Earlier this week, I was amused to follow a friend’s link on my Facebook wall that led me to your recent interview with the Cherwell. Here, you were invited to talk on what appears to be your favourite topic at the moment: how to read into a name. You seemed to suggest in the interview that Oxford admissions are rightly reserved for a social elite; the pinnacle of a ‘hierarchy’ fortified by the class system. You also made it clear that if you were an Oxford admissions tutor, you would always choose a ‘Cecil’ for your tutor group and would never want a ‘Tyrone’.
Now I don’t believe we have ever met before (and you might want to prepare yourself for this), but my name is Tyrone Zachery Steele. I am a young, mixed White and Black Caribbean male from a working class background. And in fact, as the only Tyrone studying at the University of Oxford right now, I think it’s down to me to respond.
Now I didn’t know who you were before a quick search and I guess that, even now, I don’t really care. You’re probably not stupid, but perhaps a bit of an attention seeker (as your ‘unplanned’, dramatic swooning in The Apprentice suggests). I guess that’s fine, if not a little sad. It’s especially sad for all the other Katies who don’t want to have their name associated with a woman who tries to make a name for herself by picking on children and laughing at the plight of the poor.
In any case, I don’t think it’s particularly necessary to say why you’re wrong about the plight of single mothers, or why nepotism might just be a bad thing.
Instead I want to come back to the issue of names. Perhaps you don’t like my name because someone called Tyrone just can’t be intelligent. You clearly think a lot about this, as one of the things you said in your This Morning interview earlier this month is that, “children with intelligent names are more likely to have intelligent parents.” You also made known in this interview your strong dislike of either “footballers’ names” or “geographical locations”. In light of this latter criterion, however, having a daughter called ‘India’ perhaps brings your own intelligence into question, doesn’t it Katie? Or at least your ability to read a map.
But the real issue here isn’t just your snobbish attitude, whether it’s simply an attention-seeking pretence or not. It’s rather those who are hearing it. By all means, avoid me and my fellow Tyrones in the street. You’re welcome to continue being small minded (although I despair for your children). But when you start vocalizing your vitriol, you damage the self esteem of many working class applicants and aspiring students who might actually believe that the things which you say are echoed behind the doors of, for example, university admission professors. Oxford is trying incredibly hard through access schemes to shed the elitist image you seem to revel in. I myself have devoted a number of vacations to running access workshops in deprived areas of East London. You may think your social ‘shortcuts’ are the best way of putting the right people in the right positions in our future society, but I think it’s more important to show young kids that, even if you are called Tyrone or Charmaine, you still deserve a chance. It’s precisely this which seems to demonstrate how divorced you are from reality. True, Oxford has a large number of private school students – but increasingly it diversifies and this is a testament to the University’s strength and continuing success.
So perhaps you should just go away, keep your unsavoury opinions to yourself, and try to find something useful to do, instead of making a career out of being offensive and cruel, and, from what I can see, utterly bigoted. As the Rev’d Dr. Andrew Teal – the tutor who actually did give ‘Tyrone’ a chance here – put it, “everyone who can and has competed for the rare places available at Oxford deserves encouragement and respect”.
Oh and, by the way, I checked: there are no Cecils at Oxford.