Berkeley universities

As colleges grapple with colonial roots, should some campus statues fall? – University time

Although largely attributed to Oriel College, Oxford, the Rhodes Must Fall movement has its roots at the University of Cape Town, South Africa. The student-led campaign, conceived in March 2015, sparked debate about the relevance of immortalizing individual colonial figureheads – and the influence of the institutions they represented.

What it means to locate a statue which for many students conflicts with the ethics of the university and the minds of its students was a sentiment not only felt among students in Cape Town. How to impose our values ​​on the vestiges of the past was an issue that Oriel students faced in June of last year. Two weeks of protest culminated in an independent commission of inquiry which accepted the demand of students, especially students of color, who argued for the removal of the statute.

During the 19th century, Cecil Rhodes’ imperialist adventures in southern Africa brought him to present-day Zambia and Zimbabwe. As one of the founders of British South African society, modeled on the Dutch East Indian model, colonial exploration of Rhodes was instrumental in building the apartheid state. Social and wealth divisions along racial lines in South Africa persist today.


Almost 200 years later, the name Rhodes is an important name in academia, most notably as the Rhodes Scholarship, first awarded in 1902 – and considered the most prestigious international university scholarship. Created by Rhodes himself, it has been awarded to American students from top American universities, allowing them to travel and study in Oxford. The vast majority of Americans in Ivy League schools at this time were wealthy men of Anglo-Saxon descent. Suggestions to change the name of the stock exchange on the basis that it represents the enduring vestiges of British imperialism were made. Among the alternatives suggested is Nelson Mandela, in honor of his humanitarian efforts in South Africa, a direct confrontation with the legacy of Rhodes as described by the Financial Time.

Suggestions to change the name of the Rhodes Stock Exchange on the basis that it represents the enduring vestiges of British imperialism have been made. Among the suggested alternatives is Nelson Mandela

Despite this development, Oriel College made the decision not to “begin the legal process” of removing the statue, citing “regulatory and financial challenges”. As of June 10, 2021, 150 Oxford academics had stopped teaching in protest against the retention of the statues. Worcester College Oxford Acting Provost Kate Tunstall signed a joint statement. “In the face of Oriel’s stubborn attachment to a statue that glorifies colonialism, and the wealth it has produced for the college,” he says, “we feel we have no choice but to withdraw all discriminatory work and goodwill collaboration ”.

The Rector of Oriel College, Oxford, Lord Neil Mendoza, explained that “Oriel has stated that he is committed to devoting time and resources to the implementation of the recommendations made by the independent commission regarding the contextualization of the College’s relationship with Rhodes, as well as improving educational equality, diversity and inclusion among its student cohort and university community. The College is committed to taking the measures that it believes will have the most impact on the educational aspirations of current and future students ”.

Addressing the links between the British Empire’s colonial past and leaving the statue as it is, Mendoza said context is a priority. “The intention with contextualization is to make people think more about our colonial history and learn more about the impact and scope of the British Empire.” In May, a press release issued by the governing body of Oriel College confirmed that Oriel must take action to combat post-colonialism in the British Empire, including “adopting a decision in 2016 to have an annual conference on a topic related to the heritage of Rhodes. , race or colonialism ”.

Expressing his thoughts on why he thinks statues are so important, Mendoza concluded: “Statues, in their basic form, are public art. Sometimes they are beautiful, sometimes not and sometimes their importance is measured, for example, by whether or not they are protected by a heritage inscription. All kinds of meanings can be attributed to statues, but a statue is not necessarily meaningful on its own.

The intention with contextualization is to inspire people to deepen their reflection on our colonial history and to learn more about the impact and scope of the British Empire.

Dr Simukai Chigudu is Professor of African Studies at Oxford, himself from Zimbabwe. Regarding what it would mean if the ‘Rhodes must fall’ campaign succeeded in removing the Rhodes statue from Oriel College, he said: “I think you have to understand what the statue represents to begin with and was the founder of a system of racial discrimination. He is not a marginal character on a noble quest. He is someone who set out to become one of the richest people in the world thanks to African resources. Tearing down the statue would be recognition by the institution itself that it was complicit in Britain’s colonial conquests.

He then explained how his discipline of study relates to Rhodes as an individual imperialist. “Historically speaking, the study of Africa ends with colonial conquest. Africa existed as an empty space. My discipline is centered on a non-Eurocentric vision of the world. Decolonization is one of them. For Chigudu, student engagement is crucial. “They understand the forms of nationalism that are embedded in the statue within the former British Empire,” he explains.

Chigudu says that Oriel College’s decision not to remove the statue “portrays stubbornness and resistance to having an honest, thoughtful, and critical dialogue about the history and kind of institution that Oxford could be. It is a preservation of the power structure of Oxford. For blacks, this makes it a less desirable place.

As Trinity’s direct sister college in Oxford, Oriel College’s decision not to remove the statue may have implications for Trinity. But Ciaran O’Neill, associate professor of 19th century history, resists this affiliation. “I don’t think at all that we should be swayed by Oriel’s decision, although it is clear that a majority of the staff and students at this college wanted Rhodes removed from office. Trinity may have watched Oxbridge in the past, sure, but I don’t think Trinity should be following Oxford (or any other institution) in the present or our future. It is up to us to chart our own course. “

O’Neill is a major contributor to Trinity’s Colonial Legacies Project, a research project into Trinity’s connections to the slave trade, colonial businesses, and the monetary benefits that flow from it. “Our project is larger than any particular statue or building on campus,” he explains.

George Berkeley, who gave his name to the Berkeley Library, is a figure that has come under scrutiny for his slave ownership and the potential implications for how his philosophical teachings are understood. Addressing the debate on the library name change, O’Neill said that “it is one of the goals of the TCL Project that we are helping to spark a critical conversation in the college community about the many and varied aspects of our work. past that relate to colonialism. So yes, Berkeley’s legacy will be an important aspect ”.

He is not a marginal character on a noble quest. He is someone who set out to become one of the richest people in the world thanks to African resources. Demolishing the statue would be recognition by the institution itself that it was complicit in British colonial conquests.

Dr Edward Arnold, French professor at Trinity, explains the symbolic role that statues play in creating “a visible link with a sometimes troubled past, and a strong symbol of the fight against inequalities and the various forms of oppression past and present. “. He wonders if it is our responsibility to preserve the vestiges of our past, despite their disturbing or controversial nature – or because of it.

“Shouldn’t we keep the traces of the past to help us commemorate or denounce a past through education? he considers. Arnold suggests that the statues could be moved to museums or contextualized with plaques. We must also remember that history, historical narratives and memorialization are not objective dynamics, nor absolute facts or truths, and have often been manipulated.

The manipulation of historical narrative and the role our shared and subjective histories play in our lives today, Arnold explains, deserves serious consideration. “Over the millennia, historians and those who govern and have the power and the means to impose their vision of posterity have chosen what and how to tell, and what interpretation to give to these events or phenomena. This, by definition, makes the story partial.


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