Oxford college officials backed plans to protect Rhodes memorial

Oxford college officials backed plans to protect Rhodes memorial

On Friday, I had an investigation published in The Guardian, detailing a four-year behind-the-scenes battle over whether to list a plaque to a white supremacist as a heritage asset. Listing the plaque – which is on the outside of a building owned by Oriel College, Oxford – would have made it almost impossible to be removed.

You can read the article here; meanwhile, here are the raw documents, all obtained through FOIs, that made this article possible:


Oriel’s treasurer – one of the most senior members of the college’s governing body – lobbied in February 2016 for the plaque to be added to the heritage list.

Only weeks earlier, the college had emailed Oxford City Council asking to take it down, describing it as a “political tribute” to a man with “racist views”.

The Council replied to Oriel’s letter shortly after, saying that the college was free to take down the plaque at any time.

Historic England – the body that advises the government – was quickly thrown into chaos. Key members of the body, such as then-Director of Listing Roger Bowdler, believed the plaque should be listed. But they didn’t want a political controversy. At one stage, Bowdler wrote that he planned to take the advice of a colleague who “wisely wishes to accompany it with some pro-African listings”.

pro-African listings

Historic England drafted advice that the plaque should be listed in 2016, but never submitted it. They ultimately submitted advice to the government in 2018 advising that the plaque not be listed – noting that “our handling has been the subject of recent FOI and media enquiries”. At this point, I had already submitted several FOIs to Historic England.

The Department for Culture, Media and Sport only took a final decision on the case in February of this year – over four years since the listing application was submitted.

Meanwhile, returning to Oriel, current provost Neil Mendoza backed the listing of the plaque while in a previous job as a Commissioner of Historic England, according to a contemporaneous memorandum by Historic England’s Director of Listing. (Oriel disputes that this is Mendoza’s current position, but does not dispute the accuracy of the memorandum. It should also be noted that this was not an official minute of the meeting; this is because “the discussion wasn’t minuted“.)

Historic England released a statement in response to my article, which can be read here.

Read more on the plaque here.

For more information on the Rhodes Must Fall protests in Oxford – and the South African protests which inspired them – check out the timeline that I did for The Poor Print here.

The header image was obtained from Historic England via Environmental Information Regulations and is therefore now in the public domain.

Oriel News: Michaelmas 2017

Oriel News: Michaelmas 2017

Originally published on The Poor Print (Oriel College Newspaper) on 27/10/2017.

I read the minutes, so you don’t have to.

Welcome to ‘Oriel News’, The Poor Print’s new roundup of everything big that’s going down in college.

As the rust has been scraped from the gears of the Oxford machine and Oriel life has restarted, students could be forgiven for thinking that it was a whole new Oriel they’d come back to: new freshers, a new JCR, new signs and – most importantly – new lunch trays. The bar has also seen its fair share of renovation, with a student project still underway to decorate the sliding doors using Sharpies. (Like all great artists, they have dismally failed to keep to their deadline.) In foreign affairs news, even the Fishbowl Common Room has apparently been redone, much to the annoyance of has-been Facebook meme page ‘Humans of JMH’. (Do they even go here?)

Turning now to politics, the JCR distinguished itself with a characteristic flurry of activity in the opening weeks of Michaelmas. The first open meeting of term saw an introduction from our new Junior Dean Serenhedd James, bringing with him a reminder that if we continue to steal at such a prolific rate then the tuck shop will be closed. Sadly the message seems yet to have sunk in: further items to have since gone missing include the newly bought tablet PC purchased for playing music in the bar and (bizarrely) a large number of yellow and black Sharpies.  Controversy and confusion reigned over an unexpected (and short-lived) 30p hike in laundry prices, caused by an improper application of the college subsidy. (Prices have since returned to their usual extortionate rate.)

Second week saw yet another Bar Rep by-election, as Dan Strachan resigned for the 394th time from the role he created for himself. Best of luck to Francis Judd, our new Bar Rep, who saw off strong competition from Jack Blowers. Meanwhile, a charity motion plunged the JCR into constitutional crisis, as the bar’s best and brightest grappled with the question of whether it would be legal to give money to a body that was technically-not-a-charity-but-kind-of-was. Money was more successfully pledged over the first two weeks to the Pool team (£20, ‘to be converted to 20p and 50p coins for the use of the team’s games and escapades during the year’) and the Amazons Drinking Society (£74, for a freshers’ drinks event).

