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Looking Back on 2020

Controversial Cecil Rhodes Statue to Remain at Oxford College

A statue of Cecil Rhodes installed on the campus of the University of Oxford in England will remain on view—for now, at least—as debates about it continue on.

Owned by the university’s Oriel College, the statue portrays the 19th-century South African politician who put forward imperialist views and claimed that the English people were a “master race.” Activists and historians have said that Rhodes was a white supremacist.

A protest movement, known as Rhodes Must Fall, arose in South Africa in 2015 in response to another statue of Rhodes at the University of Cape Town; it ultimately caused the school to remove the work. Those who called on Oriel College to remove its statue were galvanized by Black Lives Matter protests in 2020. That year, a statue of the slave trader Edward Colston in Bristol was thrown into a harbor, as part of a protest that subsequently went viral on social media.

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Looking Back on 2020

Experts have urged Oriel College to remove the statue. On Thursday, the Guardian reported on an independent commission’s recommendations that the sculpture be taken down and that the school take greater action to meet the demands of black and minority ethnic (BME) applicants and students.

In a release on Thursday, Oriel College said it did not plan to “begin the legal process for the relocation” of the Rhodes statue. Instead, the school said, it would focus on the “contextualisation of the College’s relationship with Rhodes” by establishing a task force devoted to the commission’s recommendations and organizing a virtual exhibition about Rhodes’s legacy and “related issues of relevance.”

Lord Mendoza, the provost of Oriel College, said in a statement, “We understand this nuanced conclusion will be disappointing to some, but we are now focused on the delivery of practical actions aimed at improving outreach and the day-to-day experience of BME students.”

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