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Black History Month text

The Oxford BHM 100 — Part 4

This Black History Month, the University is highlighting the power of excellence and academic achievement, past and present, and how the contributions of Black people have contributed to the calibre of the University’s reputation.

(Read The Oxford BHM 100 — Part 1, Part 2 and Part 3 here)

Concluding our series highlighting the power of excellence and academic achievement, past and present, and how the contributions of Black people contribute to the calibre of the University’s reputation.

24

Professor Patricia Daley

Patricia Daley standing by her portrait
Patricia Daley stands by her portrait

Professor of the Human Geography of Africa and Director of Undergraduate Studies at the School of Geography and the Environment, and Vice-Principal and The Helen Morag Fellow in Geography at Jesus College

Patricia migrated from Jamaica at the age of 10, which sparked her interest in places — especially how the physical environment is formed and the relationship between the physical and the social and cultural environment — but it was during her first year of teaching that she deepened her interest in Africa, having taken an evening class in African women’s writing at Birkbeck, University of London.

Of her journey towards academia, she says: ‘Historical knowledge about Black people was missing from the curriculum when I studied at British schools. Luckily, I had encountered the Black history in the Jamaican school curriculum and I knew that people were not passive and had the capacity to struggle and transform history.’

During her Master’s degree in African studies at SOAS, she met a number of refugees from various African countries, both through the university as well as the Africa Centre, and became intrigued by how forced displacement affected people psychologically, culturally and economically.

Professor Daley said: ‘Many of the refugees had suffered horrifying experiences of persecution that included torture and imprisonment and felt relatively safe but alienated in the UK, nevertheless their longing for home was intense and knowing that they could not return without political change motivated them to participate in political action and some became despondent.’

She wanted to understand if the experience was the same for those who fled from one African country to another and decided to conduct doctoral research on refugees from Burundi and Tanzania, which led her to Oxford. ‘I needed to understand how colonial borders and ethnic categorisation divided up communities and how colonial laws of migration within and between African territories and those arising in relation to WWII refugees still inform the laws and policies of post-colonial African states.’

Today, she teaches a range of human geography topics, as well as specialist courses on African societies and environments at the University. Her research interests span forced migration, identity politics and citizenship; feminist geo-politics; racial hierarchies and violence and political ecology.

In 1991, Patricia became the first black academic to be appointed to a University post in Oxford. Since joining Oxford, she has co-founded the University’s Black and Minority Ethnic staff network, served as University Assessor and sits on the University’s Academic Conduct Panel. She undertakes voluntary work for the Independent Advisory Group on Country Information of the Independent Chief Inspector of Border and Immigration, chairs the Board of Trustees for Fahamu Trust Ltd — a pan-African social justice movement-building organisation, and sits on the Advisory Council of the Carnegie Africa Diaspora Fellowship Program. She partakes in a number of community engagements, having spoken at events including giving the keynote at the 2018 UNESCO’s International Day for the Remembrance of the Slave Trade and its Legacy (City Hall, London), Africa Liberation Day (Birmingham), Black History Month Windrush Celebrations (Barton, Oxford), and as part of the Windrush celebrations at the Museum of Oxford, and was a member of the Council & Trustee of the British Academy Institute in Eastern Africa and the Equality Officer for the Oxford branch of the University College Union. Her portrait was painted in 2017 as part of the University’s ‘Diversifying Portraiture Project’ and now hangs in Examination Schools. Her photograph was taken by Bill Knight for the Phenomenal Women exhibition celebrating Britain’s Black female professors, now on at the South Bank in London until 8 November.

She’s also consulted on an internationally-screened documentary film on the genocide in Rwanda (Rwanda: The Forgotten Tribe), was a panellist at the British Film Institute post-film discussions of ‘The Past is not the Future: Walter Rodney Student Years and The Young Marx,’ and has also commentated on African politics on international television.

She says: ‘Black History Month provides the opportunity for all people in the UK to learn about black presence in British and global history it should really be all year round but a month that is focused may attract attention from a wider audience.’

Find out more about Prof Daley here:

Nominated by the Oxford University School of Geography and the Environment

23

Professor Abdul Raufu Mustapha (St Peter’s College, 1985)

When Professor Abdul Raufu Mustapha joined St Peter’s College, University of Oxford, in 1985 to study for a DPhil in Politics, he was already a distinguished African Studies scholar.

Born in Aba in eastern Nigeria, later moving to Ilorin, he was fluent in the country’s three main languages of Igbo, Hausa and Yoruba. He studied for a BA and MSc in Political Science at Ahmadu Bello University in Zaria, Nigeria, 1974–79.

Both in academia and activism, his areas of interest ranged from democratisation in Africa to identity politics and ethnicity, and to the politics of rural societies in Africa. He sought to communicate the ideas of the marginalised masses to a wider audience.

In 1990 Raufu obtained his Doctorate in Politics at St Peter’s College. While at St Peter’s, he enjoyed a close friendship with tutor and mentor, Gavin Williams. He taught at Oxford University for two decades until his death in 2017.

