Working for Racial Justice: A Letter to Members of Magdalene College
The academic year has ended in the middle of a very eventful period on the international scene. You’ll all be aware of the widespread and dramatic response to the Black Lives Matter movement – a powerful statement from so many marginalised and abused communities that enough is enough in the squalid history of racial violence and injustice.
What should we be doing as a community? Not just making statements, I hope, but making changes, here and wherever else we have a voice. And this begins with trying to listen to the voices in our own community that don’t always find a hearing. I’m grateful that many of you have already been active in enabling this conversation, and I hope that we can all contribute, learn and act.
We are planning a 1 hour online discussion on July 8th at 1 p.m. under the title, ‘Changing the Landscape: A Just and Secure Future for BAME Students in Higher Education’, with Dr Ali Meghji and Professor Franklin Aigbirhio. We intend this to be a chance to share some relevant research and reflection from our own academic community, and also to invite your questions and comments. The online events we have organised so far have been widely followed by alumni as well as current members, so this is a significant opportunity to focus attention on the need for change. Full details for joining will be circulated as soon as possible.
We have for the last year or so been taking part in and helping to fund research on the legacy of slavery in the history of the university and the colleges, in response to challenges in recent years to achieve fuller transparency on this. We have also continued to raise money for the Mandela scholarships and other Africa-directed initiatives. The Peter Peckard Essay Prize, awarded each year, commemorates our most famous eighteenth-century Master, who was one of the earliest and fiercest campaigners in Britain for the abolition of what he called the ‘national sin’ of the Atlantic slave trade: the prize is awarded for work on modern forms of slavery, whether rooted in race or gender or other forms of disadvantage.
But we still need to learn more about how we can take these concerns forward practically and transformingly. As a college, we need also to make sure that people currently feeling more vulnerable than usual are finding the support they need, and we hope – as always – that you will let us know what’s needed.
I hope that this community will continue not only to be vocal in its support for those living with systemic injustice, but also to be effective in its response. We need to live up to the best of our history – remembering Peckard’s courageous campaigning – and to live out the values we claim to share and embody.
Dr Rowan Williams
Master of Magdalene