For an aeroplane’s aluminium and composite canister to fly serenely through the sky, two great, guzzling turbines spin ferociously on each wing. These explosive extremities provide the force to carry those in the comfortable, quiet middle toward their destination.
The Poor Print recently published a cartoon on the Rhodes Must Fall movement, in which it was suggested that central issues including a western-centric curriculum and a lack of voice for BME students were elephants in the room, lost in the noise of the protests and counter protests.
Its prima facie sensible idea – at least for those who think there is little chance of the statue coming down – is that such distractions hinder rather than help bring about change.
What the cartoon did not acknowledge was the chaotic processes by which change is wrought.
Every protest needs a symbol. And without the intense response to the potential removal of this historical artefact, we would not have had this debate on a collegiate, campus, national, and even international level.
In Oxford of all places, where institutional inertia is not easily overcome, it may be that the kind of reforms needed to make this university more open and more reflective of the world in which we actually live can indeed only be brought about by these great fiery turbines of protests raising awareness and powering discourse.
In any movement, the actions of those considered disruptive, extreme, or troublesome are the ones who provide the energy for reforms. Those on the inside, those who have the capacity to make change, can only do so when there is some force, usually external, that creates an impetus to act differently, change policy, hire someone new, and redirect funding.
For those of us at Oriel the protests have been disruptive and uncomfortable. But education should be these things. It would be a shame if we left here unchallenged, effectively the same as we arrived.
The Rhodes controversy may have been exactly the crisis Oriel College needed to bring about change.
And if so, then, after all this, our college will be more diverse, ethical, and responsive to a rapidly changing world in which we must face inequality and inaccessibility wherever and whenever it is found.
28/04/17 update: read more Rhodes coverage on The Poor Print as part of our Special Report in Issue #18 (themed around ‘Myth’).