Open Letter: Oxford University Must Tackle Systemic Racism

We are still collecting signatures. As of 19:30, 22nd July 2020, this open letter has been signed by 10,519 individuals and organisations, all of whom are affiliated with Oxford.

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Dear Vice-Chancellor,

Black Lives Matter protests in the US, the UK and across the globe have shone a light on the systemic racism that Black people face in the UK and around the world. We were pleased to see that the University stated its commitment to anti-racism on Twitter. We also note the letter from heads of colleges published in The Guardian, but regret that it offered no substantive commitment to internal change. Despite multiple campaigns — including Rhodes Must Fall Oxford and Common Ground Oxford, and the tireless work of the Oxford African and Caribbean Society and Oxford Africa Society — the University has failed to address its institutional racism, its systemic racism across colleges, and the impact this has on the student body and city.

The University does not currently “uphold anti-racist values”. These are reasons why:

  • Black British Students are still underrepresented at Oxford. According to the University’s most recent Admissions report, only one UK black student was admitted for geography, two for physics, and none at all for biological sciences over a three-year period. In twelve of Oxford’s constituent colleges, only five Black students have been admitted over these same three years. Black and minority ethnic academics are similarly underrepresented in all of the University’s faculties.
  • Black and minority ethnic students and staff members regularly experience direct and outspoken racism in colleges and across the University. The University has no specific care frameworks for dealing with repeated incidents of racism. Four years on from Rhodes Must Fall, who asked for a recourse for racism on campus, none of the demands of the movement have been met and student protests and concerns continue to be dismissed by senior members of the university.
  • Large segments of the University curricula are Eurocentric and the University is not taking action to change this. 82% of respondents to a Common Ground survey of History students described their course as Eurocentric. The History Faculty committed to advertise a singular post for Black History for the 2020–2021 Academic Year; this recruitment has now been frozen. The University speaks of leading global conversations, but fails to ensure a global approach guides courses and their content. It contributes to a British imperial amnesia which legitimises the systemic racism in our country.
  • The University has made only inconsequential inroads into tackling the material legacy of imperialism. The statues and donations of Christopher Codrington and imperialist Cecil Rhodes still stand in the University. All Souls, which received funding from slaver Codrington, has responded to this with scholarship and a plaque. This progress is not enough. Many colleges and university institutions who have benefited from slavery and imperialism have made no attempts at reparation.
  • The University has significant funding from systemic racism, but a majority of colleges and permanent private halls (32 out of 45) do not even pay the national living wage, disproportionately damaging Black and minority communities in the city. Not paying the living wage prevents many working-class staff, including high numbers of Black and ethnic minority staff, from making a fair wage. This continues systemic economic damage to Black and minority ethnic communities, which started with imperialism and slavery. The University’s handling of race has stoked racial tensions in the city.
  • The University values its reputation over its responsibility to students, knowledge production and anti-racism. It recently delayed its release of its Diversity Report due to ‘world events’, proving that its Tweet on anti-racism was pure lip-service to shield its reputation when, for once, public opinion swung towards supporting Black and minority ethnic people. The University condoned events planned to celebrate racists, including Amber Rudd (despite her involvement in the Windrush scandal) and Katie Hopkins (a ten-a-penny racist who compared Black and minority ethnic migrants to cockroaches).

We demand that the University takes the following steps to make “upholding anti-racist values” a reality:

  1. The University must engage with Black and minority ethnic staff, students and community members to set the terms for change. The University, currently a hive of colonial amnesia and inequality, cannot define what anti-racism is, and must consult people who can. This may be in the form of a representative committee, or oversight-body that the University and its management are committed to respect and fund. The University should pay these committee members for their time and expertise.
  2. The University must, once and for all, improve its intake of Black and minority ethnic British students, and students from countries that the UK has colonised and exploited.
  3. The University must uphold its commitment to antiracism in colleges and permanent private halls by:

a) Ensuring that all of its constituent colleges commit to anti-racist measures. It is not just or appropriate that student and staff experience is dependent on the willingness of senior fellows in certain colleges to engage with issues of racialised injustice and systemic oppression.