Find out more about Raufu here:

Nominated by St Peter’s College and the Oxford Department for International Development

22

Naomi Kellman (Philosophy, Politics and Economics, 2008)

Naomi Kellman stands by her portrait in a dining hall

When I arrived at Lincoln in October 2008, I was the only person of Black African and Caribbean heritage in my year. This, combined with the fact that I was the first person in my family to go to university, made me wonder if I would ever truly belong.

It took me time to adjust, but by the end of my years at Lincoln I was glad to have become part of the community. I made friends from different walks of life and learned more than I had ever imagined — about my subject, myself, and others. Lincoln’s PPEists were particularly supportive, and I have fond memories of being up until 2am discussing philosophy.

Since graduating I have focused on improving educational equality through my work on Target Oxbridge, a programme I founded in 2012 while working at Rare, a diversity specialist. Target Oxbridge helps black African and Caribbean students to apply to Oxbridge and has supported over 200 students to gain offers to date.

I also spent time as a civil servant at the Department for Education and HM Treasury, and during my time there I co-founded the BAME Fast Stream Network. In 2017 I also co-founded the Oxford Black Alumni Network, with the aim of providing the next generation with positive role models. In my spare time I like to trampoline — a sport I picked up at Oxford — and I am currently working on perfecting my one and a half backwards somersaults!

I am passionate about helping more students believe that they too can belong at Oxbridge.

Find out more about Target Oxbridge here:

21

Making History: Christian Cole, Alain Locke and Oscar Wilde at Oxford

Making history — Michèle Mendelssohn and Elizabeth Adams introducing the Exhibition

I think this initiative is a great example of the power of excellence and understanding the importance of social inclusion, because it tells the story of three nineteenth- and twentieth-century trailblazers who changed Oxford University and the world beyond it.

Christian Cole was one of Oxford University’s first Black African undergraduates, Alain Locke was the first African-American Rhodes scholar and dean of the Harlem Renaissance, and Oscar Wilde was the greatest Irish wit and dandy of all time. By drawing these three exceptional men together, this exhibition showcased Black and Queer undergraduates’ shared histories through rare archives that bear witness to their remarkable lives and times.

The exhibition was shortlisted for the Vice-Chancellor’s Diversity for promoting awareness. The website also provides materials introducing the context of ‘Oxford 2020’ with videos from contemporary scholars and activists.

Find out more:

Nominated by Ros Ballaster, Professor of Eighteenth-Century Studies Chair of the Board of the Faculty of English, University of Oxford 2017–2021 Professorial Fellow in English Literature, Mansfield College, Oxford

20

Alexandra Wilson (University College, 2013)

Alexandra Wilson in full barrister’s dress

Tweeting under @EssexBarrister, Alexandra noted her impending elevation to the Bar aged just 24, two years ago: ‘I’m mixed-race. I’m from Essex. I’m not posh. I worked hard and NEVER listened when people said the Bar wasn’t for people like me. THIS is what a barrister looks like.’

In October 2020, coincidentally the same month as Black History Month, she celebrates her first full year as a barrister defending and prosecuting in the Courts of England and Wales.

Much has happened in that year too. She published a brilliant book In Black and White, A Young Barrister’s Story of Race and Class in a Broken Justice System, which is hugely readable. Published in August, the book records how sometimes she gets mistaken for the defendant when in court.

In September, she was mistaken for a defendant three times in one day, leading the head of England and Wales’ courts to issue Alex an apology and launch an investigation. Alex tweeted that she was ‘absolutely exhausted’ by this and similar incidents, adding that she hoped the matter would lead ‘to real change.’

Alexandra is unmistakably blazing her own path as a female barrister, but she is also shouldering a toxic, intersectional burden where race, class and gender stack up against individuals in ways that seek to stymie them. She is a true pioneer of the twenty-first century.

Nominated by Richard Lofthouse, Editor of QUAD, previously Oxford Today

19

Sara Middleton

Sara Lil Middleton, plant ecologist and NERC doctoral training partnership student in the Department of Zoology

Sara Middleton outside with equipment

‘I have plants on the brain most of the time,’ says Sara, whose research focuses on plant community responses to drought and understanding who are the plant winners and losers in the battle for water.

She adds: ‘People are amazed when I mention some of the cool things that plants can do such as: adjust their internal temperature (thermoregulate), show levels of parental care, have the ability to shrink (retrogress) in challenging environmental conditions, communicate with each other through hormones and move (slowly).’

As well as her research commitments, Sara is involved in the documentary, Bananageddon, which in her own words ‘peels back the story of how the banana came to be the world’s most popular fruit.’ The film explores the ecological, social and economic issues involved in current banana production methods and how the system needs to become sustainable if bananas are to have a fruitful future.

Keen to encourage understanding of the power of nature, Sara works in school outreach encouraging children’s interest in science and founded the Human Nature Stories Project, for which she has interviewed 100 people from around the world about their relationship with nature.

She says: ‘I have come to appreciate that ecology is more grey than green, it’s complex and doesn’t fit into neat boxes that we humans like to construct…Plants are not passive beings or a green backdrop in which animals exist in. Plants dominate our living planet. If you were to add up the mass (as carbon) of living things across the tree of life, plants outweigh animals 225:1.’