Vapers beware: the House Committee has recently decided that the smoking ban will be extended to cover e-cigarettes on account of the lingering odours left on room furnishings and overexcitable fire alarms. In other domestic matters, the JCR was alerted to two upcoming redevelopments over weeks one to three. The Doll’s House is due to be re-rendered this Trinity term, but examinees fear not – scaffolding and noise should be minimal. Mores substantial in impact will be the Brewhouse Project: a major redevelopment of Oriel slated to take place in a few years that may mean that Oriel students will have to eat Hall meals in a marquee in second quad for three to four years. (Plans for the project are currently on display in the High Street Building.)

In nature news, The Poor Print is sad to report (courtesy of the porters’ lodge) the passing of the beloved Oriel duck over the long vac, tragically hit by a car in Oriel Square while posing for a photo. This stalwart of Oriel – who even met the Queen in 2013 – will be sorely missed. Thankfully no such fate has befallen Beary McBearphace, who after a period of disappearance seems to have returned to us – washed, nonetheless. Second Week’s Open Meeting saw a motion passed endorsing the principle that the naming of ‘Beary’s friend’ shall somehow raise money for charity, in a manner to be decided at the discretion of Charities Rep Priyanka Nankini. And nature lovers will also no doubt rejoice that Open Meetings will be delayed from Fourth Week onwards, in order to allow us all to watch the new series of Blue Planet. Open Meetings will, for reasons that seemed like a good idea at the time, also commence with a short synopsis of the episode just broadcast, relayed to us by motion proposer James Somerville.

Moving on to arts affairs, the coming term holds a variety of excitements in store. Tuesday of Fifth Week will see Oriel Choir decamping to Temple Church in London to promote their forthcoming album of Christmas music in a special concert. Fifth Week will also see The Lieutenant of Inishmore – a Northern Irish black comedy by Martin McDonagh – being put on at the O’Reilly Theatre, with substantial involvement from Oriel’s very own Georgia Robson.  And Robbie Boswall is rumoured to be running a museum trip at some point in the near future, which has potential for entertainment in more ways than one.

A third of the JCR has apparently already died in Entz’s game of ‘Human Assassin’ as of Sunday, and by my reckoning the other two thirds have come down with fresher’s flu. But hey, if anyone’s left to read this, the only thing left to say is to keep buying tickets for Oriel Ball!

What Happens on Tour…

What Happens on Tour…

A diary from Oriel Choir Tour 2017. Featured image supplied by Matthew Hull.

Tuesday, 27 June

Far too early Wake up. Persuade myself that, yes, I did need to set the alarm this early. Lie in wait outside the bathroom so I can use the shower. There’s a queue – Lizzie kindly hosted several of us the night before, since she lives close to Heathrow and that seemed like a good enough excuse for a party. Will Pickering seems to be taking hours. When I get out, Will McDonald tells me I seemed to be taking hours.

Still far too early There’s bad traffic on the M25. Three different SatNav devices are giving us three different time estimate. Implausibly, we arrive on time at 8:15 and meet with the rest of the choir.

10:25am We’re off. I have a window seat – but it’s cloudy enough that the world below is completely hidden until we land. It’s a short flight; I spend the time reading various newspapers and listening to music. The battery on my noise-cancelling headphones has died.

1:25pm CET (12:25pm BST) We land in Milan. Giampiero Innocente, the local choir director who invited us here and organised the tour, introduces himself. He’s well-dressed, wears glasses, seems nice. We’re promptly bundled onto a coach to be transported to the nearby town of Lodi. Apparently, to our surprise, that’s where we’ll be staying (I ruminate that this is what happens if you fail to read an itinerary that’s been pushed at you for several months now).

C. 2pm Lodi. We arrive at the secondary school where we’ll be staying. Staff are quite literally waving WiFi passwords at us as we come through the doors: welcome, but slightly surreal. The rooms are nice – we each have our own bathroom and balcony.

4-7pm Collective fatigue has taken hold after the early get-up and flight, but it’s rehearsal time. There’s no other option – our first concert is the following day, and rehearsal time for our tour programme was limited in Trinity by the two-services-a-week choir schedule.

We sound terrible, and we all know it. I try to convince myself that we sounded this bad at the beginning of last tour. I’m not sure we did.

7pm Pizza and beer for all – welcome. A few of us head out for a walk to explore Lodi a little after supper, before heading back to the school and drinking obscenely cheap wine in the corridor with the others.

Wednesday, 28 June

7am A few of us who enjoy inflicting pain on ourselves set out early for a jog before it’s too hot to do so. The advantage of Lodi over Milan is that you quickly find yourselves in the countryside, and we discover an attractive 10K route through crop fields and along the river. Several of the fields contain wheat, which still feels slightly rebellious after General Election ‘17.

