Current Affairs

Racial abuse incident prompts statement from Christ Church JCR Executives

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A statement has been released by Christ Church JCR executive committee, and a testimony from the victim, after a verbal racial abuse incident that happened in November. Gracie Oddie-James, a Christ Church undergraduate from an ethnic minority background, was subject to a racial slur (n-word) from a fellow student in front of a large group. Another student allegedly defended the use of the word and followed her to college. Oddie-James’ statement is a first-hand account of her experience, and the JCR Exec’s statement condemns the incident.

Immediately following the event at end end of Michaelmas term, the Christ Church censors in an email to the student body wrote:

“Within the last few hours, we have heard indirect reports of an incident in which a student at Christ Church has allegedly used racist language. We will not tolerate racism in any form.”

A statement has since been released by the Christ Church JCR Executive (President, Vice President, Treasurer, Secretary) and the Ethnic & Religious Minorities Representative, which reads:

“There is no place for racist language in this JCR and its defence or trivialisation is reprehensible.

“We were shocked and disappointed to hear of the racist incident that occurred at the end of Michaelmas term. As members of Christ Church, we all make a commitment to behaving respectfully towards each other and a breach of this commitment is an insult to the whole community. Instances of discrimination will always be taken very seriously: they must be challenged and reported.

“The deeply distressing events of last Trinity term are still fresh in our minds and it is important we continue reflecting on our behaviour. We as a community have a moral responsibility to challenge discrimination and provide support to those who have been victims of harassment, intolerance or abuse.”

In response to the incident, Oddie-James recently wrote and released statement to the JCR as follows:

I would like to begin by outlining an experience I had in week 8 of Michaelmas Term.

On the 28th of November, a white student used the [n-word] in front of me, a mixed-race woman . When I first asked him for an apology, he refused the second time I asked him he replied, in front of a large group of fellow Christ Church students “What are you going to do, put me on your Instagram story?”. Once asked to apologise by another black student after a considerable amount of time, he finally apologised using the phrase “I am remorseful”. Following previous apologies for such behaviour in the years I have known him, I am reluctant to trust his sincerity. After this a girl, another white Christ Church fresher, began to defend the use of the [n-word]. After confronting them at the time, this girl proceeded to follow me back to college after multiple requests to leave demanding I explain why they shouldn’t be allowed usage of the [n-word]. Since the event she has refused to apologise, instead apologising for me ‘being upset’. This overtly negates her display of racist behaviour and her responsibility in the incident. Furthermore, following the events she has continued to defend her racist argument.

Thus far the college has summoned the boy to a disciplinary board. The girl has not been summoned to this disciplinary board despite her active engagement in racist behaviour. This decision has been challenged, and I would urge the JCR to further challenge this decision as it blatantly disregards the true extent of her racist behaviour.

What remains is for me to make a plea, to you, the Christ Church community.

The events of week 8 were disgusting, derogatory and disturbing. It is not an instance of social slight to be brushed under the carpet, nor is it a week to be forgotten. I speak not as the recipient of this abuse, but as a person horrified that this did, and could possibly happen again. Therefore, I exclude a tract wherein I express the depths of my personal damage, dismay, and disappointment.

The term [n-word] is a vessel for evil – evil which has been used to abuse not only me but my ancestors, black people across the world and throughout the ages. This you know – making its use even more insidious.

It is unhealthy for us, the community of this college, to treat this pair’s defence and use of racist language clandestinely. Denigrating it in private, ignoring it in public. It is imperative that the community denounces and reprimands such behaviour to resist anti-blackness. Or else, we feed into an already damning cycle of perpetuation that the Black community know far too well.

Many of you view my overt stance on the issue as confrontational, calling for me to ‘maintain the peace’. This erroneously assumes I do not seek peace. The peace was broken by those who uttered, those who bolstered the use of the [n-word]. What is peace without respect? The peace you gain with my silence, with a paucity of repercussions to those who chose racism, is not peace – it is conciliation.

My ambition is to foster an environment where this can never happen again; where harmony can exist; where black people can engage in college without fear of racial tension; where black women can proceed without racialised hindrance or fear that they will become ‘the angry black woman’. That, to me, is peace. As a community, this should be our collective endeavour, and it will only be achieved if we pledge to it.

If you look to the college to provide peace, you are doing so rightly, but not entirely so. In looking only to college, you relinquish your own responsibility and duty, to change this culture we find ourselves in. The college may reprimand, but the college cannot enact social change. That can only be achieved by the very fabric of the college – you – the students.

I am exhausted of being asked HOW I expect people to change this culture. It is not the murdered you ask to solve their murder. And yet, I find myself in a position where I must act where few actions are being taken. It is for you to decide how you treat those who persistently take part in racially derogatory behaviour (even superseding use of the [n-word]). It is for you to decide how you treat those who aid and abet in this behaviour. It is for you to decide whether you condone, through your fraternisation, this behaviour. Especially in the instance of absent remorse and apology.

As a community, we must not sweep this under the rug – but confront the racism as it is, in the open through dialogue and action. Now is the time to act upon those promises you made in summer to the Black Lives Matter cause. Those posts you shared. Now is where you prove that our generation are not snowflakes or slacktivists, but people who care deeply about the creation of a better world. For our children, for those living in this age. A world where your race does not promote marginalisation in any sense.

We all have chosen to be a part of this institution. I believe to learn at Oxford is more than books and essays. It is the opportunity to learn from others lived experiences, to gain a greater understanding of the world beyond your own. This instance is a moment to take stock; a moment to learn; a moment to grow. At Oxford, we are building the foundations on which we will live out our lives. Let us make those foundations stable and characterised by integrity.

I say what has been said privately here: there will be turmoil, but out of that turmoil I endeavour, and you should endeavour to engender real peace – not conciliation for the sake of privileged comfort.

I urge you, beg you even, to take the first step in encouraging the college to pursue a path of good, a path of true change by providing consequences to all those who engage in racist behaviours, like the students I refer to in this letter. But perhaps most importantly I implore you to pledge to take responsibility for the social changes needed to create a truly anti-racist, pro-black, harmonious Oxford.

This comes after the fact that last summer, a series of racist events took place at Christ Church after which the JCR founded its Equality & Diversity sub-committee, open to all members as a platform to both “share their experiences and promote institutional change within Christ Church”. The JCR has also taken combative steps through anti-racism reading groups and published a Challenge Consultancy report.

Oddie-James told The Oxford Blue, “I think the most important thing to encourage is an open and continuing dialogue so that we can all learn, and all heal. Slowly but surely change will be seen.”

An investigation by the Christ Church censors into the incident and the students involved remains ongoing.

The Christ Church JCR President, VP, Treasurer, Secretary and ERM Representative have been contacted for comment.

Anvee Bhutani

Anvee Bhutani is the former Managing Director of The Oxford Blue, having also held a variety of roles on the editorial and business teams. She is a penultimate year student at Magdalen College reading Human Sciences and is originally from San Francisco, California. To reach out to her, please email anvee.bhutani@magd.ox.ac.uk