b) Expanding pre-existing diversity training measures beyond psychological emphasis on problems such as unconscious bias. White privilege and white ignorance must be recognised as issues incubated by the collegiate system, and all members of colleges held responsible for the wellbeing of Black and minority ethnic peers and colleagues.

c) Providing welfare services that can cater to the needs of its Black and minority ethnic students by actively hiring counsellors of colour, instead of expecting academic staff of colour to perform extra emotional labour as ‘Race Tutors’ or otherwise. A commitment to access must extend to supporting students once they have arrived in Oxford.

4. The University must uphold its commitment to anti-racism in faculties by:

a) Committing to no all-white shortlists for staff appointments and to greater transparency in faculty hiring practices.

b) Redressing the Eurocentrism and imperial amnesia of its curricula, including by hiring staff whose research and teaching focuses on or comes from the Global South, if necessary by reducing the number of posts focusing solely on Europe and the West.

5. The University must start to redress its racist financial legacy of imperialism and slavery by:

a) Ensuring that all staff across the University, faculties and constituent colleges are paid the Oxford Living Wage, replacing insecure work and zero-hours contracts with secure work and supportive contracts at all levels.

b) Following the lead of Cambridge and Glasgow Universities in committing to an independent enquiry into the ways in which the University has benefitted from slavery and colonial wealth. The University must then commit to the implementation of measures to deal with the inquest’s findings.

c) Conducting a Race Wage Gap analysis, to understand how the University values Black and minority ethnic labour relative to White labour.

d) Prioritising students and anti-racism over donors and blood money. Oxford’s institutional reputation should not be used to shore up that of donors who have profited from racial injustice, alive or dead.

e) Prioritising engagement with the wider community in Oxford as a city, no longer hoarding knowledge and resources within the ‘Ivory Tower’, and dismantling the systems which prevent local residents from accessing libraries, talks and resources.

We, the under-signed, look forward to the University engaging honestly with its legacy of profiting from imperialism and slavery, addressing its current racism head on, and taking serious, ambitious strides towards an antiracist future.