8:30am Breakfast. An incredible array of inedible items – rock-hard bread (sans butter); ‘juice’ cartons (with c. 50% juice); undrinkable lemon tea (which many make the mistake of putting milk in); something that professes to be ham. Luckily the coffee is good, and is served in a huge vat with a ladle.

10:30am-2:30pm Short rehearsal in Lodi, then a coach to Milan, followed by lunch, which is provided free of charge at the university in Milan (the venue for tonight’s concert). We get a short amount of free time, but not enough to do much with, so a few of us have a wander through Milan – we get within eyeshot of the Cathedral before having to turn back. Multiple sopranos are told how beautiful they are by a street vendor – unless they refuse to buy that bracelet, in which case they’re ugly, and, apparently, evil as well.

2:30pm Rehearsal in the university’s concert hall – our first rehearsal with the string players, which is exciting. We’re starting to sound half decent: a relief. A massive storm breaks outside during the rehearsal.

Our itineraries have ‘Drinks for all the people’ suggestively scheduled in between our rehearsal and the concert, but this time it turns out to be just pineapple juice. Probably for the best.

9pm Show time. Much stressing over clothes in the run-up beforehand. (One button undone, or two? Should Will McDonald wear trainers, or walk on in socks?) Will also forgot to buy himself a black shirt before coming, so has to dash out beforehand to buy one (sans coat, in the middle of the storm). He comes back dripping. Luckily, there’s time for him to dry himself off before the concert.

Much pomp as our first concert begins. Giampiero appears to be giving an extensive history of Oriel College in his introduction, lasting for 15 minutes or so – we pick out the name ‘Newman’ amongst the stream of Italian. Choir concerts usually seem to be, for me, an exercise in clinging onto a ridiculous amount of music for dear life. (I’ve checked on the YouTube videos since, and, yes, it does look like I’m about to drop my music at any moment.) Regardless, the concert goes pretty well – we’re still not sounding as good as we could, but there are several yet to come.

C. 11pm Coach back to Lodi. Much drinking. We discover there’s an Irish pub near the river called Bridge…

choir in front of bridge
Photo: Will Pickering. Left to right: Ellie Juckes (soprano); Alexander Walls (bass); Matthew Hull (bass); Will Pickering (bass); David Maw (director of music); Malcolm Kittle (alto); Alex Waygood (bass); William McDonald (junior organ scholar); Charlotte Anstey (soprano); Marcel Stolz (bass)

Thursday, 29 June

Itinerary: ‘Free day, free time’.

We divide into several groups: those too hungover to do anything; those who want to do proper sightseeing in Milan; and two groups who want to visit the lakes. I and a few others decide to head to the small town of Stresa, on the shores of Lake Maggiore, but take a slow route with a long pause in Milan to avoid high train fares. Happily, we discover on the train from Milan that our ticket is invalid, despite having selected the route from a list of options on a ticket machine in Lodi. Since no one in our group really speaks Italian, we decide it’s probably best to pay up rather than risk getting into a fight with the angry ticket inspector.

Stresa and Lake Maggiore are beautiful, but our timing is unfortunate to say the least: after a sunny train ride there, storm clouds emerge shortly after we disembark. We swim tentatively for a little while in the lake, but most of the rest of the afternoon is spent running between the lakeshore and the train station – the only place we can think of to find shelter. We end up having to picnic in the train station. Mamma mia.

Most of the choir meets in Milan for a meal in the evening, followed by a brisk walk back to the train station in a fruitless attempt to catch a train – except for Alexander Walls, who, being a little more drunk, runs a little more recklessly. We watch him being taken away back to Lodi, fingers pressed against the glass, helpless to help us.

Much drinking in Lodi when we eventually get back, this time on the roof – much more atmospheric.

Friday, 30 June

7am Another 10K morning run – but I’m hungover, so Matthew Hull has to drag me out, delaying us until 7:15. We have the morning free, so those of us who make it to breakfast resolve to Do Something rather than hang around in Lodi all day (our concert will be in Lodi this evening). We settle on going to Cremona – the only interesting town we can get back from in time for our rehearsal. A Telegraph article describes it as having ‘striking’ architecture.

Cremona. We arrive at Monteverdi’s birthplace. The train station isn’t particularly striking. In case we didn’t know it’s Monteverdi’s birthplace, there’s a sculpture of a violin just outside the train station that plays the opening of Orfeo on loop all day. (Bizarrely, the extract has no violins in it.)

