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Majority of Oxford students: Rhodes should stay

Cherwell has conducted a survey on student attitudes towards the Rhodes statue and the Rhodes Must Fall Oxford (RMFO) movement. 967 students, nearly five per cent of the Oxford student body, took part in the survey.

37 per cent of students surveyed expressed a desire for Oriel to remove the statue of Rhodes, compared to 54 per cent who thought that the statue should remain. Nine per cent of students remain unsure.

Responding to the survey, Oriel told Cherwell, “The College will take into account all viewpoints presented in the debate about the Rhodes statue. All information we receive will feed into the planned listening exercise and further details of this will follow in due course.”

Among those students identifying with a Black, Minority or Ethnic (BME) group, more respondents thought that Oriel should remove the statue than leave it standing. 48 per cent said that they thought Oriel should remove the statue, 45 per cent disagreed, and seven per cent responded, ‘I don’t know’.

A majority of students identifying with a BME group (51 per cent), however, said that the removal of Rhodes’ statue would not affect their personal experience of Oxford University.

The statue of Cecil Rhodes has received significant media attention in recent weeks, with RMFO and Ntokozo Qwabe – one of the group’s founding members – coming under increasing scrutiny from national and international media organisations.

Cherwell’s survey found that 55 per cent of students regard RMFO as having had a very or moderately negative impact on the reputation of the University.

The movement appears to divide opinion among BME students, with 45 per cent viewing the movement favourably and 42 per cent viewing it unfavourably.

The survey also found significant college disparities in terms of students’ attitudes towards Rhodes. Over 72 per cent of students at Brasenose, Merton and Trinity were found to be against the removal of the statue. Cherwell’s survey found that Somerville and St John’s were slightly less anti-RMF, with 65 and 63 per cent of their students respectively expressing their opposition to the statue’s removal.

Only 15 per cent of Oriel students thought that their college should remove the statue of Rhodes. In contrast, almost three-quarters of Wadham students, 74 per cent, expressed a desire for Rhodes to fall. 63 per cent of St Hilda’s and 58 per cent of St Catz students also thought that Oriel should remove the statue.

The University and the Oxford curriculum came under considerable criticism in Cherwell’s survey. 41 per cent of students felt that Oxford is not doing enough to ‘decolonise’ the University, compared to 32 per cent who think that the University is taking sufficient action. A significant proportion of students – 27 per cent – said that they did not know.

The idea that people of colour are excluded from the curriculum received slightly less support from the student body, with only 37 per cent of respondents supporting the statement that ‘people of colour are excluded from the university curriculum’. 45 per cent disagreed and 18 per cent responded with, ‘I don’t know’. Of those who wanted the Rhodes statue to be removed, some 70 per cent also said that people of colour are excluded from the curriculum, while 77 per cent think that Oxford is not doing enough to ‘decolonise’ the university.

Indeed a number of students suggested that RMF is wrong to focus on the statue, and argued that they should instead direct their attention towards the curriculum.

One student commented, “RMF should change direction from focussing on the statue to focussing on the genuinely appalling issue of colonised education and academia. As a student of Arabic, I spend my time reading Orientalist texts taken as ‘scholarship’ and learn nothing of the experiential reality of the subject. More must be done.”

Others regarded the statue as an important first step, with one respondent commenting, “I think it’s worth removing the statue as a gesture to indicate commitment to deeper change.”

Commenting on the results of the survey, a University spokesperson told Cherwell, “Oxford University is committed to improving the experience of minority ethnic students at Oxford. We are already working with students on a range of actions, including diversification of the curriculum and would welcome Rhodes Must Fall’s participation. We have invited Rhodes Must Fall to meet senior university members to discuss their concerns. They have not so far responded but the University hopes they will take this opportunity to make progress on the issues they raise.

“Oxford colleges are promoting greater racial awareness in their recruitment, teaching and governance. Last year’s university-wide staff-student summit on race identified many action points that are now being implemented, including diversification of the voices studied in our curriculum. We are tracking our progress with regular wide-ranging surveys of how issues of race impact on students, and are introducing regular open forums for university-wide discussion of race equality and diversity issues.

“We are also actively working on reviewing the curriculum within the humanities and social sciences to introduce more diverse content. This takes time as we look at expanding the options available. Delivering new course content at the same high standards that our students rightly expect means that we must ensure that we have the right resources and the right people in place so that change is meaningful, sustained and successful.”

RMF Oxford also commented on the survey, telling Cherwell, “Whilst the survey presents some interesting results, we question its methodology. We are concerned that the survey’s unmoderated nature means it can be taken multiple times by one individual, and we have not been reassured that the sample sizes used are reflective – demographically and in terms of political disposition – of students. We would be interested in collaborating with journalists and other groups to formulate a more scientific study – such as CRAE’s 100 voices report – allowing for a more verifiable reflection of student opinion.

They added, “However, should these numbers be taken as accurate, we are pleased that the majority of students agree with RMFO that Oxford needs to do more to decolonise, and we will remain resolute in fighting for this. We also look forward to engaging with the student body throughout the next term, to demonstrate the myriad of ways in which this must take place – from critical engagement with the iconography and monuments we choose to surround ourselves with, to reviewing the Eurocentric curriculum.”

Jacob Williams, founder of ‘Rhodes Must Not Fall in Oxford’, told Cherwell, “We are encouraged that most students agree that we can best fight racism by building on rather than destroying the many such legacies that make up our culture and history. Oxford is clearly turning a corner and now is the time for genuine pluralism in our discourse.”

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