Union makes new commitment to tackling racism

News University News

The Oxford Union has apologised once again for its ‘Colonial Comeback’ scandal at last week’s debate, as well as for its “wholly inadequate” response by the Committee and Union officials.

The decision was made in a meeting of the Standing Committee on Tuesday, attended by various Union officials, as well as representatives of the Oxford Africa Society, Oxford African and Caribbean Society, Rhodes Must Fall Oxford, and other student groups.

The apology, which is expected to be released this afternoon, is focused both on the cocktail and the the Union’s apparent failure to consult Committee members and people of colour in the aftermath. The Union’s initial apologies did not refer to the cocktail as “racist”. On Monday, the Standing Committee passed a motion declaring not only the cocktail but the Union itself as institutionally racist.

Referring to the Union’s response, one member questioned why Union officials did not have the thought: “We’re dealing with a racist incident, we should consult people of colour.” The apology will contain the language: “Standing Committee has failed to take sufficient account of the voices of members from marginalised groups.”

The apology also commits the Union to taking proactive steps to combat racism. Recognising “that racism exists in society, racism exists in Oxford, and racism exists in the Union,” the Committee determined both to introduce mandatory “race and anti-racism” training for all members of elected committees and full-time staff. The Union also promises to work with other movements and use its influence to help end racism in Oxford and wider society.

There appeared to be consensus among those present that the recent events evidenced not only racism within the Union, but a responsibility to change things.

The meeting included several tense moments as personal allegations were made. It was debated whether the Union should apologise personally to two women of colour on committee, including Zuleyka Shahin, who felt marginalised and threatened in the aftermath of the scandal. Standing Committee member Ssuuna Golooba-Mutebi said that at none of the Union’s meetings had he felt threatened as a person of colour and that personal issues should not be included in the apology.

In a statement released after the meeting Rhodes Must Fall Oxford said: “Rhodes Must Fall Oxford is pleased with the proceedings today. The Oxford Union not only recognised its responsibility to address racism within itself, but also in the University and society as a whole.

“We hope that in future they will work together with Rhodes Must Fall Oxford and other organisations at the University to continue the struggle of decolonising the Union, Oxford University as a whole and society at large.”