OUSU was dragged into a debate between opposing anti-racism Tumblr accounts last night after it apologised for publicising one campaign over the other.
It had shared the “We are all Oxford” campaign – which aims to highlight the positive experiences of ethnic minority students – without having first shared “I, too, am Oxford”, which aims to highlight racism.
“We are all Oxford” (WAAO) has been accused by Oxford Students of “diluting” the message of the original “I, too, am Oxford” project.
On Friday, OUSU posted a link on its Facebook page to the WAAO tumblr, describing it as “some great stuff”.
Yesterday, this was followed up with: “In case you were wondering what our previous post was about here is some more great work by Oxford students from “I, too, am Oxford” to put it into context [before linking to the ITAO tumblr]”
Charlotte Hendy, VP for Welfare and Equal Opportunities, told The Oxford Student that “neither campaign was an OUSU project.”
Tom Rutland, OUSU president, tweeted last night that WAAO was “Definitely not OUSU organised, but appreciate the post sharing may give the impression it is.”
OUSU has since stated on its Facebook page that it “would like to make clear that it supports the ‘I, too, am Oxford’ campaign and would like to apologise for posting a link to the recent ‘We are all Oxford’ campaign without first highlighting the former campaign.”
“This was a mistake made by one of our officers that the individual has apologised for.”
The original “I, too, am Oxford” Tumblr states that participants in the project “are demanding that a discussion on race be taken seriously and that real institutional change occur.”
Students on “I, too, am Oxford” express their individual experiences of racism in Oxford. One, for example, said: “You’re from London! You must be from BRIXTON? (x2 in a week)”
Others used the photo-shoot to communicate the problems of institutional racism, with statements such as: “If you “don’t see race”, how come we don’t see that in the admissions statistics?”
However, fears that “I, too, am Oxford” could deter potential BME students from applying led Alexandra Jaye Wilson, a first-year PPEist at Univ, to set up the WAAO page.
This alternative Tumblr account states its “aim is to present the full picture. We have heard from those who have suffered negative experiences here, which we all agree need to be voiced and challenged. We want to show people that many ethnic minorities have an overall positive experience here at the University of Oxford.”
Some students used this new Tumblr to qualify their earlier involvement in “I, too, am Oxford”, with comments such as: “My statement was not meant to represent my entire experience, by highlight some issues. My overall experience is very positive.”
Other students express their own positive experiences of Oxford, such as, “I’m Asian, and I have not felt that it has been a problem here.”
However, many of the statements expressed on “We are all Oxford” relate more generally to the institution’s attempts at access and outreach, such as one student’s assertion that the University spends “£5.6 million on outreach each year.”
In 2013, the success rate for UK candidates applying to Oxford was 17.6%, but for non-EU applicants the figure fell to 10.1%.
Vinay Anicatt, a third-year E&M student at Wadham, commented that, “the [WAAO] campaign has mainly white people saying they haven’t noticed prejudice/racism – I wonder why? Whatever they intended, they’re (at best) discounting and (at worst) overwriting the original experiences posted.”
Wilson told The Oxford Student why she chose to set up WAAO. “The ITAO project raised some outrageous and unacceptable comments that students from an ethnic minority background have faced while being here. However, the campaign presented an unrepresentative experience for ethnic minorities studying here.”
“Our main concern is that the ITAO campaign will deter prospective ethnic minority students from applying to Oxford. Such a campaign gives the impression that ethnic minorities are excluded at the University of Oxford.”
“We all agree that one of the best ways to combat racial prejudices is by increasing access for all people to this institution. However, we think that a campaign [such as ITOA] that discourages applicants has the potential to undermine access work,” she added.
The original “I, too, am Oxford” campaign was based on the “I, too, am Harvard” campaign which proved widely popular in the United States.
The Oxford version has been featured this week in national publications such as The Guardian and The Independent.
Commenting on WAAO’s claim to be aiding access work, Anicatt added: “I think it comes off as pretty disingenuous – ‘no no, we promise there aren’t any problems – come here and enjoy the occasional alumni sponsored financial support package, that’ll make it all better’.”
Chiara Giovanni, BME/women of colour rep of feminist organisation WomCam, praised “I, too, am Oxford”, saying: “I am heavily involved in Access work and one of my priorities has always been portraying a balanced picture of the university. There are enough people either entirely against Oxbridge or entirely in love with it; for this reason it’s essential to present potential applicants with the truth.”
“Access is about encouraging applications from those students who would not normally apply, and these students often have legitimate concerns about equality within an institution like Oxford.”
“Engaging with them as nothing more than a glorified propaganda machine is useless; it’s far better to take their concerns seriously while letting them know that current students are working to improve things. This is why the [“I, too, am Oxford”] project is crucial; we are starting a dialogue that has been ignored and pushing issues that need to be resolved,” she added.