The JCR (Joint Common Room) is St Benet's student body. At a virtual meeting on 8th June, the JCR resolved the following:
Oxford’s attitude to racism must change
For too long, Oxford as an institution has allowed and normalised casual racism, and in doing so has failed its students of colour. The recent incident following the hustings at Christ Church is just one example of how the university and its constituent colleges have failed time and again to fulfil their safeguarding duties when issues of racism emerge, instead changing the discourse to notions of 'bullying' and 'virtue-signalling' on the victim's part. In its communications with the students involved, Christ Church failed in its welfare responsibilities towards them, choosing instead to focus its attention on public image.
Expressions of anger in the face of racism, on social media and otherwise, must be treated as legitimate by the institutions of the university. They are a symptom of disillusionment felt by students at existing routes of complaint, which have too often led to victims being silenced and the prioritisation of public appearances. The bravery and energy it takes to speak out against racism is immense, and for the student in question to have felt silenced and ignored indicates a lack of understanding by those in positions of responsibility.The university must seek to understand and solve the problems in order to prioritise the welfare of its students.
We acknowledge that this problem does not reside merely within Christ Church. In Oxford generally there is a culture of denying wrong-doing on the part of those closest to us, perpetuated by individuals but sanitised by the university’s lack of an appropriate response. At St Benet’s Hall we have failed our own students of colour in the past. It is not enough to be proud of our progress; we must acknowledge where we have failed to act in order to improve our responses in the future. We must learn from recent events in order to thoroughly examine and criticise our own practices, and commit to improving the culture within St Benet’s.
Casual racism must be called out whenever and wherever it occurs, regardless of the people involved. Mistakes may happen, but when they do, appropriate action must still be taken. As a bare minimum, this would involve a full and sincere apology along with a commitment to understand better the issues at hand. We must reject ‘cover-up culture’, commit to exposing and dealing with racism, and ensure that we prioritise the victim, including fully supporting them through the process. Dealing with and rejecting racism are not the responsibilities of victims, but the duties of everyone within the Hall.
We call for all members of the St Benet’s Hall community to take an active role in calling out casual racism and supporting any member of the Hall who is in need, including the rejection of ‘cover-up culture’.
We ask that the leadership of the Hall revise their policies and processes in conjunction with the JCR zero-tolerance policy, and work with us to combat the issues we have outlined. Without the full support of the Hall, the JCR has only limited power to implement consequences.
We call for the formation of an ‘Equality Committee’, including seats for the BME representative, women’s representative, access representative, and LGBTQ+ representative, which would meet termly to discuss the ways the Hall can improve with regard to inclusivity issues. We also call for the BME, women's, Access, and LGBTQ+ representatives to meet individually and regularly with the Master and Senior Tutor to facilitate and maintain better discourse about inclusivity.
We call for an open discussion to be held about the history of the Hall in full historical context, and the colonial heritage inherited by the university as a whole. Dialogue regarding the privileges we enjoy as a result of the suffering of others is imperative; understanding our colonial past is a prerequisite to understanding our current position.
We call for widespread decolonisation of the university’s curricula. Following the advice of the Universities UK review on the attainment of black students (2019), institutions must review courses to ensure that they are not overly white and Eurocentric in order to create an ‘inclusive environment’. This firmly ties in to opportunities for academics of colour - as of February 2020, fewer than 1% of university professors in the UK are black, which is a damning statistic. The lack of teaching staff can no longer be an excuse for a Eurocentric curriculum.
We call for our tutors here at St Benet’s Hall to continue to recognise not only the role of education ‘in building racial equality and fair inclusion of black voices’ acknowledged in the statement signed by Richard Cooper along with other heads of colleges, but also the role that education can, and does, play in perpetuating inequality. As a college that centres around the humanities this is especially pertinent, as the value that we place on Western knowledge and thought within these subjects is inherently racially biased. It is our hope that going forward, they will champion the cause of decolonisation within their faculties. We call on them to be our representatives in a sphere where we have little direct power.