OXFORD, U.K— One of the most prestigious universities in the world is under fire for its dismal record in admitting Black students.
More than one in four of the colleges at Oxford University failed to admit a single Black British student each year between 2015 and 2017. White British applicants were twice as likely to be admitted as their Black counterparts.
During a visit to speak at Oxford, the Rev. Al Sharpton denounced the university’s “exclusionary admissions strategy” and said that more needed to be done to attract Blacks to the university.
“Oxford can figure out the most difficult aspects of philosophy and explore the intracicies of science but can’t figure out how to find Black students,” said the civil rights activist. “How could you be so bright and so dumb at the same time?”
England’s former education minister David Lammy has accused Oxford’s admissions policy as being “social apartheid” and challenged the university to take a more aggressive stance in recruiting Black students.
Rev. Al Sharpton
“Difficult questions have to be asked, including whether there is systematic bias inherent in the admissions process that is working against talented young people from ethnic minority backgrounds,” said Lammy, who is a member of British parliament.
A spokeswoman for Oxford said that it has made an effort to increasing the number of Black applicants.
”We are not getting the right number of Black people with the talent to apply to us and that is why we are pushing very hard on our outreach activity to make sure we make them feel welcome and they realize Oxford is for them,” said Samina Khan, director of undergraduate admissions at Oxford.
The decline in the number of Blacks admitted has been the talk on campus every since the university released its figures last month, said GUI Cavalcanti, the president of the Oxford Union, a debating society founded in 1823 at the school.
“Some of the figures were quite shocking,” said Cavalcanti, adding that Oxford tends to draw students from elite, private schools. “I think at the same time those admission statistics were announced, the university also announced that it is expanding its access programs, including summer school programs . A big part of the issue is at the secondary school level where people are not told or convinced that they should apply to Oxford and they think it’s not a place for them.”
Sharpton made his comments this week during a talk at the university and praised the school for being honest about its admission record.
“I give Oxford credit. It’s great that they came out and said it,” Sharpton said. “But now, what are you going to do about it? That is your challenge.”
An examination of Oxford’s admission policies comes as Britain embarks on an ambitious examination of racial policies throughout the country. Under the direction of Prime Minister Theresa May, the country has begun examining data through its Race Disparity Audit and has allocated millions of dollars aimed at reducing disparities across the board, but particularly in education and employment.
If widening racial gaps exist, May has ordered government agencies to either “explain it or change it” during the upcoming months. Since taking office in 2016, her directive has been praised by a number of civil rights organizations who say that the audit is needed.
Jamal Eric Watson can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. You can follow him on Twitter @jamalericwatson