The governing body of an Oxford University college have said they wish to remove a controversial statue of coloniser Cecil Rhodes amid ongoing Black Lives Matter protests.
Board members of Oriel College met today to discuss the monument’s fate after activists called for its removal. Rhodes played a dominant role in southern Africa in the 19th century, paving the way for apartheid and leading the Cape Colony at a time when black Africans’ rights were restricted. The statue was erected in his honour after he made a donation for a new building.
In a statement, Oriel College said their governing body voted in favour of launching an independent inquiry over the stature, adding that they had ‘expressed their wish’ to have it removed. This will be conveyed to the independent commission of inquiry
The statement continued: ‘Both of these decisions were reached after a thoughtful period of debate and reflection and with the full awareness of the impact these decisions are likely to have in Britain and around the world.
‘The commission will deal with the issue of the Rhodes legacy and how to improve access and attendance of BAME undergraduate, graduate students and faculty, together with a review of how the college’s 21st-century commitment to diversity can sit more easily with its past.’
Carole Souter, the current master of St Cross College and former chief executive of the National Lottery Heritage Fund, will chair the commission. A report for the governing body will be produced by the end of the year, the statement added.
The board meeting follows a long-running campaign demanding the removal of the Rhodes statue, which saw protesters congregate outside the university. It comes after a monument to former slave trader Edward Colston was removed by activists in Bristol and thrown into the harbour.
A spokesperson for the Rhodes Must Fall campaign has now said the group is ‘optimistic’ that the figure will be removed, but urged the college to commit to officially taking it down.
They said in a statement: ‘We have been down this route before, where Oriel College has committed to taking a certain action, but has not followed through: notably, in 2015, when the college committed to engaging in a six-month-long democratic listening exercise. Therefore, while we remain hopeful, our optimism is cautious.
‘While the governing body of Oriel College have “expressed their wish” to take down the statue, we continue to demand their commitment.’
Alan Rusbridger, principal of the university’s Lady Margaret Hall and former editor-in-chief of the Guardian newspaper, said it was the ‘right decision’ and the start of a ‘longer conversation’ about statues at Oxford.
But today universities minister Michelle Donelan called campaigns to remove the statue ‘short-sighted’ as she spoke at a webinar hosted by the Higher Education Policy Institute (Hepi).
She said: ‘Recent actions, such as renaming buildings named after Gladstone or campaigns to remove the statue of Rhodes, I think, are quite short-sighted. Because if we cannot rewrite our history, instead what we should do is remember and learn from it.’