Oxford University today launches a campaign to recognise British Black History Month.
Throughout October events and content streams will run University-wide, across colleges, departments and divisions.
The campaign will focus on some of the contributions that Black people and people of Black heritage have made throughout history, to the University, and society as a whole. The event will also reflect on some uncomfortable legacies of Oxford’s past as well as ongoing work to improve the diversity of the University’s student body, with initiatives unveiled to encourage successful applications from Black undergraduate and graduate students.
Now in its 33rd year nationally, British Black History Month has significantly grown in profile, and raises awareness of the role that black Britons have played in British history and the struggle for racial equality in this country. October also marks the anniversary of 100 years since women first matriculated at to Oxford, and the campaign will highlight the stories of some of the Black women whose achievements have contributed to the calibre of the University’s academic legacy.
Other highlights include the Oxford Black History Month 100 series, which will run weekly in four parts, and showcase examples of Black excellence from around the University and further afield. The list ranges from research to individual events, resources, cultural artefacts and people themselves. Each is nominated by a member of the University community, for reasons ranging from academic and social impact, to simply enjoying the work.
Professor Rebecca Surender, Pro Vice Chancellor and Advocate for Equality and Diversity, said: ’Sharing the experiences of our vibrant community throughout the year, while honouring cultural calendar events like Black History Month - which comes at the start of the academic year - enriches University life for all members, and helps us to set the tone for a welcoming and respectful environment. Our commitment to inclusion runs far beyond annual awareness activities, and underlines the importance of social empathy and being an ally to others.
’Diversity is the lifeblood of this University, vital to sustaining excellence, building relationships of trust and respect for other ways of thinking, people and cultures. It is a big driver in the University’s consistent efforts to increase representation of Black students and ethnic minorities at Oxford, and why we are proud that more of these students are choosing Oxford than ever before.
’The ability to recognise, value and celebrate difference, and ways of being that are perhaps unlike our own enriches all areas of life, including the student experience.’
The Oxford University African Caribbean Society (ACS) is focusing on the living history of Black Britain from the first week of the new term, which will initially be shared on their social media channels (@oxfordacs on Instagram and twitter), and video and Zoom chat sessions for members later in the month.
Effie Armah-Tetteh, a second year student, studying Classics (Literae Humaniores) at Corpus Christi College and VP of the Oxford African Caribbean Society, said: ’As a young black woman, who has grown up in white spaces both academically and socially, black history month for me is a dedicated time in which I feel seen and the achievements of my community are both recognised and respected. It is a time for celebration as much as it is for reflection; it is a constant reminder that we as young black people must keep doing our best and working our hardest in honour of those who have paved the way for us, in a plethora of fields and by limitless means - despite the limitations placed upon us. We do this in hopes that our efforts may too be celebrated, every October, every year.’
Conrad Kunadu, a final year politics, philosophy and economics student at Trinity College, said: ’As an aspirational black student, I’ve spent my entire life attempting to defy stereotypes. Growing up, it was clear to me how unusual and ’un-black’ others found the level of my ambitions. In also having few black role models around me, it often felt very difficult to feel like I can fit in whilst aiming high.
’However, Black History Month has always been my opportunity to discover how truly impressive and pervasive black excellence has always been. From the well-told stories of Martin Luther King and Mary Seacole to underappreciated black role models such as Ignatius Sancho and William Cuffay, my eyes were opened to the fact that blackness and achievement are not contradictory in the slightest. History is full of exceptional black individuals who managed to make invaluable contributions to society often in spite of egregious racism. Black History Month showed me that black excellence isn’t a rarity, and that in my own pursuits, I’d have plenty of giants’ shoulders to stand on.
’Though long-overdue, it’s excellent that Oxford is finally recognising many of the exceptional contributions that black individuals have made throughout history. It’s a small, but valuable, step forwards in the long fight for racial justice.’