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C+ Investigation: Race at Oxford

This article originally appeared as part of a C+ investigation into Race at Oxford. Other articles include a discussion of student responses to the migrant crisis, the “whiteness” of the curriculum, and the university’s record on race and access

Of the students we surveyed, a large majority were white, contributing 69.2 per cent of the responses. This was followed by those from mixed or multiple backgrounds at 11.1 per cent. Around 4.3 per cent of respondents identified as black.

Of all respondents, 43.5 per cent of people agreed that racism as a problem at Oxford with a 15 per cent disparity between white students (42 per cent) and BME students (57 per cent). Similarly, 43.9 per cent of students surveyed agreed that Oxford was a diverse place with a clear disagreement between white and non-white students.

Many BME students commented on Oxford’s institutional racism, which has also recently been criticised by David Lammy in a speech at Lady Margaret Hall. The Labour MP for Tottenham accused the University of failing to adequately tackle racism caused by an institutional “unconscious bias”, until Peter Claus, the access fellow for Pembroke, interrupted him with a cry of “absolute nonsense”.

This comes after reports that just one per cent of Oxford’s 2014 intake was black, compared to 5.3 per cent of those taking A-levels or equivalent qualifications.

Other responses focused on the euro-centric curriculum. One student wrote that: “I can only say from my experience as a History student, but the focus on white/European history is quite frustrating.”

“At the moment you can only really take fully non-European history for two of the finals modules, the further subject and special subjects, and those options are often oversubscribed.

“At the same time, British History and General History (essentially European history) are compulsory. But the syllabus is changing so I’m not sure how much that will remain the case.”

Another disagreed, saying: “The question of a diverse curriculum seems to confusing to me. As a student of PPE, it would be almost impossible to study politics or philosophy if we incorporated non-Western traditions.

“The assumption behind our course is that we’re looking at the Western side of PPE, which makes sense since the expectation is for us to go and work in the West, where that information is relevant. If we want to learn about African or Asian traditions of philosophy, shouldn’t we go and study there?”

Others had personal experiences of Oxford-based racism. One student told Cherwell: “In regards to the tutor for race [a survey question], I think this should be an option for students if they want it.

“As a white-passing student (mixed Pakistani and English) I rarely have issue with race, but a girl I know personally turned down an offer to read English at Oxford due to her experiences in the interview at Oxford.”

“She is a Muslim student who wears a hijab, and we both went to a very diverse school where the majority of the students were not white/were Muslim. She felt singled out and didn’t want to take on the identity of a token Muslim. Perhaps if she had seen any tutors of a similar religion/ethnicity to her she would have studied here at Oxford.”

More shockingly, one student stated that: “I have been pretty shocked to hear stories of racism from some of my “less white” mixed-race friends.”

“One girl was told by a white acquaintance, ‘you can’t tell me not to say n****r, because you’re not even black’ (she’s half-Caribbean), while otherwise there’s a lot of casual racism and misunderstanding which I don’t think is adequately alleviated by university-wide teaching or cultural awareness initiatives.”

“Also, the lack of diversity at my college and (anecdotally) others as well is pretty shocking. This place is whiter than my school, which was unbelievably white let me tell you. I don’t know how that could be changed very easily though. It brings up the whole quotas/ ‘reverse racism’ argument.”

Overall, the survey highlighted the contrast between the views of white and BME students on many issues, and the disturbing prevalence of racism, both personal and institutional, among the Oxford community.

There were 587 respondents to the C+ poll, which asked three questions: “do you believe that racism is a problem at Oxford”, “do you believe that the statue of Cecil Rhodes should be removed”, and how well students performed at Prelims and Mods based on their ethnicity.

BME respondents largely believed racism was a problem at Oxford, in contrast to white respondents; whilst most students did not know whether they wanted the statue of Cecil Rhodes to be removed, white respondents were more likely to answer “Don’t know”. Finally, students from BME backgrounds performed marginally more strongly at Prelims and Mods than white students, but only a small sample size of BME students was available.


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