The St Anne’s Junior Common Room has voted against a motion that called for the JCR to make a public announcement in support of keeping the Cecil Rhodes statue in Oriel College.
Proposed by Matthew Kirtley and Henry Williams, the motion was spurred on by the topical Rhodes Must Fall (RMF) campaign which seeks to “decolonise the space, the curriculum, and the institutional memory at, and to fight intersectional oppression within, Oxford.” One of the ways RMF aims to do so is by advocating for the removal of the statue commemorating Rhodes, a prominent colonial figure of the 19th century, from Oriel College.
The emergency debate that took place on Tuesday 26th January was a continuation of the main JCR meeting held the previous Sunday, in which debates surrounding the opposition of the Rhodes Must Fall campaign began. However, at that particular time, it was decided that the motion needed to be further revised before the JCR could proceed with voting.
The motion eventually called for the college to publicly “announce its opposition to the removal of the statue of Rhodes from Oriel College, and any form of politically motivated iconoclasm in the university and its constituent colleges/PPHs”, as well as to urge “Oriel College to keep the statue of Rhodes and its associated plaques in their current position.”
Following the announcement of Tuesday’s results, Kirtley, a second year student at St Anne’s, stated: “While we expected defeat, we are obviously disappointed that the margin was not narrower.”
Based on the 138 members who cast a vote, 97 students voted against the motion whilst 34 voted in proposition.
Kirtley went on to say: “We are, however encouraged by the opposition to Rhodes Must Fall, and hope that this will initiate a broader debate in the interests of free speech.”
On the other hand, Sneha Alexander- the JCR’s Black and Minority Ethnic representative- expressed her delight at the results. “I am elated at the JCR’s decision to overturn the motion that ‘the statue of Rhodes not fall’. The landslide victory for the opposition has demonstrated that St Anne’s JCR were united in rebutting such a provocative motion and that the student body prides itself upon maintaining an open and tolerant environment for all its students.”
St Anne’s JCR joins the undergraduate bodies of other colleges such as St Catherine’s and St Hilda’s who have also debated the Rhodes Must Fall campaign and subsequently chosen to support the movement.
In addition, the St Anne’s MCR passed a motion on Tuesday to express solidarity with the Rhodes Must Fall Movement. The group of graduates highlighted that the MCR “recognises that distinctive issues are faced by BME students at the University of Oxford and believes that more should be done on a university and college level to: increase the representation and voice of BME and other minority members of our community; and take action to address the concerns raised.”
The JCR, despite voting against the proposed motion, has made it clear that the results of the vote do not signify an official statement of support for the Rhodes Must Fall campaign. Ben Hartridge, JCR President, emphasised that the debate “encompassed a wide range of views” and that its outcome serves to express a formal statement of public neutrality.