College at Oxford Will Remove Cecil Rhodes Plaque

December 21, 2015

Oriel College of Britain's University of Oxford has announced that it is starting the process of removing a plaque that honors Cecil Rhodes, the British imperialist whose bequest created Rhodes Scholarships. Minority students have been pushing the college to remove the plaque and also a statue of Rhodes. The college announced it is seeking local authorities' approval to remove the plaque, explaining that "this plaque was erected in 1906 by a private individual. Its wording is a political tribute, and the college believes its continuing display on Oriel property is inconsistent with our principles."

At the same time, the college announced the start of a six-month review on what, if anything, to do about the statue. "In the absence of any context or explanation, it can be seen as an uncritical celebration of a controversial figure, and the colonialism and the oppression of black communities he represents: a serious issue in a college and university with a diverse and international mix of students and staff, and which aims to be a welcoming academic community." But the college statement noted that the statue "has been identified by Historic England as being of particular historical interest, in part precisely because of the controversy which surrounds Rhodes." So the college is consulting various groups about what to do about the statue. For now, the college will "put up a temporary notice in the window of the High Street building, below the statue, clarifying its historical context and the college’s position on Rhodes."

Rhodes Must Fall, the student group that has been pushing for the removal of the plaque and the statue, issued a statement saying that the review should have started a long time ago, and that the statue should be removed. "Commitment to a listening exercise is not the same as commitment to taking the statue down. Our movement is concerned with symbolism as well as other aspects of decolonization, such as curriculum and representation. The action plans that Oriel College has committed to are a starting point in dealing with the process of decolonization, but they are not sufficient," the statement said.

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