(To view the complete list of 10,519 signatories, visit

Common Ground Oxford
Oxford African and Caribbean Society
Rhodes Must Fall Oxford
Oxford Feminist Society
Engineers Without Borders Oxford
Melanin. Oxford
Oxford University Labour Club
Onyx Magazine
Oxford Review of Books
The Isis Magazine
Phaser Magazine
Hypaethral Magazine
Oxford University Migrant Solidarity
Oxford Climate Justice Campaign
Oxford Climate Society
Oxford SU Class Act Campaign
Oxford University International Society
Extinction Rebellion UK
Uncomfortable Oxford
Oxford Against Schwarzman
Oxford Living Wage Campaign
Oxford SU Campaign for Racial Awareness & Equality (CRAE)
Oxford Left Network
Oxford University Media Society
Oxford Society for International Development
Oxford South Asian Arts Society
Oxford First-Gen
Oxford RAG
Oxford University History Society
Oxford University History Society Academic Journal
Oxford Women in Law Student Society
oxford public philosophy
people for womxn in philosophy
oKay Kpop Dance Team (Uni of Oxford)
Oxford University Jazz Society
Oxford University Hindu Society (HUMSOC)
Oxford University Lightweight Rowing Club
SpeakOut Oxford
Oxford University Japan Society
Oxford Women in Business
Oxford Strategy Group
Oxford University Basketball Club
Oxford Blockchain Society
Oxford Migration Studies Society
Philiminality Oxford
Oxford University Powerlifting Club
Oxford University Lancers American Football Club
Industry Magazine
Oxford South Asian Society
Oxford University Filmmaking Foundation
Super Sapiens
Goodness UK
The Stubbs Society for Defence and Foreign Affairs
Equinox Hip Hop Dance Team
Jacari Oxford
Feminists of Balliol
Oxford SU International Students’ Campaign
Oxford Psychometrics Ltd
Oxford University Jewish Society
Oxford University Dance Society
Thomas Page Dances
Oxford Women in Politics
The Invariants, Oxford University Maths Society
Cherwell Newspaper
Oxford University LGBTQ+ Society
Oxford University Amateur Boxing Club
Oxford University Brazilian Society
Every Body Studio
Oxford Queer Studies Network
Alternative Curricula
Coffee Ambassadors
Oxford Women in Materials Science Group
Cllr Shaista Aziz Rose Hill and Iffley Ward, Oxford City Council
Owen Jones, University College (2002)
Afua Hirsch, St Peter’s College (1999)
Henry Bonsu, Magdalen College, (1986)
Patience Agbabi, Associate Member of the English Faculty, University of Oxford
Dr Katherine Rundell, £50 Fellow, All Souls College
Dr Faridah Zaman, University of Oxford
Dr Peaks Kraftt, Oxford Internet Institute
Dr Tom White, University of Oxford
Professor Kate Tunstall, Interim Provost of Worcester College, Professor of French
Prof. Katrin Kohl, Faculty of Medieval and Modern Languages
Prof Jonathan Herring, Exeter College, Oxford
Dr Rebecca Beasley, Oxford University
Dr. Stuart White, Jesus College
Dr Ruth Percy, St Hilda’s College, Lecturer
Dr Andreza Aruska de Souza Santos, University of Oxford
Prof Matthew Reynolds, St Anne’s College
Dr Claire Kenward, University of Oxford
Dr. Mark Baker, Balliol College
Dr Eleanor Watts, Wolfson College (2015)
Dr David Constantine, former Fellow in German at the Queen’s College
Dr Nathaniel Adam Tobias Coleman, Merton College (BA(Hons) Literae Humaniores IA, 1999), Wadham College (Stipendiary Lecturer in Philosophy, 2015)
Beth Davies-Kumadiro, Regent’s Park College (2014), Common Ground Oxford Founder
William Andrews, Somerville College (2015), Common Ground Oxford Co-founder
Zehra Munir, Wadham College (2018)
Jin-Gyu Chang, Keble College (2018), Melanin. Oxford co-founder
Hamidah Saleem, The Queen’s College (2018), Melanin. Oxford
Mukahang Limbu, The Queen’s College (2019), Melanin. Oxford, The Oxford Review of Books
Maya Perera, LMH (2018), Common Ground Oxford
Lucy Thynne, Oxford University
Dan Glazebrook, Activist
Jarnail Atwal, Christ Church (2018), JCR President
Professor Patricia Owens, Oxford University
Amia Srinivasan, Chichele Professor of Social and Political Theory, University of Oxford
Jocelyn Alexander, Professor of Commonwealth Studies, University of Oxford