The architecture does indeed, however, become ever-more striking as we approach the centre. We climb the clock tower – the largest of its kind in Europe, while its clock face is at 54 square metres also the largest in Europe. Rory unexpectedly gets to use his Japanese at the top; we need (obviously) to ask a tourist to take our picture. The view is staggering.

After descending, we decide to have a stab at busking in the square. ‘Stab’ seems to be the right word to begin with: after discovering that we are all men, Alexander Walls and I attempt the soprano lines in falsetto, with results you could describe as decidedly mixed. We quickly resolve to take the soprano lines down the octave, and actually end up sounding pretty good – we earn €7 between us. Less than the minimum wage; but hey, we had a good time.

4:30pm We get to our rehearsal late after failing to grasp the subtleties of Italian trains. It goes well though, and after dinner so does the concert. We’re now making a really nice noise – especially the soloists. ‘Drinks with all the people’ are helpfully scheduled in our itinerary for after the concert. These are alcoholic…


Saturday, 1 July

Breakfast We’re singing in Crema in the evening, but don’t need to rehearse until around 4pm. Rather than hang around in Lodi for most of the day, a group of us instead decide to head to Crema early – there look to be some nice riverside walks nearby. Cue a vast amount of time spent attempting to get to grips with the subtleties of Italian buses.

We eventually make it to Crema, and the walk and picnic are worth it. After we get back to Crema, we head to the wrong church, and struggle to find the right one – but Giampiero turns out to be two minutes away, so rescues us and buys us all ice cream.

The rest of the choir arrives by coach, and the rehearsal again goes well, though the choir as a whole seems to be pretty tired by this point. The Great Game after rehearsal is to find ‘thank you’ cards for David (our conductor) and Will McDonald (our organ scholar). ‘Thank you’ cards don’t really seem to be a thing in Italy, but I find two cards with the inscription ‘you are the music to my soul’. It seems fitting.

Our last concert goes really well – we’re sounding just as good as we did the night before, and in a much less cavernous acoustic. Giampiero throws us a party afterwards next door (Crema is his home town). More drinking follows on return to Lodi – this time in the cloisters, since partying on the roof had apparently disturbed other guests. Malcolm and Will Pickering managed to find two 5L bottles of wine with the helpful label ‘ROSSO’. It’s actually not half bad.

litre of red wine.jpg
Photo: Alexander Walls. Left to right: Malcolm Kittle (alto); Will Pickering (bass).

Sunday, 2 July

Tour barely feels like it’s begun, yet it’s already the last day. Fewer days and more concerts have led to an intense atmosphere, while a distinct lack of beaches has created a very different feel to last year’s chilled tour in the Côte d’Azur. Yet it’s been awesome fun all the same – and probably no bad thing that we’ve done more singing this year.

We’re not quite done, though – we still have a mass and several motets to sing at a midday service in the Basilica in Milan. Half the choir are losing their voices by this point, but it seems to go pretty well all the same. We’re quickly bundled into a coach after the service and taken to the airport.

Back at Heathrow, saying ‘goodbye’ takes far too long – as it always does. Somehow, tour always feels like an extension of term – so this is the point when we’re saying ‘goodbye’ to Oxford for the summer. There’s also the fact that many of the choir won’t be returning next year – some we might see again; some we might not. It becomes apparent that none of us really know how airports work: we end up saying our goodbyes far too early, creating a long, awkward period post-goodbyes when we’re still walking in the same direction.

Chapel choirs are fairly strange, as social groups go. Oriel choir contains a diverse mix of very different people, spanning a wide age range and an array of very different subjects. (Who knew so many engineers sang in chapel choirs?) You see each other regularly over the course of a year – but rehearsals contain little time for talking. (Most of the time, your mouth’s already open for, well, singing.) The main bonding experience occurs at the end of the year, in the form of choir tour – right at the point when half of the choristers are about to set off to whatever new choirs the future may hold.

Best of luck to them.

Choir 2016-17 (fun, cropped).jpg
Oriel College Chapel Choir 2016-17. Photo: César Manivet

More on Oriel Choir Tour 2017

The official write-up of Oriel Choir’s 2017 tour can be found on the Oriel website here.

More information on Giampiero Innocente and his choir – the Collegium Vocale di Crema – can be found here and here.

The full collection of images and videos from the tour can be found on the Facebook page and YouTube channel of the Collegium Vocale di Crema.

Oriel Choir’s official website can be found here. More information on the choir and music can also be found on the Oriel website here, and further information on Oriel Chapel in general can be found here.

This piece was originally published by The Poor Print on August 4, 2017.

Putting Rhodes in His Place

Putting Rhodes in His Place

A report on Oriel College’s January 14 meeting on how to contextualise their statue of renowned imperialist Cecil Rhodes.

