An inquiry set up to look into the potential removal of a statue of the Victorian imperialist Cecil Rhodes from Oxford University’s Oriel College has said it will consider “a full range of options” before making its final recommendation next year.
Oriel College’s governing body set up an independent commission of inquiry last month after members voted in favour of removing the statue following a sustained, student-led campaign that began five years ago and was reignited by recent Black Lives Matter protests.
The statue will remain in place until at least next January, when the commission is due to publish its findings after hearing from a range of experts and stakeholders including historians, current and past students, representatives of the campaigning group Rhodes Must Fall and Oxford city council.
The commission will explore how Oriel College’s “21st-century commitment to diversity can sit more easily with its past”. As well as addressing the key issue of the statue and Rhodes’ legacy, the commission will consider broader issues of how to improve access and experiences of BAME students and staff at Oriel.
The removal of the statue is not a given, however. “The independent commission, whilst noting the governing body’s wish to see the statue removed, has licence to consider a full range of options for the statue,” a statement outlining the inquiry’s remit says.
Commission members will include the broadcaster Zeinab Badawi; Michelle Codrington-Rogers, a teacher and educationalist who became the first black national president of the NASUWT teaching union; Shaista Aziz, a Labour party councillor on Oxford city council; and Laura Van Broekhoven, director of the Pitt Rivers Museum.
The Rhodes Must Fall campaign described the decision to launch an independent commission as a “timid response” by Oriel College but welcomed the commission’s diversity and the clear deadline.
“The unprecedented protests of June and July 2020 and the meaningful relationships that have grown from them have shown us that the tide of change has come to our tiny corner in Oxford,” a campaign statement said, “and that the call to decolonise, from the university and the community, has rung through the governing body at Oriel College to other parts of the town and the globe.”