Exeter, the fourth oldest of Oxford’s colleges, is ever more conscious of racial inequalities. Exeter’s increasing effort to address them is embodied in initiatives such as an investigation into the College’s historic links to slavery, the intensification of Exeter’s commitment to diversity, and an energetic engagement with the pressing issues raised by the Black Lives Matter movement.
In March 2020 Exeter’s Governing Body authorised a research project, Exeter College and the Legacies of Slavery, under the direction of Dr Dexnell Peters, to determine the extent and impact of the College’s historic ties to slaveholding and the wider colonial past. The initial stage of the project, which draws extensively on the work of the Legacies of British Slave-ownership project at UCL, and has been driven by the research of Archives Assistant Dr Isabel Robinson, has revealed that 28 people associated with Exeter in the early and mid-19th century were associated with ‘compensation’ payments after the abolition of slavery in the British Empire. Further work on the project will assess the extent of their involvements with slavery and with the College, making comparisons with other Oxbridge colleges where possible. It is also hoped to discover the extent and significance of Exeter’s links to slavery in the 18th century. Exeter’s Legacies of Slavery project complements the work of Fellows of the College who research and teach the history of slavery and imperialism, post-colonial literature, intercultural relations, and human rights law.
Meanwhile, the College is putting additional emphasis on the strong commitment to diversity embodied in Exeter’s 2019 Strategic Plan. As with other Oxford colleges, this emphasis on diversity is not solely about students, and - with reference to students – is not only about admissions. But the latter is important, including socio-economic as well as ethnic factors, all of which are addressed by the College’s Exeter Plus ‘bridging’ programme for incoming undergraduates. Piloted in 2019, Exeter Plus had its first full implementation in September 2020. Within these broad efforts, Exeter has demonstrated increasing support for students from under-represented ethnic groups, in particular by sponsoring places in the Target Oxbridge programme. The College has also committed itself to joining the University’s new Black Academic Futures postgraduate scholarship programme at the earliest opportunity.
Exeter has vigorously engaged with issues raised by the Black Lives Matter movement. Affirming that Exeter is a diverse community strongly committed to racial equality and deeply opposed to racism and discrimination, Exeter’s Governing Body set up a Black Lives Matter working party in June 2020. Consisting of undergraduates and postgraduates as well as Governing Body members, the Working Party has met regularly and is carrying forward a multi-faceted programme of work, including:
- Establishing a special collection on race equality in the College Library
- Launching the Exeter Race Equality Seminar series for Fellows, Students and all current members of the College
- Offering diversity seminars in Freshers’ Weeks at Exeter both for undergraduates and postgraduates
- Creating internships for students to work with the College’s Communications Officer to increase attention to the work and interests of Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic students
- Increasing efforts, through the College’s outreach activities, to reach potential applicants from Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic communities
- Enhancing training in equality and diversity for all who work and study at Exeter.
The objective of all these efforts is to support the Exeter community’s pursuit of racial equality and to help ensure that the College is a place where all Fellows, staff and students can thrive and reach their full potential.
These various Exeter initiatives are in their early stages. But the direction of travel is clear, and momentum is building.