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ACS photo campaign to “debunk myths” on race

“We want to elevate the voices of black students at Oxford.”

This is the message behind a picture of thirteen black male Oxford students which has gained over one thousand likes on Facebook.

Inspired by a similar initiative at Cambridge, which went viral on social media earlier this week, members of the African and Caribbean Society (ACS) posed in a series of images outside the Rad Cam in an attempt to encourage younger black students to apply to the University.

The President of ACS, Renee Kapuku, told Cherwell: “We were inspired by our friends at Cambridge ACS who did an excellent job, setting out to debunk myths about black students at top institutions.

“The main aim of our campaign is to celebrate the achievements of black students at Oxford, and to highlight that the subject of black student admissions is far more than just admissions statistics.

She went on: “The theme is ‘rise’— we want to elevate the voices of black students at Oxford and prospective black students. Although the University has substantial access and Outreach programmes—indeed, they support a lot of our own student-led initiatives – we want to add more factors into the conversation.”

Black students made up just 45 offers of the 2,555 made by Oxford for 2016 entry.

In January, the Labour MP David Lammy accused Oxford of “unconscious bias” in its admissions process. But the campaigners hope the initiative will challenge perceptions that Oxford is an unwelcoming space for black students.

The group organise shadowing days, vision workshops and an annual conference.

Kapuku explains: “To us, we want to have real and relatable role models for younger black students, similarly to Cambridge. The common misconception is that Oxford isn’t a space accommodating to black students. The University’s Director of Undergraduate Admissions, Dr Samina Khan, has said previously that the University is “aware that there is still work to be done [admitting minority ethnic students], particularly in terms of offer rates to Black and Asian students.”

“Of course there are various issues that we face—we must be realistic in our depiction. But it is still a space that black students can make room for themselves, and do well.”

She highlighted outreach programmes targeted at students from underrepresented groups, to “help make Oxford an even more diverse community.”

The photos from Cambridge’s ACS were brought even greater attention this week after being retweeted by the grime artist Stormzy.

Members of Oxford ACS in front of the Bodleian Old Library

Regents Park student Theophina Gabriel told Cherwell she took part in the photoshoot in the hope of “encouraging and empowering aspiring black students who have the potential to apply to Oxbridge but struggle to see themselves in these spaces. We were you and we are here.”

Pembroke student Hope Aloye, who also took part in the photoshoot, told Cherwell: “To me it’s about showcasing the presence of Black students in such an old academic institution, celebrating our contribution to the university, and showing prospecting Black students that Oxford University is the place for them.

“We deserve to take up space and will continue to do so.”

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