Christ Church has released a statement today regarding the JCR hustings last Sunday night in this email sent to college students.

Christ Church’s JCR hustings was hosted over Zoom and attended by 100 people. Outrage and accusations of racism followed one of the candidates used a cake allegory of “flour shortages” with comparison to the case of George Floyd. The hustings immediately followed an emergency JCR Motion proposed by Melanie Onovo to donate £720 to the Minnesota Freedom Fund and associated charities. 

The statement reads as:

Christ Church condemns the deeply offensive remarks that were made during the recent JCR Hustings, which appeared to make light of the appalling death of George Floyd in Minneapolis. We are taking the incident extremely seriously and have investigated what took place.

Christ Church’s Senior Censor, Prof. Geraldine Johnson, and Junior Censor, Prof. Dirk Aarts, have made the following joint statement:

“We completely support the frank words of the JCR President, who has kept us fully informed about the incident that took place during the recent Hustings held on Zoom. Christ Church is committed to providing a safe and inclusive environment for all, whatever their background, or the colour of their skin. Racism, in any form, cannot and will not be tolerated and it is completely unacceptable if any student felt uncomfortable, let alone distressed, at this meeting.”

“We have been deeply impressed by those who spoke up during the meeting, and for their honesty and openness in discussions afterwards, as well as by the students who have contacted us individually to share their concerns. From the ongoing conversations we have had, there can be no doubt that our students and the wider Christ Church community take a very clear stance against racism and were dismayed to hear about this incident. We will continue to work closely with all our students to ensure that Christ Church provides a welcoming and supportive home for everyone. We expect all members of our community to adhere to our Equality policy and will be dealing with violations of this policy through our established procedures.” 

“Although an anti-bias session is already a compulsory element of our induction programme, it has become evident that this is not enough. We will therefore work with students to ensure that not only freshers, but the entire community, continues to confront the very real impact of racial bias and all forms of discrimination. To that end, we will be taking concrete steps to introduce new and ongoing initiatives to combat prejudice and to give everyone—students and staff—the tools to stand up for the values of tolerance and equality that Christ Church embraces today. We all have much to learn, but we are committed to fostering a culture of mutual respect both at Christ Church and in the wider world.”

The JCR President, Jarnail Atwal, spoke about the incident at the end of the meeting, and has made the following comments:

“Being a member of the JCR is to commit oneself to engage with others, to live in a community, and above all to respect one another. These basic standards were violated. The injustices of American society, that travesty of American police brutality, were trivialised for the sake of a cheap and repugnant joke.” 

“We must recognise that such insensitivity and lack of compassion cannot be treated with indifference. We must learn to live with one another. We must be understanding, and we must be kind.”

“The individual who made the remark has made the right decision to withdraw their candidacy for a position on the JCR Committee. They are apologetic and it is clear to me deeply regret the hurt and anguish caused, and did not foresee it.”

‘“I spoke at the end of the Hustings to ensure that the incident did not go unaddressed. In future, the provisions of our standing orders will be reviewed to ensure that unacceptable and offensive remarks are immediately addressed, in the instance in which they happen, and addressed for what they are. We are thankful that this incident has given us the opportunity to learn and improve.”

Christ Church’s GCR also condemned the incident unequivocally and denounced racism in all its forms. Graduate students are formulating their own response to the incident. This includes the GCR currently polling its members to find an appropriate charity to which to make a donation to demonstrate its solidarity with those combatting racist behaviour.

The email sent to Christ Church students from the censors says:

“What has happened at Christ Church and is still unfolding not just in the US, but around the globe, does not only have a public impact, but can affect individuals in different ways. All of us, students and staff alike, have been horrified by the death of George Floyd. There have been many responses to both current and historic reports of racism. You may wish to know that Christ Church is a co-signatory of a public letter of condemned on that is being issued collectively by Oxford’s colleges. We are also convening a special meeting of our Equality and Diversity Committee to reflect on recent events in College in particular.

“It is important to reiterate that we have clear procedures for dealing with complaints and incidents, and we expect all members of our community to adhere to our Equality and Harassment policies. Please rest assured that violations of our policies are treated very seriously. As in all matters related to student discipline, maintaining the privacy and confidentiality of all parties involved is a legal obligation, and it would be inappropriate to comment publicly on ongoing investigations. If you have concerns about any behaviour or events, please don’t remain silent, but let us know—we can’t address your concerns if we are unaware of them.

“There is much that needs to change in the world and, yes, that includes Christ Church and Oxford more generally. We have been trying to address this challenge in many ways, but as noted in our statement, we want to learn from students and our peers at universities throughout the world how best to devise new and, crucially, more effective ways to create a tolerant and inclusive community where all feel welcome and supported. That is our goal and we hope to achieve it with the support, energy, and ideas of all our students.”

The minutes of the candidate’s speech include:

“I want to elaborate on [another candidate’s] point about cake being a right to humanity. The US is facing two very important crises at the moment – the curious incident of George Floyd, and the event of flour shortage. I would like to put forward the motion that these incidents are not two, but rather one. Flour shortage leads to rioting, which leads to death, which leads to racism. And racism, leads to death, leads to rioting, and that leads to flour shortage. Really, it is just a massive positive feedback loop. While I cannot address the consequences of flour shortage, I can at least cut at the root of all evil, by continuing the legacy of cake distribution.”

Phoebe Hennell

Phoebe Hennell is co-founder of The Oxford Blue, and former Managing Director. She is reading Philosophy and Modern Greek at Christ Church, and is on her year abroad in Athens.