In a step towards decolonising science, Sara has recently set up the Black British Biology project (@BlackBritishBio), where she is uncovering the forgotten historic contributions of Black Britons to biological sciences.

Alongside her PhD and personal documentary projects, Sara is a data contributor to the Ecoflora database, a committee member for the British Ecological Society Invasion Science Group and co-founder of the BIPOC STEM Network, the first network within the University, for research staff, academic staff, and postgraduates that identify as BIPOC (Black, Indigenous and People of Colour) or Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic.

Find out more about Sara’s research:

Nominated by the Department of Plant Sciences

18

Baroness Valerie Amos CH, PC

Master of University College, Oxford

Baroness Valerie Amos
Image credit: John Cairns

Baroness Amos knows a thing or two about being a pioneer.

In no particular order she is the: first Black woman to be appointed a cabinet minister, joint first Black woman peer, the first Black woman leader of the House of Lords — which also makes her only the third woman in history to lead the upper house of Parliament — and the first Black woman to head a University in the UK.

Despite a career that has seen her achieve many significant firsts, she herself would prefer that they had never happened.

She says: ‘It points to the slowness of change. Someone has to be first of course, and, it is really important for young women to see people who look like them in positions of authority, power and influence. But, for those of us who come first, we have a greater responsibility, than if we were just part of a long line of women who had done a particular job.’

Baroness Amos joined the University from the School of Oriental and African Studies, University of London, where she was Director from 2015 to 2020. She brings a wealth of experience from that role and from the many others that she has held, including: Cabinet Minister during Tony Blair’s second and third terms of office, and Leader of the House of Lords and Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs and Emergency Relief Coordinator for the United Nations — a role which ‘seemed impossible at times.’ As the team tried to bring humanitarian relief to people, living in some of the gravest situations around the world, such as, famine, major climate disaster and armed conflict, she met and was inspired by women keeping their communities together under enormous pressure. Women who became long-term role models for her. ‘Those moments where we were able to help them I will always remember,’ she says.

Undoubtedly, a journey of many highs has seen some lows and challenges, but again, Baroness Amos is reflective and never dwells on a set-back for too long.

‘It is always important to face the possibility of failure, because once you have done that, you can move forward. Of course I can’t say that as a Black woman I have never faced discrimination, prejudice or racism through my working career. But, I am very pleased to say that I have had strong family support throughout. Support from colleagues and the wider community, all of which has been very important to me in facing those barriers,’ she says.

Pointing to how she has achieved so much in her career to date, she adds: ‘It is always very important to me not to self-select myself out of a role, but really to think about what I could do in a role.’

And at UNIV, that means firmly focusing on the future, pushing for equality both within the college and in working with the collegiate university to do so across the board.

She says: ‘There will always be colleges that lead the way, and UNIV very much wants to lead the way. As colleges, the support that we give our students and the culture that we promote, has to be our highest priority. That means looking at who is senior in our staff, and making sure that our Fellowship is diverse.

We need to appreciate how issues of race, gender, class and disability intersect. This year, as we have seen with the Black Lives Matter movement taking root, finally people have begun to understand that you just can’t use casual categories like Black and Minority Ethnic, because within those categories are hidden forms of discrimination, which we need to understand and root out. I hope Oxford will play more of a role in the debate around culture and race and how we deal with our history as a country, helping us as a community and a country to face up to those challenges.’

Of the importance of Black History Month itself, she adds: ‘We should be constantly working to appreciate and understand why the culture that we promote needs to embrace diversity. It should be part and parcel of every aspect of the University’s work.

‘We have to defend where we have got to, history tells us that it is very easy to go backwards. We must support those young people who really want to make a difference. This year has been particularly challenging for all of us, let’s work together to bring about the change and the kind of society that we really want to see.’

17

Morenike Akinnawonu

History Undergraduate, Jesus College, Target Oxbridge alumna and access ambassador

Morenike Akinnawonu in student’s sub-fusc

For me, Black History Month offers an opportunity for collective reflection on the achievements and struggles of the Black community. It’s also a celebration of the dynamic and multifaceted cultures in Africa and the Caribbean.

As a second-generation Nigerian, history offers a gateway to my cultural identity, and studying History at Oxford has inspired me to continue discovering black stories and amplifying their voices and experience in academic settings such as this, while anticipating what future Black Britain holds.

16

Esther Agbolade (Oriel College, 2017)

Esther Agbolade stands on outdoor steps

Learning about Black history is more than just important, it is necessary. From the past we draw our foundations for the future and in seeing the greatness of those who came before us we realise that we are pretty great too.

Just before starting at Oxford I was convinced that I would be crowded out by the majority. Seeing so many other amazing Black students and alumni in that space made me realise that I was not an anomaly, I was exactly where I was supposed to be.

15

Dambudzo Marechera (New College, 1976)

Black and white image of Dambudzo Marechera

Dambudzo Marechera is among the most important figures in the cultural history of post-colonial Africa. Born and educated in what was then Rhodesia, he gained entry to one of the first secondary schools to admit black pupils, was expelled from the University of Rhodesia for his involvement in student protests, and became a Junior Common Room (JCR) Scholar at New College in 1976. Someone of coruscating intelligence, a natural rule breaker and a brilliant writer, his time in Oxford was stormy and eventful, to the extent that he was eventually sent down.

