Common Ground is a movement of Oxford students from different backgrounds and different disciplines who have come together to push for change. Our number grew from 1 to 100 active organisers in a matter of weeks and we are still growing fast. That’s how we are putting an event into every college at Oxford.
COMMON GROUND HQ
Beth is a History & English finalist tired of seeing racist and classist aggressions swept under numerous expensive rugs. Even before she was told ‘this can never go anywhere because I have to marry into the elite’ after a drunken snog in Plush, she knew that Oxford really had a problem. By the second day of freshers week she had discovered that having her natural hair out in clubs would result in every other person just-wanting-to-see-what-it-felt-like-because-it’s-so-cool-!-!-!-!. Even still, many of the responses to the Rhodes Must Fall movement shocked her. The question ‘why is racism so easy for people to ignore at Oxford?’ became a pressing one. Beth has found racism and classism at Oxford to be passive-aggressive, arrogant and pseudo-complimentary. They have been a feature of her experience with both students and staff. Beth came up with the idea for Common Ground as a means for collaborative, critical discussion a few months ago and assembled the team. She is co-ordinating the core events for the symposium.
Tobi is a first year studying Philosophy and Theology at Trinity. Her interest in being part of Common Ground mainly stems from reflecting on how race and class are discussed in spaces like Oxford. Often, they are treated in a totally hypothetical way, without acknowledging how contemplating race and gender in a purely objective, theoretical way isn’t possible for a woman of colour. Diversity in Oxford is performative; parading students from ‘less-representative backgrounds’ on the college website is a form of lip-service. Coming from a massive comprehensive in London, to a place where black students and those from low-income families only exist in handfuls, opened her eyes as to why these present-day inequalities exist. They cannot be viewed in a vacuum; they are inextricably related to Oxford’s colonial legacy. She wants bring the voices of those who don’t , like herself, form part of what a ‘typical’ Oxford student looks like, from margin to centre. Tobi is a co-organiser of the symposium, involved in organising the core events and logistics. She is responsible for press and media enquiries.
Shreya is a first year Sanskrit undergrad at Balliol. Time and time again, she has been told by white people that she should ignore the imperial past and focus on the positives, because, apparently, ‘India is filled with wonder’. Shreya has first-hand experience of a curriculum deeply rooted in colonialism and the British Empire in India and struggles daily to comprehend that her course was initially set up so that the British could convert Indians to Christianity. Upset and disappointed by the lack of Indian authors and viewpoints on her reading lists, Shreya is keen for Oxford to understand why and how the curricula needs to change. Shreya is treasurer, in charge of funding and grad reps, and has been working with speakers for core panels and college events.
Will is a History and German student interested in challenging the pervasive historical amnesia that exists within the UK, but doesn’t in Germany. He got interested in organising this symposium after seeing an exhibition in Berlin dealing with Germany’s colonial past – an exhibition that ended with a display of a destroyed statute of a notorious German colonist, torn down by students at Hamburg University in 1961. He is looking forward to the diverse nature of the events put on across Oxford during the symposium weekend. Will is co-directing the symposium and running the college events. He is the point of contact for college reps.
Blue is a first year studying History at St Hilda’s. After traveling to Berlin as a Jewish student, he was struck with the way Germany had come to terms with its own history; he was aware at how safe heI felt in what could have easily felt a very unsafe space. On returning to England, Blue became aware of the stark difference in the way that Britain has treated its own history and felt determined to challenge the prevailing British narrative of celebrating empire. Coming to Oxford from a very diverse area and school has led him to see the distinction between British and German reactions to problematic histories even more clearly. The eurocentric history curriculum, colonial iconography, underrepresentation of people of colour, and pervading racism at Oxford, made it clear that Oxford was in many ways an unsafe space for many. Blue has been heavily involved in Rhodes Must Fall Oxford, as well as co-ordinating the Sunday morning panel.
Frances is a second year reading History, and is the college representative for Christ Church and graphic designer. Being in an environment where figures such as Gladstone and Disraeli hang on the wall without comment, Frances is interested in how the memory of the colonial past informs attitudes in the present, and wants to see this legacy confronted in the symposium. She believes that in looking to art and material culture, one can not just reveal the imperial past’s presence in the here-and-now, but can fundamentally alter it through the power of marginalised voices visibility. She has been responsible for the creative design of Common Ground Oxford.
Amira is in her second year of studying Spanish and Portuguese, and Zainab is a second-year Physics student. Both of them are undergraduates at Wadham College, Oxford. Earlier this year, they launched a project entitled Empower Her Voice (EHV), which aims to facilitate the empowerment of women worldwide. EHV is currently operating under two streams. First, they are asking young women at university to do short talks on any topic of their choice in front of an audience. So often, people feel that the only topic women can viably talk about is gender inequality, and the EHV ethos rests on the fact that the best way to disprove any bias or discrimination is through excelling in what one does without qualifying it with a token gender, race or any other part of one’s identity.
Zainab and Amira have been running events in Oxford and are now developing similar projects in other cities across the U.K., and further afield. EHV is collaborating with Common Ground to host a series of talks based on the theme ‘Imperial Past, Unequal Present,’ and more broadly, the idea of creating a space for yourself within an institution that may not have been created with you in mind. The second stream of EHV involves working to raise money for schools and women’s centres across the world. Amira and Zainab hope to fund scholarships, physical resources, and other schemes that would benefit the school or centre in question. Currently, they are working with the Sanjan Nagar Public Education Trust based in Lahore, Pakistan, they aim to raise money to fund scholarships for ten girls for the entirety of their education.
Mouki is a first year Spanish and Arabic student at Pembroke College. She was brought up by a strong woman who taught her that her tongue is the key to her identity. Sick of studying the same old repetitive Eurocentric curriculum, her primary interests lie in the experience of post-colonial modern literature, from South and Central America to North Africa and the Middle East. Whether through English, other languages, or the relationships between them, Mouki hopes to uncover, understand, and deconstruct systemic privilege and prejudice.
Lily is a 2nd Year English and French Hertford College. She feels that Oxford is a place that claims to love celebrating its history, but only this snippets of history which are palatable. She is particularly interested in how we can take practical action against borders in the UK at the moment and the links between colonialism and climate change and what we can do to educate and organise around that, so watch out for events from Oxford Migrant Solidarity and the Climate Justice Campaign during the weekend.
Alexis is a 2nd year History student at Lincoln College, but first and foremost she’s half Chinese, something she used to feel uncomfortable about but now wears with pride like a second skin that took some time growing into. Before confronting her ethnic identity, she had lived all her life with an acute sense of Unbelonging. Growing up in the UK, East Asia was nothing more than a distant aroma of smells and sounds. Told she was going to move to China age 8 she was thrilled to go away from this grey country where her classmates called her ‘chonk’ and ‘ching chong’. Yet upon moving to East Asia, it was very clear that she wasn’t going to fit in there either and was dubbed a ‘laowai’ (a derogatory term for a westerner). She wants to help others like her at Oxford, who feel the pain of unbelonging and the marginalisation of the self. She wants to challenge the colonial background of institutions like Oxford, and believes much of this is down to creating a space of discussion and narrative for these children of the diaspora where our identities aren’t defined by a colonial gaze, skin colour, accent, name.
Many more people are involved in organising events, creating art, and contacting speakers, and running our social media.