a statue of Cecil Rhodes, she herself has missed her own point.
First of all I want to answer the question of is Oxford University racist? I’m going to go out on a limb and answer no. Can I prove this? Well, not entirely, but can I offer some insight as to why I think this? Definitely.
The author’s accusation of how Oxford, as an institution, is racist revolves around two key pieces of evidence, 1. only 4% of professors are non-white and 2. her own personal experience of a student singing an extract of the lion king to him in his 3rd week of term there. For number 1. I remind people that correlation does not imply causation and secondly, the percentage of students at Oxford that were non-white in 2010 was 12.2%, which is almost exactly the same as the percentage of the UK population that was non-white in the 2011 census, which is 12.9%. The percentage of the population that is non-white has also grown considerably since the 2001 census, when is was only 7.9%. Assuming the rate of growth was constant then the percentage in 2010 was 12.4%, even more in line with the proportion of non-white students. If you look back to 2001 then the percentage of students at Oxford who were non-white was, previously, slightly higher than the 2001 census figure with 11.7% of the student body being non-white.
Her claim of only 4% of the professors being black is also misleading as not only is only 3% of the UK population black but, nationally, between 15% and 16% of professors are non-white and, overall, around 20% of faculty members are non-white. Unfortunately I could find no Oxford-specific data but, since Oxford and Cambridge are the national leaders in terms of education, I doubt they vary too much.
However, something interesting comes about from looking further at these statistics as the success rate for white students is slightly higher. The disparity between the two is huge, however, I think there are probably a number of reasons for this. Firstly, a small difference in success rate can definitely be attributed to whether a student is foreign or not. If we look at this data for 2014 we can see that 36.25% of the students at Oxford come from outside of the UK. I do make the assumption that there is a significantly higher ratio of non-white students to white students in foreign students, which I think is reasonable, and we must assume that the percentage of non-whites in the UK-students hovers around at least 10% to concur with the census data and the data of student diversity we have already stated. With being a foreign student comes a number of difficulties for the student: fitting into a new culture, the stress of leaving home to move to a different country, language barriers, and a number of other, small problems they have to overcome. It’s also worth saying that the success rate has been declining for everyone since the records began in 1995. The pressure Oxford must place on its students must be insane for there to be only a lower than 25% success rate!
To address his second piece of proof; one racist comment from a drunk student does not make an institution racist. Are there racist students attending Oxford? Certainly. I’m sure there’s some moron in the 22,000 students they have that supports Britain First or the BNP. Am I also certain that, if we talk about off-cuff comments at demographics, we have all made a joke at the expense of some group. I know, as a pasty, white nerd who does maths and plays video games, that I have had a number of jokes made at my expense in the past. Does this make it acceptable? Not in the slightest. Does it make Oxford racist? Still a no in my book I’m afraid.
Finally I can address his actual point about how students campaigning to remove a statue of Cecil Rhodes, whom, whether you like it or not, is a figure with extremely important historical significance, as the student in question should know, have somehow “missed the point” of their protest. I ask him a simple question in response: what does he propose instead? I think that, in order to be successful, a protest must know what its end goals and final aims are. It’s why the “Occupy Movement,” has achieved basically nothing. This protest has got people talking about racism in Oxford. This protest has gotten students at Oxford to think about racist attitudes and how they have affected the university, and how they affect the university now. I agree with him that the protest is centred around racism from 150-years and fails to acknowledge that there are racist students in Oxford right now, however, now will come the follow up, and he can head it up.
My advice to him is to stage another event like this from 2014. The event in question was called the “I, too, am Oxford,” campaign and featured a number of students holding up placards of racist experiences they have had at the university. Looking through the pictures is very interesting. It proves that a number of people at the university make assumptions when they see someone who isn’t white. It also got a lot of people talking and has prompted people at Oxford to think about racist attitudes, much like this protest has. Some of the comments are far more offensive than others and some seem to be comments taken the wrong way. “What made you put your hair like that?” seems, to me at least, an example of the latter and “Even if I was religious, Muslim Land is not a place I can swim back to,” an example of the former. In fact, if we look at this then it seems like an awful lot of the students are racist and, if the author truly believes that Oxford is racist then she should definitely want to do something about it and, since she has already got the achievement of getting into the most prestigious university in the world, she should certainly feel able to at least make a difference. I should hope this is the aim of the article but, from what I’ve managed to cobble together in a couple of hours, it feels like her article is vacuously under-researched.