Shortly after, he published his first book, The House of Hunger, which won The Guardian Fiction prize and initiated a literary career that carried his voice from his British Exile to Zimbabwe and beyond. Self-proclaimed ‘cockroach’, his work depicted life seen from bedding down on other people’s floors. In works like The Black Insider, a novella which must rate as one of the finest out of Africa of the last century, his implicit reflections of Oxford become evident: the riots, for instance are a clear depiction of the student occupation of the Exam Schools and the Indian Institute while he was here. His most explicit evocation of Oxford, in contrast, remains his brilliant short story Oxford, Black Oxford.

In an ‘Interview with Himself‘ he reflects on the language he adopts for his writings: ‘For a black writer the language is very racist; you have to have harrowing fights and hair-raising panga duels with the language before you can make it do all that you want it to do. […] This may mean discarding grammar, throwing syntax out, subverting images from within, beating the drum and cymbals of rhythm, developing torture chambers of irony and sarcasm, gas ovens of limitless black resonance. For me this is the impossible, the exciting, the voluptuous blackening image that commits me totally to writing.’

Marechera once wrote: ‘I cannot see a thing without striking an attitude’. His attitudes remain compelling, frightening, uncomfortable and challenging, whether expressed in his prose or his poetry. Marechera died sadly young in 1987 in Harare, still defiantly refusing to accept any labels or attributions of belonging.

Nominated by Miles Young, the Warden of New College, and Ufuk Altunbüken, graduate student studying Economics at New College.

14

Edson Aiworo (Kellogg College, 2010)

Edson Aiworo in his Oxford gown

This may sound like a cliché, but, being a Black student at Oxford made me muster the courage to think critically for myself, and also about the meaning of being me in any environment. Being me when I interlock with my College Don correcting my essays, being me at the afro bop, and the debating society.

The opportunity to engage with Black intellectuals, in particular Kofi Annan and Dr Cornel West, was inspiring. As was meeting students from a vast network in the Middle Common Room (MCR), these new interactions helped me to understand the mannerisms, unconscious gestures and enactments amongst them. Also, learning Oxford traditions, such as: battels, academic dress (subfusc), Evensong carols and most importantly, attending dinner at high table, which was frightening — in a good way.

The recent announcement of the Black Academic Futures scholarship scheme for Black graduate students who do not otherwise have the means to come to Oxford, means a lot to me.

I first came to Oxford having participated in the Global Health Summer School at Jesus College and have brilliant memories of my three years in Oxford and as a graduate student (Experimental Therapeutics, Kellogg College). I had tremendous support from my Father, Mother, wife and my children, and fantastic classmates from all over the world with whom I am still in contact now. I would not have changed my experience for the world.

It would be great to see more scholarship opportunities for Black disadvantaged youth at both undergraduate and graduate level globally. The University should also provide alumni network forums for A Level Students, about Oxford colleges and invitations to the Oxford Debating Society for Under-represented groups, as there is a severe lack of student engagement in the society. We could also provide free online lectures or podcasts, and most importantly feedback and assistance with student application forms that would enable the courage needed to take the first step, and apply.

The fact that I was once an echo and am now a voice, bequeathing the younger BAME students, and empowering them with the notion that they too can study at Oxford, is important to me.

I have always been one to believe in unarmed truth, as the condition of truth is always to allow suffering to speak. Since the killing of George Floyd, the Black Lives Matter movement and presently the #ENDSARS protest in Nigeria on police brutality, has made individuals see a certain kind of positive awareness of people of colour, creed and age. From the nihilism of Black folk in this COVID-19 period, to engaging in the serious discourse of race and engaging not only with the problems of Black individuals, but with the faults of the society we live in. To me, Black History Month is about equality, justice and fairness, for people like me and all others alike.

13

Professor Anthony Reddie

Director of the Oxford Centre for Religion and Culture, Fellow of Regent’s Park College

Anthony Reddie

Professor Reddie is a living testament to the transformative power of life experience, academic opportunity and passion for your subject. His work most recently includes Theologizing Brexit: A Liberationist and Postcolonial Critique (Routledge, 2019), and he is a world-leading authority on Black liberation theology.

Yet despite his many accomplishments, his is a story that almost never was. As a teenager in Bradford, West Yorkshire, he was underestimated at school, denied the opportunity to sit O-Level exams, and placed in a lower tier category — despite being top of his class in both History and English subjects.

‘Looking back, racism was so normalised in my childhood that even though I knew it was wrong, it didn’t traumatise me. To this day I think I am one of the only people in British history who did a CSE in History and then went on to do a degree in the subject’, says Professor Reddie.

Thirty plus years later, he is a passionate ambassador for the importance of decolonising the curriculum. He says: ‘I am fascinated by the relationship between knowledge and power, and who validates knowledge. It is something I challenge my students to think about a lot. What makes a book like Things Fall Apart, by Chinua Achebe, important for Black people to read, while everyone has to read Emma by Jane Austen?’