‘Buccaneer, loose cannon, privateer – see Walter Raleigh.’[1] So goes one account of Cecil Rhodes – but one perhaps uncomforting for Oriel College. Controversy around Rhodes’s achievements has simmered since his death (The Guardian’s 1902 obituary lambasted him as a ‘dragon efficient in tooth and claw’) – yet still there is little consensus on how to approach his legacy.

On Saturday, 14 January 2017, Oriel held a meeting on how to contextualise the College’s statue of Rhodes, around which debate has raged since May 2015. Teresa Morgan, Classics Professor at Oriel, opened the meeting by defining its parameters: the purpose was neither to discuss the presence of the statue or the King Edward Street plaque (both of which had been decided on), nor to attempt to come to a single ‘Oriel view’ of Rhodes. Rather, the aim was to explore ways of recognising the complexity of Rhodes’s legacy – adding nuance to a symbol that, for many, appears to indicate unqualified endorsement.

The meeting, therefore, was hardly a concession to RMFO’s demands. (RMFO has yet to respond to repeated attempts by The Poor Print to contact them.) All four guest speakers present could be classed as ‘pro-contextualisation’, and the event was exclusively for Oriel members. The resultant demographic of the room was uncomfortable: a nearly entirely white audience. Few members of the JCR chose to attend – perhaps oddly so, given the furious arguments that raged around RMFO in Open Meetings only a year prior.

Yet the discussion was nonetheless valuable. Oriel’s Dr Ian Forrest (Fellow in History) began by exploring Rhodes’s biography; his connection to Oriel; and the lack of awareness around Britain’s colonial legacy. Dr Gus Casely-Hayford, a cultural historian and broadcaster, spoke on the conflict between heritage and diversity: how can we celebrate the achievements of the past while at the same time looking at it critically?

Anna Eavis, Curatorial Director of English Heritage, spoke intriguingly on two cases with parallels to Oriel: Richmond Castle, Yorkshire; and Marble Hill, Twickenham, an eighteenth-century villa. In both cases, the heritage process is riddled with controversy. Richmond Castle, dating from the Norman Conquest, has cells in which the walls are scrawled with pencil graffiti: relics of conscientious objectors imprisoned there during the First World War. A recently-built commemorative garden for the objectors proved controversial with locals due to Richmond’s military history. Meanwhile, Marble Hill has vital importance to archaeological history as one of the earliest structural uses of mahogany. Yet English Heritage faces the challenge of preserving this site of immense beauty, while at the same time allowing space for the narrative of the Belizean slaves who it is thought must have harvested the villa’s mahogany under appalling conditions.

The last speaker on the panel was Judy Ling Wong CBE, President of the Black Environment Network, who spoke on how to effect a change in narrative. Arguing that you must ‘bring a wholeness of yourself to truly bring about a multicultural society’, Wong reminded the room of the ‘enormous opportunity’ that the College has. As a world-renowned institution, Oriel has a responsibility to lead the way.

Views in the room varied wildly as to how best to contextualise the statue. Many maintained that Oriel – as an academic establishment – could not appear to be imposing a single view of Rhodes; some argued that any form of contextualisation was inappropriate, being more suited to heritage sites. Others swung as far in the other direction, arguing that, in order to achieve neutrality, any response by Oriel would have to be as large, solid and permanent as the statue. Some warned against ‘over-privileging’ the name of Rhodes in Oriel’s history, as ultimately counterproductive to any contextualisation.

In practical terms, an array of suggestions was proposed: a clarifying plaque (perhaps supplemented online); a series of lectures/exhibitions; or indeed an artistic installation to visually compete with the statue, either on the High Street or in Third Quad. All are being considered by Oriel’s Rhodes Working Group; the Governing Body will likely adopt some combination of the above.

The Poor Print’s view is that a supposedly neutral consideration of Rhodes (whether on a plaque or online) would be wholly insufficient. While it is true that Oriel has a responsibility to encourage nuanced discourse, the college can neither be pigeonholed as a centre of academia nor as a heritage site. It is also, for many, a community and a home, and so any response must adequately address the fact that the statue has become a symbol of violent oppression to some in Oriel. Oriel has a duty to support those who study here – and if it fails to be a welcoming environment, it may find that the diversity of applicants falls off a cliff. The contextualisation of the statue must be as antiseptic to a wound: antiseptic is never neutral.

References and further reading

[1] Quoted by Dr Ian Forrest during the meeting.

The Guardian‘s 1902 obituary of Cecil Rhodes.

