Student Campaign Insists “Oxford Is An Inclusive Place” Following Diversity Row

Is Oxford University a welcoming place for black and ethnic minority students? Two campaigns tell very different stories.

1. Last week, BuzzFeed reported on the ‘I, Too, Am Oxford’ campaign, which saw black and ethnic minority students at Oxford University sharing their experiences.

2. A number of people interviewed for the project reported incidents of bigotry and insensitivity from their fellow students.

3. Now, other Oxford students have launched a counter-campaign called ‘We Are All Oxford’. They believe “Oxford has been misrepresented in the media”.

Mikołaj Barczentewicz / Via wearealloxford.tumblr.com

In the description of the Tumblr page, they wrote that they didn’t want to undermine the students who felt they had been prejudiced against but instead wanted to provide an alternative view.

“Our aim is to present the full picture. We have heard from those who have suffered negative experiences here, which we all agree need to be voiced and challenged. We want to show people that many ethnic minorities have an overall positive experience here at the University of Oxford.

“We want to show that the university selects on academic excellence and actively tries to attract people from all walks of life. We want to show that the university makes a conscious effort to make people from all ethnic minority groups feel welcome.”

4. The coordinator, Alexandra Jaye Wilson, told BuzzFeed she was concerned the ‘I, Too, Am Oxford’ campaign’s “negative portrayal of an ethnic minority’s experience at the university will discourage prospective ethnic minority students from applying.”

Mikołaj Barczentewicz / Via wearealloxford.tumblr.com

Wilson (above) said the aim of the campaign was to “present the full picture.”

She added: “The ‘I, Too, Am Oxford’ campaign brought up some very serious issues that do need to be voiced and challenged.

“None of us believe that racism should ever be tolerated. We would again like to emphasise that we do not aim to undermine the original campaign and we are not working against them.”

5. Wilson felt that the “I, too, am Oxford” initiative painted a misleading picture of a “prejudice and elitist university” [sic].

Mikołaj Barczentewicz / Via wearealloxford.tumblr.com

In response to claims that the ‘We Are All Oxford’ campaign is a coordinated PR campaign, Wilson said it is “not not affiliated to any university bodies. This is a student response organised and carried out by students.”

6. The students were concerned the initial campaign might discourage black and ethnic minority students from applying to the university and say they want to provide a broader context.

Mikołaj Barczentewicz / Via wearealloxford.tumblr.com

The photographer, Mikołaj Barczentewicz, told BuzzFeed the campaign was organised after students at various colleges felt the ‘I, Too, Am Oxford’ campaign didn’t account for the broader context.

Barczentewicz, studying for a postgraduate degree in Law at University College, Oxford, after completing his undergraduate in his native Poland, said the students “wanted to show that Oxford is a very inclusive place.”

He added: “The concern wasn’t that what the people had said wasn’t true. Certainly these things have happened. The problem was showing this without showing a broader context to it. It was a reaction by several students who asked their friends to get involved to provide context and show all the access efforts and how inclusive the university is for minority students.

Taken out of context, the other website might take away from what the university is doing to widen access.”

7. The students wanted to show Oxford can be a very welcoming environment, regardless of where you’re from.

Mikołaj Barczentewicz / Via wearealloxford.tumblr.com

8. The photographer says the students are not “in competition” with the original initiative.

Mikołaj Barczentewicz / Via wearealloxford.tumblr.com

Barczentewicz said that participants in the ‘We Are All Oxford’ campaign did not want their project to be seen “in competition” with the ‘I, Too, Am Oxford’ initiative.

“I don’t even think that anyone wanted to show that these things aren’t true,” he said, “as they are probably happening everywhere. The ‘We Are All Oxford’ campaign is just another take on the same institution.”

9. But their Facebook page describes it as “a response to the campaign I Too Am Oxford”.

Mikołaj Barczentewicz / Via wearealloxford.tumblr.com

10. Sukh Singh said he got involved because he fundamentally disagreed with assertions made by the ‘I, Too, Am Oxford campaign’.

Mikołaj Barczentewicz / Via wearealloxford.tumblr.com

Singh (above), a PPE student at University College, said that the ‘I, Too, Am Oxford’ campaign aroused many discussions but a group of students at University College felt it distorted the image of the university.

While the original initiative said that many students are made to feel Othered in their daily lives, “I’ve never been made to feel different,” Singh said.

“I’ve had a very positive experience as a a student with an ethnic minority background and I remember having worries about the cultural differences I may have. But now, looking back, I think ‘Why did I worry about it?’”

But he added that he didn’t see ‘We Are All Oxford’ as working against the original campaign. He said: “We understand that there are race incidents, just as in any university. I don’t want convince anyone one way or other.”

14. The NUS Black Students’ Officer told BuzzFeed that the ‘We Are All Oxford’ campaign “diminishes the experiences of their classmates”.

Mikołaj Barczentewicz / Via wearealloxford.tumblr.com

Aaron Kiely, also running to be NUS President this year, said: “Many people thought it [the ‘I, Too, Am Oxford’ campaign] was empowering as it reflected their own experiences at universities around the country.

“I think that this is really just a reactionary backlash against that and it’s one thing to talk about positive initiatives that Oxford University have taken in terms of outreach, widening participation and access, however, I think that this campaign actually diminishes the experiences of racism of their classmates and I think that’s really harmful because these experiences are entirely legitimate.”

Mikołaj Barczentewicz / Via wearealloxford.tumblr.com

Kiely added that the large participation in the initial campaign demonstrated the need for change.

“It wasn’t just one person writing a blog, it was hundreds of students taking part in that project. You want Oxford to take further steps and to challenge its reputation as a very elitist upper-class institution,” he said.

16. Another Tumblr account, ‘We Are All Awful’ has emerged, which claims to be a “concise description of what’s wrong with ‘We Are All Oxford’.”

Mikołaj Barczentewicz / Via weareallawful.tumblr.com

The caption for the image above, for example, questions the premise of associating low income, state schools and financial accessibility with ethnic minorities.

17. The organisers behind the ‘I, Too, Am Oxford’ campaign showed concern when Wilson initially suggested an alternative campaign.

Wilson initially posted her issues with the ‘I, Too, Am Oxford’ campaign within the Facebook event.

But students within the group didn’t react too positively. Chiara Giovanni said that the project “was simply a chance for us to tell the truth, not some kind of conspiracy to put people off coming”.

Another student, Marion Osieyo, said that a second campaign would “negate the intention” of the ‘I, Too, Am Oxford’ initiative

Leyla Okhai, who worked at the university as part of Widening Participation and Equality and Diversity, expressed hope that the university would take action. “I think the admissions process needs to be looked at. I see this initiative as a way to highlight the fact there needs to be change,” she said.

19. Oxford alumnus Ché Bee said the students’ union needed to look at “why there exists such racism at the university”.

20. Sarah St. John said the ‘We Are All Oxford’ campaign “sends a message to BME [black and ethnic minority] students that issues of racism will be dismissed at Oxford.”

21. And one student at Christ Church college asked why the students’ union didn’t publicise the first campaign.

22. Which may or may not have led to this.

23. The official Facebook account now says that the students’ union supports both campaigns.

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