Of the importance of access in higher education, and not alienating yourself, he says: ‘I bang the drum constantly that if you are thinking about applying somewhere, just do it. Oxford has this huge, iconic brand, and there is disparity between what people perceive it to be and what it is. Don’t just assume it is not for you…I am a Black liberation theologian with no historical links to Oxford…so my getting here is kind of a miracle.’

Find out more about Professor Reddie here:

12

Fredah Banda

PhD student studying Computer Science at Magdalen College

Fredah Banda

Fredah is a 2014 Zambian Rhodes Scholar, and was the first woman to ever graduate with a distinction at in Bachelor of Science at the University of Zambia.

She is a polyglot speaking up to six languages fluently. She used this skill to play an instrumental role in the translation of Google into Ichibemba, one of Zambia’s most widely spoken languages. This enabled millions to access the platform more easily.

This nomination is important to me because Fredah is not only academically gifted, charismatic, and passionate, but she has a heart for public service. This can be seen in her volunteer work with IMPACT and at e-learning conferences. But most importantly in her interactions with others. She exudes warmth, generously supporting many people around her. She is a mentor and a teacher, especially to those for whom Oxford is a distant dream.

Nominated by Mary Jiyani, PhD Candidate in Law, Rhodes Scholar (Malawi & Balliol College)

11

Protest, Power and Posters: Race and Diversity Narratives Internship

This year we saw the global climate reflected in the local, with Oxonians taking it upon themselves to protest the global anti-blackness that has been plaguing our communities. Challenging social prejudice and institutional racism, there were demonstrations such as Rhodes Must Fall 2.0, which demanded accountability from Oxford University. This was alongside Black Lives Matter protests. Reform within our institutions, workplaces and social groups is now more than ever, of the utmost importance.

The same concerns were also addressed in the research we conducted as a part of the ‘Race and Diversity’ narratives internship with the Museum of Oxford and the Bodleian Libraries. Our work involved critically engaging with the archives of past movements like the Anti-Slavery Society and Anti-Apartheid Movement from within Oxford and beyond. We also had the opportunity to work with RMF posters from the summer.

The research helped trace common links between the present and the past, establishing a continuing narrative of racial injustice within the city, but also the citizen’s fight against it.

The continued fight also allows us to reflect critically on the very idea of empty symbolism of Black History Months and the relationship of institutions with them. Now more than ever, it is important to have these conversations, learn from history and most importantly continue these conversations beyond institutions and a single month because ‘it has to be a movement, not a moment.’

Devika Asthana is studying for a Master’s degree in Modern South Asian Studies at St Antony’s College, and Xaira AdeBayo, is a second year undergraduate studying History at Pembroke. Both were summer 2020 interns at the Bodleian Libraries and Museum of Oxford.

10

Deborah Ogunnoiki

First year Undergraduate studying Classics at Exeter College

Deborah Ogunnoiki

Black History Month is important to me as it’s a month where we finally get to focus on the achievements of Black people in all fields. Though I wish we continued this tradition of celebrating Black achievements throughout the year, it’s inspiring to see different people recognised throughout the month. As an academic, it’s less ‘othering’, any feelings of imposter syndrome are dispersed, and I don’t feel like I’m the only one to go through this white-dominated path.

To me, being Black at Oxford is being a pioneer. Entering spaces that are not commonly seen as spaces for Black people, I feel as though I am proving to those in my community back home that ‘If I can do it, you can do it too.’ As the first person from my sixth form to ever study Classics at Oxbridge, I feel I have a lot to prove as to the potential of Black people in academic excellence.

Over the summer my work to bring African Caribbean Societies to my secondary school has proved to me even more that my existence at Oxford paves the way for a new generation. I’ve spent a lot of time providing advice for ethnic minority students from my community that have aspirations for academic success for free, and not only do I feel like an inspiration to these students, I also feel inspired by them. So much so, that I attended a small protest against SARS* in Oxford. The students I coach made me realise that little voices can be loud when it comes to Black issues. There were only six of us at the protest, but the sheer number of people passing-by, who asked us questions and allowed us to educate them, proved that even a small protest can make a big impact. Especially as a black woman in Oxford, there aren’t a lot of us here, so our voices have to be louder, and I am only excited to see how much more of an impact I can make over the course of my degree here.

*Refers to protests against Nigerian police brutality.

Nominated by Morenike Akinnawonu, History Undergraduate at Jesus College

9

Vanessa Worthington

Outreach Solutions Coordinator (BAME Projects), Undergraduate Admissions and Outreach

Vanessa Worthington

As a grandchild of the Windrush generation, Black history has been a central part of my identity, of knowing myself as a Black African-Caribbean woman living in Britain.

The life that I have and the opportunities I’ve been afforded have been in part a result of the paths forged by trailblazers such as Queen Nanny, the eighteenth-century rebel leader and national hero of Jamaica; Olive Morris; Baroness Floella Benjamin, and many more.