English Heritage sites on:

Dr Laurence Brown, ‘The Slavery Connections of Marble Hill House‘, a 2008 report commissioned by Historic England.

Originally published on 28/04/17 by The Poor Print.

The Myth of Rhodes: a Poor Print Special Report

The Myth of Rhodes: a <i>Poor Print</i> Special Report

‘The Myth of Rhodes’ was a Poor Print special report on Cecil Rhodes, Rhodes Must Fall, and the statue at Oriel College. The report was conceived, commissioned and edited by Alex Waygood, who also wrote one of the articles and carried out a large amount of additional research and fact-checking. The report was originally published on Friday, 28 April 2017, as part of Issue #18 (themed around ‘Myth’), which was also designed in its entirety by Alex Waygood.

The report consisted of six features (one of which was only online), plus a Complete Bibliography, a list of suggested Further Reading and copies of Facebook posts cited in the report. The report can be read online in its entirety here; or alternatively, for links to the individual articles, see below:

A pdf of the entire print issue can be downloaded here.

Rhodes Must Fall: A Timeline

Rhodes Must Fall: A Timeline

Originally published by The Poor Print on 28/04/2017.


09/03/15: Chumani Maxwele, a student of political science at the University of Cape Town (UCT), picks up a bucket of human faeces on the kerbside at the town of Khayelitsha and brings it back to UCT. He throws it into the face of a bronze statue of Cecil Rhodes that has stood prominently on the university’s rugby fields since 1934, shouting ‘Where are our heroes and ancestors?’.

12/03/15: More than a thousand students gather on the stairs of Jammie Plaza, the focal point of the UCT Upper Campus, to discuss the statue and Rhodes’s role in colonising Africa. After the meeting, protesters return to cover the statue in white and red sheets. The RMF Facebook page posts its first post.

15/03/15: The statue of Rhodes is once again covered by protestors, this time in black bin-bags. RMF begins a week of daily sit-ins at the statue.

16/03/15: Several academics, the president of the Student Representative Council and ‘half the audience’ walk out of a seminar discussing the statue of Cecil Rhodes after demanding a date for removal of the statue. (See here and here.)

19/03/15: Two Oxford students, Annie Teriba and Bi Kwo, organise a ‘Solidarity Action’ in support of RMF UCT on the High Street in Oxford.

20/03/15: Students march on the UCT administrative building, the Bremner building, demanding a date for the removal of the statue. They begin an occupation of the building which lasts several weeks, supported by a collection of students, academics and members of the public, who supply the protesters with food. They ‘rename’ the building ‘Azania House’ (an older term which refers to parts of South-East Africa without  the colonialist associations of ‘South Africa’).

25/03/15: Rhodes Must Fall publishes a mission statement on their Facebook page, calling for an ‘end to institutionalised racism and patriarchy at UCT’.

27/03/15 : UCT’s Senate, a 345-member body that decides on academic matters and has representatives from all academic departments, votes to remove the statue.

09/04/15: The Rhodes statue is removed following further disruptive campaigns from RMF.

12/04/15: The occupation of the Bremner Building ends after UCT serves the students an eviction letter. (See here, here, here and here for further details.)

28/05/15: Rhodes Must Fall in Oxford (RMFO) stages a protest at an Oxford Union debate on the motion ‘This House believes Britain owes reparations to her former colonies,’ which is carried by 185 to 56 votes. The Oxford Union later comes under fire from RMFO for serving a cocktail called the ‘Colonial Comeback,’ accompanied in adverts by a picture of black hands in chains, after the event.

01/06/15: The Oxford Union Governing Body passes a unanimous motion to acknowledge that the Union is institutionally racist.

17/10/15: RMFO stages a ‘matriculaction’ protest, in which students wore red while matriculating.

06/11/15: RMFO protests outside Oriel College, presenting a petition to demand that Oriel’s statute of Rhodes be taken down. (See here and here for Cherwell coverage.)

17/12/15: Oriel releases a statement responding to RMFO’s demands, announcing a six-month ‘listening exercise’ on the statue will commence from February 2016. It also states that the college intends to submit an application to Oxford City Council to remove a tributary plaque to Rhodes on No. 6 King Edward Street, an Oriel-owned property. A copy of Oriel’s statement can be found in full hereCherwell’s coverage can be found here.

18/12/15: The Telegraph reports that a ‘senior source’ at Historic England believes that removing Oriel’s statue would require ‘a very strong justification that goes beyond moral arguments’ due to the High Street building’s Grade II* listed status. (Historic England is the public body that is responsible for preserving the UK’s historic buildings. The legal requirements were later expanded upon by The Times.)

