On the evening of Thursday, 29th January, students at Oriel College received word that the controversial statue of former Oxford student, benefactor and colonialist Cecil Rhodes will remain in place on High Street.
In December, Oriel announced its intention to monitor the growing debate surrounding the statue and reflect on the arguments promoted by the Rhodes Must Fall campaign, in order to address the issue ‘in a spirit of free speech’. A statement put forth tonight by the College affirms that the ‘overwhelming message’ the college has received has been in support of Rhodes’ statue remaining in place.
“Following careful consideration, the College’s Governing Body has decided that the statue should remain in place, and that the College will seek to provide a clear historical context to explain why it is there,” the statement reads in part. “By adding context, we can help draw attention to this history, do justice to the complexity of the debate, and be true to our educational mission.”
As of Thursday evening, the Telegraph has alleged that the Oriel Governing Body’s decision was prompted by donors’ threats to cancel various gifts and bequests totalling over £100 million if the statue is removed. The report indicates that the Governing Body was warned at its Wednesday meeting that because of its “ambiguous position” on the statue’s status, approximately £1.5 million worth of donations expected this year have already been cancelled.
“Basically I don’t really have an opinion about the statue as a physical entity”, said Lydia Kanari-Naish, a second-year at Oriel College. “But it’s a shame that money (if it is allegedly the real catalyst) has had the power to terminate the dialogue we’ve been having recently. Hopefully this doesn’t signify an end to the debate over wider racial issues in Oxford”.
Oriel’s Governing Body vehemently denies the allegations, stating, “Reports that the college is preparing to make redundancies and is facing an operating loss are categorically not true. The College is actively recruiting to its fundraising team. It does not depend on donations to fund its operations.”
In the coming months, the College plans to hold listening exercises that will center upon how best to place both the Rhodes statue and plaque in a “clear historical context”. The Governing Body “expects to have identified specific proposals by the autumn”.
“The statue’s presence on campus has contributed to an incredibly important discussion on institutional racism which should continue, but I think it is possible to look at the statue as a reminder of progressive reform”, stated Kirsten Hedde, a visiting student at Mansfield College. “I am reminded of a Shakespeare quote from Julius Caesar: ‘The evil that men do live after them; the good is oft interred with their bones’. Hopefully the outcome of this debate indicates that we can still respect Rhodes’ positive contributions to the university, while holding him accountable and acknowledging the flaws in his beliefs”.