Black History Month invites us all to engage, re-engage, or formally acknowledge the complex, painful, and joyfully lived experiences of Black people across the globe. Without this reminder, the experiences, and voices of those who have changed and added to the fabric of our diverse society remain hidden.

As a Black woman working in Oxford and specifically in access, I am aware of the duality of working within an institution at the same time as looking at how it can improve the way it supports and engages underrepresented students. But at each step I am led by the driving principle that guides all who work in access and outreach; access initiatives are meant to challenge, to suggest, and action new ideas, ensuring that every prospective student has the opportunity to carry on their educational journey.

2020 has brought into sharp focus the importance of challenging the notion that Black stories and lives should live in the margin; instead, it has further highlighted that they should be celebrated, respected and valued.

For the remainder of the year and all the years to come, I would urge us all to continue our allyship of organisations and programmes that support the transition toward equality for all, to ask questions, and to learn of stories and lived experiences that deserve to be heard.

Find out more about Undergraduate Admissions and Outreach programmes here:

8

Franceska Tchapdeu

Second year Undergraduate studying medicine at Brasenose College

Franceska Tchapdeu

I can’t begin to imagine what it must have been like to be one of the first women of colour at Oxford. Thinking about those women definitely reinforces a sense of pride in me, and I feel so privileged to be studying in the same institution as so many amazing women.

Seeing and having role models who represent and influence you, gives motivation to want to be where they are.

As a young Black woman, studying at Oxford, who will be a doctor one day, I think it is such a shame that there are not any lecturers who are women of colour on my course, and I have yet to see a Black professor on my course. That absence subconsciously affects you, and it is something I want to see change.

Recent graduates like Renee Kapuku and Vee Kativhu , who is now doing her Master’s at Harvard University, are a big inspiration. When I was thinking about applying, her YouTube channel’s message of empowerment, that even if you are only one of a few, there is still a place for you, really motivated me.

I look back at how far I have come, and how I am hopefully thriving in an institution that I would not have always been represented in, and feel proud.

Because of the pandemic, many students’ first year exams were cancelled. But they count towards the final qualification for degrees like Medicine and Law, so ours were only postponed. That meant that over the holidays, when others were recharging, I was studying, which was quite hard at times. But I’m so proud of myself and the rest of the medics at Oxford. We did it — in the middle of a pandemic.

I didn’t just do it for me, I did it for my family, who worked so hard for me to get here, my younger sisters and those alike, who look up to me, and also the thousands of other women of colour and prospective students all over the world, who aspire to be in an institution like this.

For me, University is not only my place of study, where I will get my degree, it is my home for the next five–six years.

As a Black individual who has been Black every day of my life, I have unfortunately experienced discrimination, and I am really happy to see the University recognising the Black Lives Matter movement. Also, starting to try to level the playing field with opportunities for students of different ethnic groups. I think the University could do more in terms of funding and access initiatives for people of colour. But I am definitely hopeful.

7

Amgad Salih

First-year Undergraduate, studying Economics and Management at Exeter College and co-founder of the Black Excellence Network

Amgad Salih

The Black Excellence Network is an online based UK mentorship programme founded by four Black students, including Oxford University fresher Amgad, which aims to empower and support Sixth Form students of Black heritage to attain places at top universities.

He says: ‘I set up the Black Excellence Network with my friends because we wanted to give back to our communities, to create a platform for underprivileged black students to gain the support to break into top institutions.

‘Black History Month is so important in raising awareness on our true culture, and being a Black oxford student is not just about inspiring other Black students, but also consistently trying to create an inclusive environment for them and other ethnic minorities.’

6

Sacred Ethiopian and Eritrean texts

A woman takes a picture of a manuscript

During the pandemic crisis the need for online access to cultural material and digital preservation has become more evident than ever before.

The Bodleian Libraries has an important collection of manuscripts and icons from Ethiopia and Eritrea, including illuminated gospels in Ge’ez, the Kǝbrä Nägäst and The Harp of Mary.

As part of the University of Oxford’s ongoing efforts to share special collections with a wider audience, a team of experts is studying, cataloguing and digitising around 60 unpublished manuscripts. A series of conferences, co-curation sessions, small exhibitions and family activity days, created in partnership with members of the Ethiopian and Eritrean diaspora in the UK, have enabled knowledge exchange and meaningful engagement with these important texts.

Over several planning workshops in 2018–19, the co-curation team worked with Bodleian and University staff to select and interpret manuscripts for the exhibition, ‘Languages of God: Sacred Scripts of Ethiopia and Eritrea’. This display opened in summer 2019 with a celebratory family day featuring manuscript viewings, art and craft activities, traditional Ethiopian church music and public lectures. Labels reflected the cultural importance and personal significance of the Ge‘ez manuscripts and artefacts, and a leaflet in English, Amharic and Tigrinya shared these insights with a wide audience. The display was accompanied by a volume entitled Treasures of Ethiopia and Eritrea in the Bodleian Library, Oxford.

Despite the impact of COVID-19 on the digitisation schedule, work is continuing and the project team hope to be able to reschedule the planned conference Collecting Africa: Before, During and After Colonial Overrule which had been planned for April 2020 to present the results of the cataloguing and digitizing projects and reflect, in more general terms, about the presence of objects from Africa in the UK.