25/12/15: Australia ex-Prime Minister Tony Abbott (a former Rhodes scholar) wades into the debate on Oriel’s statue. A day later, South Africa ex-President F. W. de Klerk also intervenes. RMFO write open letters to both in the following days, which can be found here (to Tony Abbott) and here (to F. W. de Klerk).

File:Chris Patten -2008-10-31-.jpg
Lord Patten, Chancellor of the University of Oxford. Photographer: James Luanxin Li.

13/01/16: Chris Patten (Baron Patten of Barnes and Chancellor of Oxford University) attacks RMFO in an interview on Radio 4’s Today problem. He argues that RMFO should show more of a ‘generosity of spirit’ towards Rhodes and other aspects of history, or ‘think about being educated elsewhere’. (See here for an article, or here for the original interview.)

14/01/16: A Cherwell survey of 967 students (nearly 5% of the student body) finds that 54% of students are in favour of the statue of remaining, compared to 37% who think the statue should go. Among BME students, however, 48% thought the statue should fall whereas 45% thought it should remain.

18/01/16: A YouGov survey of 1,733 adults across the UK finds that 59% believe the statue of Rhodes should not be taken down. (11% say that it should, while 29% say they don’t know.) The same poll finds that pluralities believe that the British Empire was a good thing (43%) and that Britain’s history of colonialism is something to be proud of (44%).

19/01/16: The Oxford Union votes 245 to 212 in favour of removing the statue.

22/01/16: University College JCR votes to petition University College to rename their ‘Rhodes Computer Room’ – see here and here. (The room was not, in fact, named after Rhodes himself, but instead named after a group of Rhodes scholars. Univ JCR was aware of this at the time of the vote. The college later rejected the students’ calls.)

26/01/16: St Anne’s College MCR votes to ‘unequivocally support the aims and goals of Rhodes Must Fall movement in Oxford’. Just a day later, St Anne’s College JCR votes against a motion calling for a public announcement of JCR opposition to the removal of the Rhodes statue.

28/01/16: Oriel announces that the statue and plaque will remain, saying that ‘the previously announced listening exercise [a six-month consultation announced on 17/12/15] will focus on how best to place the statue and plaque in a clear historical context’.

29/01/16: The Telegraph runs an article alleging that Oriel’s decision not to remove the statue was largely prompted by ‘threats’ (Telegraph wording) from donors to withdraw substantial donations, including a £100m legacy. Members of Oriel’s Governing Body have since stated repeatedly in communications with students and elsewhere that they were unaware of the £100m legacy when making the decision. They have also stated that communications with alumni were not the prime motivation for the early conclusion of the listening exercise, and that there has been no substantial impact on finances as a result of the protests or the college’s actions.

03/02/16: Oxford University Student Union (OUSU) votes in favour of an emergency motion criticising Oriel’s ‘failure to follow through on commitments made to students which primarily affect those in already marginalised and oppressed groups’. Oriel JCR and St Peter’s JCR had also voted in favour of similar motions in the days preceding the OUSU meeting.

09/03/16: RMFO members lead a ‘mass march for decolonisation’ through Oxford to highlight various features of Oxford that they see as glorifying Oxford’s colonial legacy.

03/06/16: RMFO members disrupt a meeting on contextualising the Rhodes statue that was intended only for Oriel members.

20/06/16: Oluwafemi Nylander of RMFO stands shirtless and in chains outside All Souls College, Oxford, protesting the name of All Souls’s Codrington Library and a statue of former fellow Christopher Codrington within the library.[1] 

30/06/16: RMFO members protest shirtless outside Oriel on an Oxford open day.

02/12/16: RMFO returns to Oriel to stage another protest a year after Oriel’s original announcement of their ‘listening exercise’.

14/01/17: Oriel holds two internal meetings to discuss the appropriate means of contextualising the Rhodes statue: one for Oriel alumni and one for current College members and staff (see The Poor Print’s report here for the latter).

10/11/17: All Souls College announces that it will launch an annual scholarship scheme, funding the studies of one graduate a year from Caribbean countries. It also announces a five-year grant of £100,000 will be given to Codrington College, St John, Barbados.[1] See here and here for news reports.

20/12/17: All Souls College announces it will install a ‘memorial tablet’ outside its Codrington Library with the text: ‘In memory of those who worked in slavery on the Codrington Plantations in the West Indies’.


[1] Upon his death in 1710, Christopher Codrington made an endowment of £10,000 (worth millions of pounds in today’s money) to All Souls College. The money was to be used for the construction of a new library, which eventually resulted in the Codrington Library. Codrington’s fortune came from Barbadian sugar plantations worked by slaves.

