Christ Church and Colonialism - Past, Present and Future
Christ Church has a complex relationship with the colonial past. The College has educated 16 Viceroys and Governors General of India, but also leading figures involved in the abolition of slavery such as Lord Mansfield and Sir William Dolben. Christ Church was one of several Oxford colleges that in 1907 rejected the first African-American Rhodes scholar and prominent figure in the Harlem Renaissance, Alain LeRoy Locke, but it also had as one of its longtime tutors the philosopher Sir Michael Dummett, a leading figure in the Civil Rights Movement in the 1960s. The legacies of figures associated with Christ Church such as the philosopher John Locke and the politician William Gladstone continue to be debated. In the case of Gladstone, he undoubtedly benefitted from his father’s wealth as one of the largest “owners” of enslaved people in the British West Indies. Both he and Locke’s attitudes to slavery are also the subject of heated academic debate and increasingly intense negative scrutiny. While in recent decades Christ Church has supported students and scholars who are actively seeking to critique colonialism and its legacy—see, for example, the work of Homi Bhabha, one of the most influential figures in post-colonial studies, who completed his graduate studies at Christ Church—it is also highly likely that portions of Christ Church’s endowment came from alumni who profited from the trade in and labour of enslaved people, a topic that merits further research and scrutiny.
Christ Church plans to explore in much greater depth its often difficult political, financial and intellectual ties to the colonial past, in order better to understand how those who studied and taught at the College are implicated in these histories. But Christ Church is also focused on the future, as seen by the report it commissioned over this past summer from Challenge Consultancy, setting out a road map to foster greater racial diversity and inclusivity. There is still a long way to go. Nevertheless, initiatives such as a new Graduate Scholarship in Law for Black, Asian and Ethnic Minority students, enhanced anti-bias training for all students and all staff, and a long-term project to diversify the visual environment demonstrate Christ Church’s commitment to acknowledging an often very painful past and to creating a very different, much more inclusive future for its students and staff.