The project is a collaboration between the Faculties of Classics and Theology and Religion of the University of Oxford, the Bodleian Libraries, and the Universität Hamburg, and the 2018–19 co-curation activities were supported by The Helen Hamlyn Trust and the John Fell Fund.

Oxford 700: present day

5

Afua Hirsch (St Peter’s College, 1999)

Afua Hirsch is an author, former Social Affairs and Education Editor at Sky News and former Africa Correspondent for The Guardian. She came to St Peter’s College in 1999 to study PPE

Afua Hirsch | image credit Urszula Soltys
Image credit: Urszula Soltys

After graduating, she took the Graduate Diploma in Law at the BPP Law School. She qualified as a barrister in 2006 and trained at Doughty Street Chambers.

Hirsch’s book Brit(ish): On Race, Identity and Belonging, published in January 2018, unpicks her own experiences she has lived but has struggled to find the language or framework to understand and analyse. The book is part-memoir and discusses Black history, culture and politics in the context of Britain, Senegal and Ghana.

In 2020, Hirsch presented African Renaissance: When Art Meets Power, which explored the histories of Ethiopia, Senegal and Kenya through their art, music and culture. Her documentary series Enslaved with Samuel Jackson, charting the hidden history behind the transatlantic slave trade, is currently running on BBC 1.

Afua Hirsch (born 12 June 1981) is a writer, broadcaster, and former barrister. She has worked as a journalist for The Guardian newspaper, and was the Social Affairs and Education Editor for Sky News from 2014 until 2017. She is the Wallis Annenberg Chair of the University of Southern California.

Nominated by St Peter’s College

4

Daphne Cunningham

Experimental Research Group Administrator at the Institute of Biomedical Engineering and Co-Chair of the BME Staff Network

Daphne Cunningham
Image credit: John Cairns

Of all the nominees to the BHM 100, Daphne received more nominations than any other staff member. This strength of feeling is testament to her work co-leading the University’s BME Staff Network and the power of community.

Having lived in the UK since 2005 when she and her family moved from the United States, Daphne has worked at the University for approaching 11 years and has played a role in the BME Staff Network since it was first founded in 2015, and co-chairs the organisation with Alexander Gordon, of the Mathematical Institute.

Of her double-job she says: ‘Like anything, when you have a full-time role, and one on top of it, it is a balancing act — especially when one is unpaid. But, that is one of the unique traits of the Black community, we have always had to help each other. The motto of the National Association of Colored Women* (NACW), from the early nineteenth century was ‘lifting as we climb’. Which is exactly how I view the BME Staff Network. Part of being in this community, is that you give back.

‘It puts me in contact with people of colour around the University, and I like that a lot. We want to listen to each other, and help each other, and before COVID we had a great social gathering calendar, where we always had ourselves a party — even if only another two people came.

‘Bringing the community together, so that they can talk and share information — for example during the pandemic, about taking care of yourself as a Black person in crisis, and providing that social platform for people is very rewarding to me. As well as the Black History Month lecture that we organise every year is another opportunity to bring us together with the inclusion of the wider BAME community of Oxford.

‘As an African-American I’m not surprised by the rise of the Black Lives Matter movement, the only surprise to me was that it spread around the world. Black British people were taking to the streets and statues were toppling. But the tendency is to re-establish the status quo as soon as possible and to turn the narrative back that way.

‘This is why it is so important for the University and all institutions to fight the urge to remain inert and hold on to the status quo because it is comfortable. They need to actually get uncomfortable and address the questions that the movement has raised — and have been trying to raise, for years.

‘I see a lot more organisations getting involved in Black History Month this year, and I look at how they make that decision — because they do not have to. What is the energy invested in sending a tweet? Is this a flavour of the month type of thing, or is it a genuine change? Do they believe in the words they are saying? If they don’t, then why should we believe them?’

Find out more about the BME Staff Network here:

3

Decolonising the museum experience

Staff members move objects in the Pitt Rivers Museum

Oxford’s iconic Pitt Rivers Museum is one of the leading and best-known museums of anthropology, ethnography and archaeology in the world and its collection of more than 500,000 items, acquired over more than 130 years, reflects an incredible breadth of culture.

However, the history of the Museum and many of its objects is closely tied to British Imperial expansion and colonialism. A time when the process of artefact collection is now known to have been violent and inequitable towards those being colonised.

Confronting this uncomfortable history has led the Museum to directly acknowledge its difficult past, and to develop ways to move forward, decolonising its collections with a comprehensive strategy, considered one of the most pioneering in the UK museum sector.

Over the last three years, its director, Laura Van Broekhoven, has led an Internal Review of Displays and Programming from an Ethical Perspective involving both internal staff and external stakeholders, in particular community delegates from different parts of the world but also A-level students and people living in Oxfordshire as refugees or forced migrants.

The overall aim of the work is to ‘bring its public facing-spaces more in line with its contemporary ethos of actively working with communities and respecting different ways of being as we become a welcoming space for all. Given the scope of what is required, the implementation of changes will be part of a long-term programme of curatorial work that will engage many stakeholders and stretch out over years, probably decades to come.’

