Legacy, Equity & Inclusion
Throughout our history, the Rhodes Scholarship has had a distinctive focus on selecting and investing in people we believe will become change agents for good.
You can also learn more about our advisory groups here:
Our reputation as the world's most distinguished academic scholarship rests not on the controversial life of our founder but on the enormous contributions our Scholars have made to the world. Today, all of us around the world are called to join the struggle for equality and inclusion of all peoples of diverse backgrounds and identities, to eradicate systemic racism and to confront legacies of slavery, imperialism, and White supremacy.
We cannot reconcile or heal if we do not acknowledge and see. In that spirit, we acknowledge that racism and other forms of exclusion have played a significant role in the history of the Rhodes Trust. While we have moved beyond our past in important ways, much more is required. Our mission and complicated legacy drive us to play a proactive role in this work. We embrace the opportunity to continuously improve and to enhance our ability to develop leaders who will make positive change. This means engaging more fully, critically and honestly with our history, equipping ourselves with the knowledge and skills to engage in anti-racist action, and taking concrete steps to make ourselves and our communities more inclusive and diverse.
In developing and continuing to refine and update our work, we are guided by several principles:
- Fidelity to the Trust’s Mission to develop compassionate, innovative, and public-spirited people committed to solving humanity’s challenges;
- Alignment & Integration with the Trust’s 125th Anniversary Strategic Plan - Lifelong Fellowship for Global Impact;
- Humility and Radical Inclusion: a willingness to listen and learn from diverse perspectives across our global, cross-generational fellowship, and beyond it;
- Curiosity, Honesty and Intellectual Rigour about the past and the present; and
- A Spirit of Acknowledgement, Reconciliation and Reparation to shape priorities and guide actions.
Our Five Goals and Key Action Areas
1: Critically Engage and Respond to our History & Legacy
In the words of William Faulkner, “The past is never dead. It’s not even past.” We are all products of unjust histories which continue to cast long shadows on the present. In its second century, the Rhodes Trust will be brave and forthright in acknowledging this. We are building a future where Scholars, Fellows, and visitors from Oxford and around the world experience us as a physical and virtual community that critically engages difficult and contested legacies, facilitates thoughtful debate and dialogue, approaches the past with an open mind and a deep commitment to free inquiry and historical rigour, and seeks constructive ways to heal, reconcile and repair inequities through our symbols, governance, policies and practices.
2: Diversify the Trust and Build Capacity for Inclusive Leadership
Our mission and history drive us to play an active role in addressing inequality and racism and to ensure equal access for the most excellent candidates regardless of race, class, ethnicity, disability, or other marginalised identity. To build our capacity for inclusive leadership and anti-racist action, we continue to: diversify the Trust’s staff, Trustees, and selection committees; develop systems, policies and practices to monitor racial and other forms of equity; and provide regular learning and training opportunities for Scholars in Residence, staff, selectors, and alumni. By bringing more diverse perspectives to the table and equipping ourselves with more knowledge and skills to identify and disrupt unjust social hierarchies, we will become a better organisation and enhance our ability to develop 21st century leaders who are change agents for good.
3: Widen and Diversify the Distribution of Rhodes Scholarships
The original distribution of the Rhodes Scholarships reflected Cecil Rhodes’ vision of a global society centred around the British Empire. Today, thanks to the generosity of many donors, the Rhodes Scholarships have become more truly global. But there is still much work to be done to promote greater equity in their distribution within and across constituencies. We are raising £75M to increase the number of fully endowed Rhodes Scholarships for students from Africa from 17 to 32 per year, resulting in a cohort of up to 100 African Rhodes Scholars in Residence at any one time. We are also raising funds to endow more Scholarships across the Global South, including Asia, the Middle East and Latin America, working toward our goal of having 125 Rhodes Scholarships awarded per year by our 125th anniversary. And while the composition of recent Rhodes classes continues to become more diverse, we will continue to assess the diversity of our applicant pools across all constituencies, identify gaps, diversify and train our selectors, and reach out to students from historically marginalised communities or overlooked institutions.