Prof Seth Whidden, The Queen’s College
Kate Guy, Dept. Politics and International Relations
Joseph B. Murphy, St Anne’s College (2018), JCR PresidentEmma Ware, University of Oxford Museum of Natural History
Ashar Aslam, St Anne’s College (2017), Former OU LGBTQ+ Society Racial and Ethnic Minorities Rep
Lorelei Piper, St Anne’s college (2017)
Kate Clanchy MBE, Oxford Spires Academy
Prof Stephen Kearsey, Oxford University
Sarah James-Short, St. Anne’s College (2018)
Tom McAlinden, St Anne’s College (2018).
Cameron Simmons, St Anne’s, 2017
Suna Anantharaman, St Anne’s College (2019)
Emily Danks, St Anne’s College (2018)
Madeleine Day, St Anne’s College, (2018)
Edward Martin, St Anne’s College (2019)
Skai Campbell, St Anne’s college (2019)
Sneha Krishnan, Associate Professor in Human Geography, University of Oxford
Olivia van Warmelo, St Anne’s (2018)
Shannon Yang, St Anne’s College (2018)
Ouida Tearle, St Anne’s College (2019)
Kate Mahony, St Anne’s College (2017)
Kalpana Sivabalah, Lady Margaret Hall, Stipendiary Lecturer
Subin Choi, St Anne’s College (2019)
Frances Whorrall-Campbell, Christ Church/Wadham (2015)
Ciaran Yates, St.Annes (2019)
Zoe Heimann, St Annes (2020), Common Ground Oxford
Isabella Douglas, St Anne’s College (2017)
Wei Khai Lim, St Anne’s College (2020)
Rokaiba Afrin, St Anne’s College (2017)
Rachel Matthews, St Anne’s College
Philippa Sumner, St Anne’s (2017)
Aman Berdesha, St Anne’s College
Oliver Tushingham, St John’s College (2018)
Jemma Moorhouse, St John’s (2017)
Philip Fernandes, St John’s College (2018), JCR President
Zemira Humphrey, St John’s College (2019)
Felix Stocker, St. John’s (2019)
Grace Goodier, St Johns College
Owen Fay, St Annes College (2018)
Rosa Arthur, Wadham College (2019)
En May Lim, St Anne’s College (2016)
Iona McMillan, St Anne’s
Issy Stephens, St John’s (2017)
Ava Mitchell, St Johns College, 2018
Conor Carleton, St Anne’s College (2017)
Dr Steven Puttick, Oxford University
Dr. Amber Murrey, University of Oxford, Mansfield College
Dr. Anne M. Castro, former fellow TORCH Oxford
Dr. Caitlin Pilbeam, Oxford University
Dr Louise Slater, University of Oxford
Professor Gillian Rose, Oxford University and St John’s College
Dr Hayley J Hooper, Oxford University
Dr Ludovica Griffanti, Oxford University
Nathan Grassi, Centre on Migration, Policy & Society (Admin support)
Professor Patricia Daley, Oxford University
Dr Massimo Monks, St Hildas Collage (2016)
Dr Aaron Hess, RDM
Dr David Bowe, St. Hilda’s College (2010)
Dr Tonya Lander, Christ Church
Dr Ariadna Tsenina, St Antony’s College & Magdalen College (2008)
Dr Allie Colaco, Summerville College Alumni (2013), Oxford University Researcher
Dr Tim Middleton, Lincoln College, Oxford University
Dr. Sandi Yen, Kennedy Institute of Rheumatology (2019), NDORMS
Dr Alexandra Paddock, University of Oxford
Dr. Lilian Lam, Kennedy Institute of Rheumatology
Dr Mary Boyle, Merton College (2011)
Dr Phil Taylor, Humanities Division, Oxford University
Dr Jennifer Hough, Linacre College (2011)
Dr Anna Louise Senkiw, Mansfield College (2014)
Dr Fachreddin Tabataba-Vakili, Trinity College (2013), DPhil AOPP, Alumnus
Dr Clara Barker, Chair of LGBT+ Advisory group, Dean of E&D for Linacre College
Dr Imad Ahmed, Oxford University
Dr. Andrew Lyons, St. catherine’s College (1962)
Dr Agnes Elliott, New College (2009), Alumnus
Professor Chris Gosden, Keble College
Dr Sarah Hoem Iversen, Lady Margaret Hall (2006)
Dr. Boyoung Lee, Linacre college (2014)
Dr Kate De Rycker, Jesus College (2006)
Dr Fay Niker, Balliol College
Dr Jessica Salkind, Hertford College (2008)
Dr James Parkhurst, Oxford University (former employee)
Sofia Henderson, St John’s College (2018), Co-chair of Oxford SU Class Act Campaign
Absana Rutherford, St Anne’s College
Brian Leong, St John’s College (2017)
Ben Robinson, St John’s College (2019)
Vaidehi Agrawal, Christ Church (2017), Common Ground Oxford
Dr James Robson, Oxford University

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