Watch the video of our panel discussion here:
★ DESCRIPTION ★
Our panel discussion ‘Making Rhodes History: Taking the Decolonisation Project Forward’ used the statue of Cecil Rhodes as an inroad into wider debates about colonial symbols, iconography, and material culture in Oxford. We wanted to interrogate the role that challenging and reworking spaces plays in the decolonisation project.
The statue of Cecil Rhodes that stands above Oriel college both symbolises Oxford’s imperial past and continues to overshadow its unequal present. The statute exists within the wider context of a city that is saturated with iconography which commemorates Oxford’s colonial history. From the portrait of the High Commissioner for Southern Africa, Alfred Milner, hanging at Balliol, to the library named after slave-owner Christopher Codrington at All Souls college, to the namesake of our art school, fervent imperialist John Ruskin, Oxford’s material culture stands as a testament to its colonial legacy. This iconography overshadows a university with a largely colonised curriculum, and a disproportionately low number of BME students and staff.
Oxford student protesters have been inspired by the Rhodes Must Fall Movement in South Africa, which succeeded in removing iconography of the white supremacist from a campus in which racism continues to affect admissions and academic life. RMF joins a long tradition of student protest against colonial iconography (shout out to the students at Hamburg who pulled down a statue of the notorious German colonialist Hermann von Wissmann in 1961). RMF also joins an international surge towards the creation of anti-racist spaces. In the United States, the New Orleans city council recently responded to a racist attack by taking down statues which celebrated confederate symbols; Harvard University has recently launched an entire academic programme dealing with North American colonialism; Vanderbilt University has actively chosen to pay off donors rather than keep the word ‘Confederate’ on one of their buildings. Ever-progressive, we at Oxford have started to hang portraits of women on the walls of our dining halls…
Common Ground want to investigate the way that such symbols and objects affect Oxford. We aim to explore the role that changing Oxford’s spaces has in taking the decolonisation project forward. This panel will discuss the differences between a material culture that perpetuates imperialism, and one that interrogates it. How do institutions process their own legacies; how we can decolonise our environments; and last but not least, WHEN will our spaces become decolonised?
★ SPEAKERS ★
MAX HARRIS (CHAIR)
Max Harris is a former Rhodes Scholar, and a current examination fellow at All Souls. Max has done extensive work in the fields of human rights justice, indigenous legal issues, and the future of progressive politics. He was also involved in the Rhodes Must Fall Movement.
Dalia Gebrial is an activist and writer. As well as having worked as a core organiser for Rhodes Must Fall, she is currently co-ordinating People & Planet’s ‘Undoing Borders’ campaign, which supports students taking action in solidarity with migrants. She is working on a special issue of Historical Materialism on ‘Identity Politics,’ and an edited volume on decolonising higher education alongside Professor Gurminder Bhambra and Dr Kerem Nisciangolu.
A Namibian by birth, Ndjodi is pursuing an MPhil in Law at Linacre College, with his research looking at the justiciability of socio-economic rights in Namibia. Ndjodi was involved in the drafting of the Third Amendment to the Namibian Constitution in 2014. Ndjodi is also a former Rhodes Scholar; he was part of the Redress Rhodes Campaign, as well as the Rhodes Must Fall movement. At present, he serves as an Editor of the Oxford University Commonwealth Law Journal and is the Vice-President of the Oxford University Africa Society.
Nadiya Fiegeuroa is the Dean of Scholarships and Director of Leadership & Change at the Rhodes Trust. She heads the Character, Service and Leadership Program for Rhodes Scholars, and steers other aspects of the Scholar experience – from selection policy and procedures to outreach to underrepresented populations, and support of Scholar led initiatives. Nadiya has worked extensively in human and institutional development with a focus on education, partnerships and governance. She was part of the small team to found the first public policy think-tank in the English-speaking Caribbean (CaPRI, Caribbean Policy Research Institute) and was Deputy Director of Jamaica’s leading good governance anti-corruption organization, National Integrity Action, now a chapter of Transparency International. Nadiya has held policy advisory, programmatic and facilitator roles with the Government of Jamaica, University of the West Indies and regional Civil Society organizations.
DR DAN HICKS
Dan Hicks is Associate Professor in the School of Archaeology, Curator of Archaeology at the Pitt Rivers Museum, and a Fellow of St Cross College. He has a vast range of knowledge having published work on themes as diverse as the ‘architecture of displacement’ (exploring the lived experience of temporary accommodation for refugees in the Middle East and Europe) and ‘sugar landscapes’ in the Eastern Caribbean, as well as both the Cambridge Companion to Historical Archeology and the Oxford Handbook of Material Cultural Studies. He is also the General Editor of Bloomsbury Series ‘A Cultural History of Objects’.
Michelle Codrington-Rogers is a teacher in Oxford who has been involved with the Rhodes Must Fall movement. Descended from one of the many people enslaved by Christopher Codrington, Michelle brings a personal perspective on what it means to decolonise a space.
LAURA VAN BROEKHOVEN
Laura Van Broekhoven is Director of the Pitt Rivers Museum and Professorial Fellow at Linacre College, Oxford. Laura has research interests in Postcolonial Praxis, the negotiation of Curatorial authority, restitution, and Repatriation.