4: Achieve Parity in the Scholar Experience
We are enhancing the Oxford experience for Scholars who are Black, Indigenous and People of Colour as well as Scholars with disabilities, other marginalised identities or from disadvantaged backgrounds by strengthening our mechanisms for academic, financial, and personal and career support, creating dedicated programming and mentorship opportunities, and supporting efforts across the collegiate university to develop clearer systems for reporting and responding to incidents of racial bias and abuse and other forms of bias, discrimination or harassment. As we continue to recruit Scholars who combine academic distinction with a commitment to truth, a passion for service to others, and a willingness to “fight the world’s fights,” we are taking steps to enable Scholars of all backgrounds to thrive at Oxford and beyond.
5: Join Forces with our Partners to Promote Equity
From its founding, the Trust has been defined by its close partnership with the University of Oxford and its colleges. In our second century, we have launched four new core partnerships that develop exceptional leaders across different life stages and areas of focus: The Mandela Rhodes Foundation, Atlantic Institute, Schmidt Science Fellows, and Rise. We are collaborating with each of these partners to identify and pursue efforts that critically engage legacy and promote equity and inclusion. We are also seeking closer ties and opportunities to promote equity through partnerships with people, neighbourhoods, and community organisations in the city of Oxford.
Steps Taken So Far
Recap of Activities to Date
Over our 118-year history the Rhodes Trust has progressively taken steps to evolve away from the racism and sexism that marked our founding. The changes that occurred were the result of hard work by critics and reformers – and remain a work in progress. Over the past decade, in particular, we have taken significant steps to globalise the Rhodes Scholarship, diversify the iconography of Rhodes House, and recruit more senior staff and Trustees of colour.
The past year has underscored the urgency of these efforts. The COVID-19 pandemic has exposed and exacerbated profound inequities of access to health, treatments and vaccines. It has coincided with a global movement, accelerated by George Floyd’s horrific murder, demanding action against systemic racism and a fuller reckoning with the persistent effects of colonialism, imperialism, and slavery. And threats to democratic institutions in many parts of the world have been punctuated by the recent violent attack on the U.S. Capitol by extremists sporting symbols of fascism and White Supremacy.
Over the past six months, working alongside our core partners and alumni associations, we have launched a number of activities and initiatives focused on legacy, equity, and inclusion:
- Raised over £5M from a coalition of donors to endow a second West Africa Scholarship and to secure initial funding toward a third;
- Issued public statements on Racism and Legacy and in support of Rhodes Scholar Protesters and Activists;
- Sponsored an institutional memory research project by Scholars in Residence.
Selection & Outreach
- Created unconscious bias training for Rhodes Scholarship selectors;
- Piloted an Outreach Ambassador programme in five countries, to be rolled out across our constituencies globally, with the goal of increasing the size, quality and diversity of applicant pools based on constituency-level data;
- Supported an outreach initiative led by the Association of American Rhodes Scholars (AARS) focused on students at Historically Black Colleges and Universities.
Staff Training and Scholar Support
- Launched legacy, equity and inclusion learning and training for all Rhodes Trust staff;
- Hosted a pre-orientation programme for new Scholars in Residence from Africa;
- Developed a new guide and escalation process for Scholars who receive online abuse, and offered workshops on managing social media.
- Offered our annual presentation on the Trust’s legal structure and finances to Rhodes alumni as part of a broader effort to make the Trust’s operations more transparent;
- Hosted virtual events on race, legacy and equity for Rhodes Scholars around the world, from Town Halls to a dialogue featuring the second African-American Scholar in our history, award-winning author John Edgar Wideman (Pennsylvania & New College 1963). These events have drawn participants from over 25 geographic constituencies representing a remarkable 68 years of selection, from 1952 to 2020;
- Publicised or co-hosted panel discussions and dialogues with our alumni associations and partners, including the “Urgency of Now” series offered by AARS and webinars hosted by the Atlantic Institute and Schmidt Science Fellows on a range of topics including Racial Equity in STEM, Vaccine Justice, and Overcoming Global Systemic Racism;
- Hosted virtual conversations on legacy, equity, and inclusion for Scholars in Residence, Scholars Elect, National Secretaries, and Rhodes Selectors.
