Oxford college considers removing Rhodes statue

By Sean Coughlan
Education correspondent

  • Published
OxfordImage source, Thinkstock
Image caption,
The campaign in Oxford is part of an international wave of student protests

An Oxford college is considering removing a statue of the 19th Century politician, Cecil Rhodes, in response to a student anti-racism campaign.

Protesters have argued that the views of the colonial politician are incompatible with an "inclusive culture" at the university.

Oriel College says it will consult on the statue's future - and has decided to remove a plaque to Rhodes.

The college says it does not "condone his racist views or actions".

Global campaign

The campaign to remove the Oxford statue follows a university protest in South Africa.

A statue of Cecil Rhodes was attacked and then ultimately taken down at the University of Cape Town, after being identified by protesters as a symbol of a colonial, pre-apartheid era.

Rhodes had been a strong advocate of colonial power in Africa.

Image source, Reuters
Image caption,
The Rhodes Must Fall campaign saw the removal of a statue in Cape Town

But his name is also attached to Rhodes Scholarships which bring overseas students to Oxford University - past beneficiaries include former US president Bill Clinton.

The Rhodes Must Fall campaign in South Africa has been adopted in Oxford - and in the next six months the college will decide on what should happen to its statue.

Among the options will be to leave it in place, to add some information explaining the historical context, or to remove the statue completely.

Cecil Rhodes attended Oriel College and and left money to the college on his death in 1902.

The college says his legacy might include the scholarships, but his "values and world view stand in absolute contrast" to a modern university.

Oriel says the experience of ethnic minority students needs to improve at Oxford and that his links with the college do not reflect any "celebration of his unacceptable views and actions".

A statement from the college says a plaque erected in his honour on a college building in 1906 will be taken down, pending the consent of the local council.

The statue is also in a college building with listed status, which raises questions about what could be changed.

"In the short term, we have put up a temporary notice in the window of the High Street building, below the statue, clarifying its historical context and the college's position on Rhodes," says a college statement.

International pattern

The argument in Oxford is part of an international pattern of students challenging university symbols and accusing them of promoting a racist legacy.

There has been a wave of protests in dozens of United States universities this autumn, many focusing on emblems which they accuse of racist links.

At Harvard University, there have been campaigns to change a university emblem which includes the coat of arms of a slave-owning family.

University house masters have also agreed to drop the title "master" because of its associations with slavery.

At Amherst College, there has been a campaign against a mascot, based on an 18th Century general who had advocated killing the local Native American population by deliberately giving them smallpox.

There have also been opponents of changing such symbols, who have argued that universities have to reflect the reality of views held in previous eras.