Balliol has responded to a request by students for action against their experience of racism and discrimination in the College, in the wake of the recent Black Lives Matter protests and Rhodes Must Fall campaign.
In a message to all students, the Master wrote: ‘Balliol College has an absolute commitment to demonstrate in action the principles of equality and mutual respect for all members of our community - students, staff and alumni - whatever their background and circumstances. Recent discussions have shown that we are failing in this commitment in relation to some of our students, those who come from Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic backgrounds. I am writing to apologise to them on behalf of the College.’
The statement was in response to a paper presented to the College’s Governing Body jointly by the JCR, MCR and the Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic student community, with a report compiled by Andi Marsh as President of Balliol’s BME society on behalf of its members, detailing their experiences of racism and discrimination. These included incidents of racial stereotyping, micro-aggression and racial insensitivity from academic and non-academic staff. Many had little or no confidence that action would be taken on complaints about their experience.
Describing the report’s findings as ‘challenging and disturbing’, the Master said that the College would act on all the students’ proposals. Actions to be taken next term include: appointing a Fellow with special responsibility for BAME issues; establishing a new Equality and Diversity Committee involving Fellows and students; expanding the mandatory programme of unconscious bias/tackling race bias training to include all academic staff; increasing the diversity of teaching materials and of representation in art and buildings; and facilitating and supporting mandatory training on race equality and discrimination issues for students.
The Master also noted that a nine-month study of historic donations to the College that derive from the proceeds of slavery is close to completion. The College will include students in discussions about how it should respond to the results of the study. Commissioned in 2019, the study is part of the Balliol and Empire project, which established a series of events alongside a research programme exploring Balliol’s historical ties to different aspects of British imperialism.
The project includes the Balliol and Empire Project web pages which show that, although when thinking about Balliol’s connections with empire people may focus on the hundreds of Balliol-educated men who went on to help administer various parts of the British Empire, closer examination of the subject suggests a more complicated and multifaceted relationship, including in relation to the process of decolonisation and anti-colonial struggles in the Global South. Balliol continues to be prominent in academic research on colonialism and responses to the historical injustice of the later 20th and early 21st centuries.
Photo above: members of Balliol’s BME society. Through events, social gatherings and social media, the student society facilitates discussion about a range of topics including race, racism and heritage and gives students the opportunity to discuss their experiences of being from a minority ethnic background and studying in Oxford. You can read the society’s report for last year in the Balliol College Annual Record 2019.