STATEMENT FROM THE WARDEN ON BLACK LIVES MATTER - 12 June 2020
I responded with total dismay and horror - as I know you all did - on watching the brutal murder of George Floyd. The response has been deep-felt across the world and from all ethnicities and social classes but it is hard to believe that we are still having these debates almost sixty years after the Civil Rights marches in the US and following countless protests following similar murders since. Stephen Lawrence, Eric Garner, and Breonna Taylor are a tiny sample of such cases with which we are all too familiar.
This week has seen the return of the Rhodes Must Fall protests to the High Street in Oxford. It is impossible not to empathise with the feeling expressed by many of our students that they do not want to have to walk past a glorified reminder of oppression when they go into the centre of Oxford. In the absence of any attempt at contextualisation in its current location, I personally now support the proposal of the Leader of the Oxford City Council (a long-term friend of the College) that the statue be removed to a museum where it will be viewed as an object that can be placed in its correct historical context.
It is clear, however, that statements - while important in their own right - are not in any way sufficient to respond to the issues of Black Lives Matter. Despite decades of policy pronouncements and well-meaning words, progress on black and minority ethnic inclusion in the university sector has been shamefully slow. To give just one example close to home: while black people make up 3 per cent of the UK population, between 2016-17 and 2018-19, just 1.2 per cent of funded PhD studentships awarded across all the research councils went to black students (Research Professional, 10 June 2020). Not only does this mean that thousands of individuals are missing out on opportunities that should be available to them, but society is missing out on the perspectives that they would bring to many of its biggest challenges.
In the last few days, I have had a number of conversations with the GCR as well as some Fellows, as a result of which I will take proposals to the next meeting of the Governing Body that the College makes immediate policy changes to respond to the position of black members of our community and permanent governance changes to ensure that those policy changes are fully implemented and effective.
I will ask the Governing Body to consider introducing the following immediate policy changes to begin to address the current situation in the college:
The introduction of Implicit Bias and Race Awareness training for all current employees of the college and as part of the induction of all new members of staff;
The introduction of Implicit Bias and Race Awareness training as part of Welcome Week for students;
The introduction of a policy that a case has to be made (in writing) to the Bursar/Warden to proceed with any shortlist for a post which does not include a BAME or a female candidate (to parallel the policy already in place for women in relation to statutory professorships);
The undertaking of the collection and analysis of data on Race and Gender Wage Gap analysis of College staff on at least an annual basis with a route to addressing any issues identified;
The commitment to prioritise raising funds for doctoral studentships for black British students in social sciences and humanities.
I anticipate that Governing Body members will also propose other immediate policy measures and I look forward to including those in the discussion.
The permanent governance change that I will ask the Governing Body to consider is the establishment of a (provisionally-named) Standing Committee on Diversity and Equality to monitor the college’s performance in these areas and to hold the Governing Body to account for that performance and continuous upgrading of processes in the college in relation to them. This committee could consist of external members with expertise in this area (similar to the college’s Remuneration and Conflict of Interest Committee) and would be independent of the Governing Body. Its remit would include - but not necessarily limited to - anti-racism and gender issues and the intersectional relationship between these.
I will ask the Governing Body to discuss these proposals at its next statutory meeting on Wednesday 17 June and, if they are approved, will work with the Bursar to implement them over the summer so that they can be in place for the new academic year.
Throughout the last two weeks, I have been reminded of a passage in Martin Luther King’s Letter from a Birmingham Jail written in April 1963:
I must confess that over the past few years I have been gravely disappointed with the white moderate. I have almost reached the regrettable conclusion that the Negro's great stumbling block in his stride toward freedom is not the White Citizen's Counciler or the Ku Klux Klanner, but the white moderate, who is more devoted to "order" than to justice; who prefers a negative peace which is the absence of tension to a positive peace which is the presence of justice; who constantly says: "I agree with you in the goal you seek, but I cannot agree with your methods of direct action"; who paternalistically believes he can set the timetable for another man's freedom; who lives by a mythical concept of time and who constantly advises the Negro to wait for a "more convenient season." Shallow understanding from people of good will is more frustrating than absolute misunderstanding from people of ill will. Lukewarm acceptance is much more bewildering than outright rejection.
We all share a collective responsibility to ensure that the underlying structural conditions that allowed the murder of George Floyd – and of which we as social scientists are only too aware - are responded to in our own institutions. St Antony’s, with its extraordinarily diverse student body, staff and fellowship, has an opportunity to set a path for others to follow in this regard.
With all best wishes,
STATEMENT FROM THE GOVERNING BODY – 17 JUNE 2020, reconfirmed on 16 June 2021, with work on governance and policy changes now being implemented
St Antony’s College Governing Body fully endorses the Warden’s statement above, and has agreed to implement the immediate policy changes and the permanent governance change set out. It also noted that recent weeks have seen the return of the Rhodes Must Fall protests to the High Street in Oxford. While recognizing the matter is for Oriel College, the Governing Body supports its Warden’s statement on the relocation of the Cecil Rhodes statue to a museum where it can be placed in its correct historical context. It also supports moves to decolonize the curriculum and take concrete new action on anti-racism across the Collegiate University.