Like many other institutions in Oxford, Regent’s was challenged by the response to the killing of George Floyd. Many of the issues raised by the Black Lives Matter campaign had already been on the College’s agenda, for example through our support of the Sam Sharpe Project1. Sharpe was a Baptist Jamaican hero who died in his fight for racial justice. We have sought to highlight his legacy over the past decade. This summer a new urgency is recognised about addressing issues of racial justice.
In true Oxford fashion, we have an extensive collection of historic portraits. In recent years one in particular has aroused comment and question over colonial connections. We commissioned a paper from our history fellow, Dr Leif Dixon, which explored some of the issues involved in portraiture and memorialisation. Dr Dixon and members of our Equality Committee were concerned about adding new portraits to our collection as well as re-assessing the old ones, but accepted his recommendation that we should engage afresh with all the portraits currently on display – to research them and, where necessary, contextualise or consider removing them. As a first step an activity was devised for freshers during their recent induction programme, and we are introducing a JCR-MCR-SCR project to research each portrait including its provenance. Once this stage is complete we then plan a consultation with the whole College community that will inform decisions on which might remain and which be replaced.
The need to have a more diverse set of portraits to represent all aspects of the College’s story in a prominent public space is acknowledged. Two years ago we had begun a project to add new portraits to the collection, with diversity a particular aim in this. In the summer of 2019 four new portraits were unveiled in our main lecture room. We are now considering relocating these into our main dining hall so that they can be seen more often and by more people. The planned second phase of this project has been delayed by the pandemic. In it we will ask friends and alumni, as well as current students, to nominate the names of those members of the College community who have made a significant contribution in their chosen field. Six of these will be chosen for professional photographic portraits in a display which will change every three years or so. We hope to proceed with this very soon, and when complete the overall feel of our portrait collection will be very different.
Angus Library holdings
In our Angus Library we hold a collection based on the personal library and artefacts of former College principal Joseph Angus (1816 – 1902). In addition, we hold the archive of the Baptist Missionary Society and a significant proportion of this material has a connection with the Empire, though usually indirectly through missionary work. For several years students have been encouraged to use the Angus for undergraduate dissertations, many of which explore these themes, and they are encouraged to use the Library and Archive to inform their dissertations and their broader studies. The Angus Librarian curates regular displays of materials in a display case adjacent to the entrance to our main dining hall; most recently this has highlighted the contribution of black missionaries such as N’lemvo2.
- We are currently exploring the possibility of creating a new category of advisory fellows, the Martin Luther King Jr Fellowships, to enrich our College life, sit on College committees and be role models for students from BAME backgrounds.
- In Michaelmas Term all academic and administrative staff have been asked to renew their training in implicit bias and racial awareness, and the training has also been extended to all other staff for the first time.
- The JCR and MCR have been invited to consider and to report to the Equality Committee on their suggestions to make the College a more inclusive community in the light of the Black Lives Matter.
- We have introduced a programme to offer BAME and all first-generation students mentorship conversations with academic staff to support them as they adapt to life at Oxford.
2 See the current blog to celebrate Black History Month on the Angus website with more info about N’lemovo: https://theangus.rpc.ox.ac.uk/mantantu-dundulu-nlemvo-linguist-pioneer-m...