Critical objectives include: the removal of well-known human remains that have been on long-term display in the Museum.

As a result of these important efforts, when the museum reported to the public last month, it was much changed. Over the summer, a team at the Museum have been carefully taking 120 Human Remains from open display including the well-known South American tsantas (also known as the ‘shrunken heads’), Naga trophy heads and Egyptian mummy of a child. All items have now been moved into storage.

The Pitt Rivers Museum has a wide range of partnerships with professional and community collaborators all over the world, including in South-Sudan, Egypt, Tibet, India, Kenya, Tanzania, South-Africa, Ghana, Botswana, Zimbabwe, Namibia, Ecuador and Siberia.

Find out more:

2

To the future and beyond

10 Black students stand on the steps of the Clarendon Building
Image includes: Joshua Chima, Law, Mansfield College; Emmanuel Amadi, History, St John’s College; Amgad Salih, Economics and Management, Exeter College; Miles King, History, University College; Wayne Gouro, Engineering, Exeter College; Joshua Omolegan, Computer Science, Christ Church College; Kwame Amony-Ephraim, History, Regent’s Park College; Marcus Amankwah, Engineering Exeter College; Joshua Abioye, Chemistry, Queen’s College; Myles Alexander-Bryan, Philosophy Politics and Economics, University College.

Remember their names.

When this group of 10 friends got together on the steps of the Clarendon Building, to recreate the infamous Bullingdon Club image of David Cameron, Boris Johnson and their peers, it was in no way to be interpreted as a homage*. In fact, they had only one thing on their minds: ‘representation matters.’

Amidst all freshers at Oxford University celebrating matriculation, the group wanted to send a positive message to young people just like them, and make it clear that there is no reason why this could not be them one day.

In their own words they explained the picture as follows:

‘We do not represent the Bullingdon Club. We chose to replicate the photograph as, for many, it portrays the stigma of exclusivity that deters many able students from applying to study at Oxford. Our message is that young black men like us do not have to conform to social stereotypes; in today’s society there is increased access to opportunity irrespective of one’s background. We want to empower young people to take control of their future and not feel restricted by their social standing.’

1

The Oxford African & Caribbean Society

Students from the ACS sit on the steps of the Radcliffe Camera

When far from home and building a new life for yourself, finding your tribe and a sense of community is so important. At University, student societies and clubs play a key role in enabling this connection and feeling of belonging.

Oxford’s African & Caribbean Society (ACS) has a reputation as ‘more than a society’ among its members, past and present. And for good reason, says Busola Femi-Gureje, the society’s West African Officer and a student at Keble College: ‘The ACS has been a home away from home for me and feels like a second family.’

From this year’s Black History Month showcase, to club nights and fun games like the much-talked about, ACS take on the TV programme ‘Take Me Out’, the team are always thinking of ways to bring students together. Non-ACS members are also able to attend lots of events too.

In a year that could be described as tumultuous, to say the least — particularly for those of Black and Ethnic Minority heritage, building human connections with those that you can relate to and feel safe with is so important.

Busola adds: ‘It is widely documented that the experiences of minority ethnic students in institutions such as Oxford can at times be difficult, and the ACS understands this acutely. It exists to not only to empower students within the University of African and Caribbean heritage but also enhance their experience of university life with a packed term card full of social events, welfare initiatives, and careers support. It also seeks to encourage cross-cultural exchange between, and the celebration of, all the different cultures within Africa and the Caribbean and seeks to emphasise its diversity — this year we have a dedicated Cultural Committee aiming to do just this.’

Find out more about the Oxford ACS here:

Conclusion

The last undergraduate admissions cycle (2018–19) saw more Black British students and students of Ethnic Minority heritage choosing Oxford University than ever before.

As the University continues its access efforts at pace, to stop someone’s ethnicity, background or finances being a barrier to educational opportunity, the continued contribution the ACS make towards building an inclusive University environment, is the perfect way to end our series.

From thought-leadership to research output, and the make-up of our student-body and senior staff, diversity is the lifeblood of Oxford University. Every member of our community should feel welcome, and that their presence is equally valued and contributes to Oxford’s reputation for excellence.

2020 has not been an easy year for anyone, on many levels. But the University is listening, and working to give all students the very best experience.

Let’s work together to keep Oxford University at the top of the rankings and our own personal estimations. Our BHM 100 nominees are living proof that the sky is the limit.

What next?

Follow us here on Medium where we’ll be publishing more articles soon.

Want to read more? Try our articles on: Being a minority at Oxford, ‘Oxford is a complicated place; it is both very diverse in some ways, and not at all in others’, and How to shine in an Oxford interview.

Are you a member of the University who wants to write for us on Medium? Get in touch with us here with your ideas: digicomms@admin.ox.ac.uk.

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Oxford is one of the oldest universities in the world. We aim to lead the world in research and education. Contact: digicomms@admin.ox.ac.uk

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Oxford is one of the oldest universities in the world. We aim to lead the world in research and education. Contact: digicomms@admin.ox.ac.uk

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