As one of Oxford’s leading institutions for social responsibility, with a long history of commitment to social inclusion, we are well-positioned to tackle the social inequalities, prejudices and barriers that continue to affect people’s lives and choices locally, nationally and globally.
We‘re engaging with, involving and inspiring, people within our College, in our communities and around the world to develop our understanding of social inclusion and how we can foster inclusive and effective solutions.
In a reaction against the continued and widespread systemic racism which fuelled the Black Lives Matter protests of 2020, Somerville College moved to partner with the Wellcome Centre for Ethics and Humanities to create two Visiting Fellowships for BAME early-career academics. This first step towards tackling systemic racism was conceived and guided by Professor Patricia Kingori, and we anticipate taking further collaborative action to tackle systemic racism in the future.
Alternative Curricula is an informal discussion group exploring postcolonial and decolonial theory. Hosted within Somerville yet fully independent, the group aims to provide a counterweight to the Eurocentricity of much of the academic theory encountered both in university and everyday life. Open to all, the group espouses the critical reading and discussion of theorists from outside the traditional academic canon, with a particular focus on writers from the majority world (i.e. not Europe and North America), and writers who identify as Black and/or as people of colour.
The BAME Formal
The BAME Formal was conceived and delivered by Talisha Ariarasa (2018, Jurisprudence), the JCR’s President and Ethnic Minorities Officer 2019-20. The evening commenced with a panel discussion on ‘Meaningful Diversity’ featuring the BAME business leaders Raj Tulsiani, CEO of diverse executive search firm Green Park; Karen Blackett OBE, chair of MediaCom UK; and Vanessa Kingori MBE, the first woman to direct UK Vogue. A common theme of the discussion was the clear benefit to businesses in promoting diversity, with Vanessa Kingori speaking passionately about how the received wisdom that cover stars needed to be young, thin and white crumbled when editions of Vogue featuring Rihanna and Oprah Winfrey became record successes for the magazine. The evening culminated in a special BAME formal hosted by Somerville Principal, Jan Royall.
With the guidance of students from across our community, Somerville College seeks to host events promoting progressive dialogue about inclusion both here at Oxford and in wider society. To commemorate Black History Month 2020, Nadia Awad, Somerville JCR’s Ethnic Minorities Officer, hosted an event entitled Black Experiences in Academia with Melz Owusu, Founder of the Free Black University as well as Esther Agbolade, former President of the Oxford African and Caribbean Society and Rhodes Must Fall campaigner, and Melanie Onovo, former Treasure of the Oxford Union.
Rhodes Must Fall
The following statement was agreed by Somerville’s Governing Body in June 2021:
“As a college, Somerville welcomed Oriel Governing Body’s stated wish in June 2020 to see the Cecil Rhodes statue and King Edward St. plaque removed. We are, however, concerned by their recent decision not to begin the legal process for relocation of the statue and plaque. While we recognise Oriel’s commitment to the important work of contextualising the college’s relationship with Rhodes, and to a programme of education and outreach, we believe that the retention of the statue and plaque in their current positions compromises this work as well as the broader equality, diversity, and inclusion initiatives of the University’s constituent colleges. We express this view in the hope of encouraging collective engagement with the complex relationship we all have with our history and reaffirming our common commitment to becoming a more progressive, open and inclusive academic community.”