We have launched three advisory groups to help us gather and synthesise ideas from across and beyond the global Rhodes community to guide our key areas of action and accomplish our goals. These groups are focusing on critical questions in three areas: how we re-imagine Rhodes House through and beyond the Big Build renovation; how we engage our history and revise the ways we tell our story to key stakeholders and the broader public; and what the Trust should aspire to do and be in our 21st century relationships and activities across the continent of Africa.
In addition to supporting the work of these Advisory Groups, we are continuing to pursue other strategic goals and activities related to legacy, equity, and inclusion. These include:
- Develop and approve a new Memorandum of Understanding between the Rhodes Trust and The Mandela Rhodes Foundation to guide the next chapter of our relationship;
- Raise additional funds toward our £75M goal for new Rhodes Scholarships for Africa;
- Continue to offer and cosponsor virtual conversations on Legacy, Equity and Inclusion, with events focused on:
- Ways of thinking about Cecil Rhodes
- Reparation and Reconciliation
- Democracy & Memory
- Vaccine Justice: How Do We Change the Map?
Reflections on Change
Many Scholars have played leadership roles in this struggle to break barriers and make the Scholarship a more just and diverse community. For example, Rhodes’ will explicitly limited the Scholarships to men, and it took years of activism and an Act of Parliament for women to finally become eligible in 1977. The issue of race is more complicated. The Will stated that “No Student shall be qualified or disqualified for election to a Scholarship on account of his race or religious opinions.” While Rhodes himself may not have envisioned Black Scholars when writing this, the first Black Rhodes Scholar, Alain Locke, was selected out of the United States in 1907, in just the fourth cohort of Rhodes Scholars. He went on to forge an extraordinary career, becoming one of the fathers of the Harlem Renaissance.
In the ensuing years, Black Scholars were selected out of several constituencies. They included such towering figures in the anti-colonial struggle and in race theory as Jamaican National Hero and Premier Norman Manley (1914); Jamaican-British sociologist and theorist of race and multiculturalism Stuart Hall (1951), and Nigerian Scholar Tajudeen Abdul-Raheem (1983), Secretary-General of the Pan-African Movement. But entrenched racism within and beyond the Rhodes community resulted in a gap of 56 years before the next two African-American Black Rhodes Scholars were selected in 1963, Stan Sanders and John Edgar Wideman.
Racial barriers also took a very long time to fall in South Africa. In 1970, 85 Rhodes Scholars signed a petition denouncing the allocation of certain South African Scholarships exclusively to Whites as a “stark evil” and “intolerable example of the most extreme form of racial prejudice.” These efforts led to the creation of the new South Africa-at-Large Scholarship and the selection of the first non-white South African Rhodes Scholars, Ramachandran Govender in 1977 and Loyiso Nongxa in 1978. Nongxa, a former Vice-Chancellor of the University of Witwatersrand, is now Chair of the National Research Foundation of South Africa.
Today, Black Scholars of African descent – from Africa, the Caribbean, and North America – comprise 20% of recent cohorts, and over half of Scholars in residence are People of Colour, making our Scholar community more truly reflective of the world. Our Black Scholars, Indigenous Scholars, and Scholars of colour contribute in so many ways to Oxford and Rhodes House. Their research and writing, leadership and service, artistic and athletic talent, commitment to community and passion for a better world are tremendously impactful. The Rhodes Trust also celebrates the many wonderful ways our Black Rhodes alumni have fulfilled the promise of the Rhodes Scholarship - a very brief selection includes PEN/Faulkner Award winning writer John Edgar Wideman, Zambian lawyer and civil rights activist Lucy Banda-Sichone, Zimbabwean entrepreneur David Hatendi, former U.S. National Security Advisor Susan Rice, social entrepreneur and author Wes Moore, U.S. Magistrate Judge (and Rhodes Trustee) Karen Stevenson, Jamaican Finance Minister Nigel Clarke, Zimbabwean opposition politician Arthur Mutambara, Zimbabwean AIDS researcher (and Rhodes Trustee) Tariro Makadzange, and U.S. presidential candidate Senator Cory Booker.