This timeline is intended only to cover the iconography-related campaigns of the Rhodes Must Fall groups in Cape Town and Oxford. Other aspects of both Rhodes Must Fall groups are not discussed in this timeline; neither are their campaigns that do not relate to issues around iconography.

Iconography-related campaigns and campaigning groups from elsewhere are discussed in another article in this Special Report, ‘Iconography Campaigns: A Global Perspective’. The relationship between these campaigns and the broader ‘safe space’ movement is discussed in the article, ‘Safe Spaces and Student Protest’.

References for this feature are included in-line, and are also included in the report’s Complete Bibliography. The Complete Bibliography also links to copies on the Poor Print server of many primary sources linked to in this Timeline.

All links operational at time of publication. The Poor Print takes no responsibility for the accuracy of content on other sites, but every effort has been made to find reputable sources.

This Timeline has had multiple revisions and updates since first publication online. Last update: 23/01/18.

Rhodes Must Fall & ‘safe spaces’

Rhodes Must Fall & ‘safe spaces’

Oriel College, Oxford, was once more in lock-down on March 9th. Outside in Oriel Square, members of Rhodes Must Fall in Oxford (RMFO) protested for the second time against the statue of Cecil Rhodes, a Victorian imperialist in South Africa, that stands in the centre of Oriel’s façade on the High Street. RMFO argues that there is a ‘violence‘ to students of African background in having to walk past the statue. Yet the campaign to remove the statue is part of a much wider student movement to transform universities into ‘safe spaces’ where all feel welcome.

Critics of safe spaces argue that the concept fundamentally conflicts with a culture of free speech in universities. They point to cases such as the Oxford University Student Union’s (OUSU’s) banning of No Offence, a new student magazine focusing on controversial (mainly right-wing) opinion, from the fresher’s fair in October. OUSU expressed concerns that the material would be offensive to a majority of students; when the editor of the magazine distributed copies outside the fresher’s fair anyway, OUSU called the police.

Lord Patten, the chancellor of Oxford University, has condemned the Rhodes protesters for similarly failing to ‘engage in free inquiry and debate’ and attempting to wipe out history. RMFO argue instead that, far from attempting to erase the past, they have brought the legacy of Rhodes into the spotlight and ‘inaugurated’ a university-wide debate surrounding iconography and other racial issues.

Yet concerns remain that modern students often appear intolerant to viewpoints other than their own. RMFO has consistently painted Oriel College as uncommitted to racial equality, ‘outrageous, dishonest, and cynical’. This comes in spite of statements by the college supporting their right to protest, and a range of proposed measures such as diversity training, a commitment to new scholarships for Africans and a series of lectures on race, equality and colonialism.

Other symptoms are evident of a growing antipathy among students  towards freedom of speech. Across Britain, so-called ‘no-platforming’, whereby students attempt to prevent those with unsavoury opinions from speaking, is on the rise. In September, Warwick University’s student union banned anti-sharia activist Maryam Namazie from speaking for fears that she could ‘incite hatred’. Even veteran campaigners once thought of as liberal crusaders have sometimes unexpectedly come under fire. At Cardiff University, 3,000 people signed a petition to prevent second-wave feminist Germaine Greer from giving a lecture due to her alleged intolerance towards transgender people. (The lecture was eventually held on November 18th with a considerable police presence after the university assured Greer that her safety would be protected.) After defending Greer’s right to speak, gay-rights campaigner Peter Tatchell was also condemned. Fran Cowling, the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender (LGBT) representative within the National Union of Students, refused to share a platform at a planned event with Tatchell, whom she decried as racist and ‘transphobic’.

The self-righteousness of the young is not only directed towards individuals perceived as stirring up hatred, but also to larger social groups. It can be seen in a recent rise in antisemitism among Britain’s youth: a result of the Israel/Palestine conflict and a common conflation of Israel and Judaism. In February, the co-chairman of Oxford University Labour Club (OULC) resigned, complaining in his resignation letter that a ‘large proportion of both OULC and the Student Left in Oxford more generally have some kind of a problem with Jews’.

Growing intolerance among students appears to challenge the widely-disseminated idea that Britain’s younger generation is its most liberal yet. Despite an acceptance of minorities such as the LGBT community or those of different ethnicities, there are still many attacked by the new consensus. Divergence from the mainstream viewpoint is quickly vilified; there is often little willingness to debate, and little openness towards differing opinions. The integration of previously persecuted groups into the mainstream does little to change the fact that those who were once so attacked by social conservatives have become the young social conservatives of today. Intolerance is not dead yet – the targets have simply changed.