Democracy is one of the things the Western World is most proud of. When our countries come under attack we nod, smile politely and point out that, whatever the numerous faults of our systems, we are a democracy and therefore how wrong can we really be? Despite this deep-rooted admiration of our political system it is true that JCR meetings, our own miniature form of democracy (and one that offers free pizza) are often barely attended – I say this in the knowledge that in my time so far I have been at one. This was, however, resolutely not the case on Sunday in St Anne’s JCR, when a motion was put forward demanding that we as a JCR come out against the Rhodes Must Fall campaign. The issue of Rhodes and his statue is one that has inflamed a debate greater than even its campaigns greatest advocates can ever have predicted.
Nevertheless, whatever side of the argument you fall on, there seemed to me a number of reasons why this proposal couldn’t go through. They proponents of the motion believed that, given that other colleges had come out in support of the movement, that balance must be restored by our college being against. This seems to me to be silly at best; there is no need for childish one-upmanship in regards to such a sensitive issue. If even just 3% of St Anne’s JCR were in favor of the pulling down of the statue then the motion would not be providing a ‘balanced’ view of its own college’s opinion, so how could we possibly state that that is what we as a JCR believed? The idea that college JCRs need to involve themselves anyway makes me a little uncomfortable; the JCR is in charge of student welfare, not representing the views of its members in what has become a highly politicized matter.
At any rate the motion did not pass (and we now know that neither has the statue fallen) so perhaps it doesn’t matter what I think at all, but I do believe that both the campaign, and to a certain degree the St Anne’s debate, have succeeded in drawing awareness to something that does truly matter. I can’t imagine that there is anyone at Oxford who would condone the lack of ethnic diversity in our university, whatever side of the debate they stand on. The statue may have become a symbol for a wider problem, and though I can’t fully see that taking it down would solve that problem, I don’t see that the failure to take it down means the campaign itself has failed. Given recent attacks from national media over students desires for ‘safe spaces’ and our generation’s supposed lack of ability to debate different opinions, it is refreshing to be able to say that people are willing to debate such a controversial matter in public at all. The campaign’s leaders have brought our, and the university’s attention, to an issue that does need to be solved and they have reminded us that we are a democracy within which discussion is alive and well, and that surely counts for something.
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