Resources for Further Reading
You can read Justice Edwin Cameron's (South Africa-at-Large & Keble 1976) powerful reflections on change, injustice and looking to the past in his 2020 speech. He gave this address to Southern African Scholars as they were about to embark on their journey to Oxford.
Former Warden, Charles Conn (Massachusetts & Balliol 1983), has also written a paper on 'Thinking About Historical Legacies: Looking for Just Principles and Processes' which is useful when considering and re-assessing legacies.
As well as looking at the life of Cecil Rhodes, it is important to consider the wider context of colonialism, imperialism, racism and white privilege. Considering inclusion is also important we recommend this link written by Professor Lynn Shore.
Below are some other initial readings which might be helpful, including several written by Rhodes Scholars. If you have suggestions to add to this list, please email our Director of Communications, Babette Littlemore.
Legacy and Equity Resource List
Rhodes Scholars in Residence and Rhodes House staff have been exploring these issues through various readings and discussion groups. You can access this reading list here. We hope they might encourage you to look at some of these issues in new ways, or to promote further thinking and research.
A brief selection from the reading list:
Claudia Rankine (2019)
I Wanted to Know What White Men Thought About Their Privilege. So I Asked.
Born in Kingston, Jamaica, poet Claudia Rankine earned a BA at Williams College and an MFA at Columbia University. Rankine has published several collections of poetry, including Citizen: An American Lyric (2014), a finalist for the National Book Award and winner of the National Book Critics Circle Award in Poetry, the PEN Center USA Poetry Award, and the Forward poetry prize; Don’t Let Me Be Lonely: An American Lyric (2004); and Nothing in Nature is Private (1994), which won the Cleveland State Poetry Prize.
Stuart Hall on Humour and Whiteness
How Stuart Hall Exposed the Racist Agenda Behind ‘Harmless’ British Humour
Stuart Hall was a 1951 Rhodes Scholar, who found his experience at Oxford quite unbearable, and reflected on it in many books that he wrote in the course of his life. He was one of the most renowned cultural critics and critical theorists of our times, and he changed the ways in which race, class and culture were studied.
The life and work of Cecil Rhodes
We have been assembling information about Cecil Rhodes, his life and his legacy. Here are some initial resources that you might find helpful, with more to be added in due course. The writings of the Rhodes Scholars and others below illustrate the diversity of historical interpretations.
There are many books and articles about Cecil Rhodes and the Rhodes Scholarships. A selection include:
- George Parkin, The Rhodes Scholarships (Houghton Mifflin, Boston, 1912)
- Frank Aydelotte, The vision of Cecil Rhodes (Oxford University Press, 1946; also published under the title The American Rhodes Scholarships: A review of the first forty years).
- Lord Elton (ed), The first fifty years of the Rhodes Trust and the Rhodes Scholarships 1903-1953 (Basil Blackwell, Oxford, 1955).
- R.I. Rotberg, The Founder: Cecil Rhodes and the Pursuit of Power (Oxford University Press, New York, 1988).
- Sir Anthony Kenny (ed.), The History of the Rhodes Trust (Oxford University Press, Oxford, 2001).
- Philip Ziegler, Legacy: Cecil Rhodes, The Rhodes Trust and Rhodes Scholarships (Yale University Press, New Haven and London, 2008).
- South African History Online entry on Cecil John Rhodes.