The MJur/BCL: Must Rhodes Fall?

Although dead for more than a hundred years, Cecil Rhodes is one of the most fiercely debated personalities in Oxford and the UK. Being one of the greatest benefactors of the university, his role in the exploitation of South African workers raises the issue of whether he should still be commemorated in present times.

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The movement “Rhodes must Fall” originates in South Africa and has now arrived in Oxford. Its most prominent achievement was to bring down the Rhodes statue at the University of Cape Town. In 2015, the movement took hold in Oxford. Its self proclaimed goal is to take down the statue of Cecil Rhodes at Oriel college.

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To begin with, only a few people do actually see positive effects of Rhodes’ role in Africa (see the video of the debate at the Oxford Union below for example). Assuming his actions would likely constitute gross violation of human rights and international law by today’s standards, should one deny his beneficial role for Oxford University? Should one do this by removing his statue?

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(photo: www.bbc.co.uk)

Personally, I am not convinced that there is a significant benefit in removing the Rhodes statue from Oriel College. If one actually believes the statue celebrates and consequently encourages racism in society, removing it would probably not bring about any change at all. After all, only a symbol would be removed. What is really needed, and in this point most people agree I think, is a commemoration of the people who suffered and died.

Unfortunately – but understandably so – the debate is very emotional. As such it is emblematic for current movements at British and American universities fighting symbols of racism. More elaborate and thought-through arguments are given in the video of the very interesting panel discussion hosted by the Oxford Union  to be found here.

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The MJur/BCL: Admission

One of the most pressing issues for prospective applicants to the MJur/BCL is the question of admission. I have talked some issues through with other MJur/BCL students and will present my insights in the following paragraphs. Suffice it is to say that these are obviously biased and maybe not to be generalised.

Besides the usual CV and transcripts you will have to hand in the following three important documents:

• Statement of Purpose
• Essay
• Three letters of recommendation

The first is supposed to be about one page (300 words). I assume that this is an opportunity for you to give a compelling story of why you desperately need to study at Oxford University. No babble here. Be precise, specific and credible.

Overall, the essay seems to be the most important part of an application. So put a lot of effort into this one (and don’t neglect the other parts of course). I think it makes sense to hand in a paper that could theoretically be published in a journal (= academic!), although you only have around 2000 words for this. Needless to say, contentwise it makes a lot of sense to match your interest expressed in the statement of purpose.

As concerns the letters of recommendation, it seems to be highly recommendable to have people in academia write all three of them. Legal practitioners are not necessarily bad, but considering that you are applying to university I have the impression that letters by academics promise a higher rate of success. These should probably best be professors.

Again, this is only my own assessment: Find a personal “story”, hand in a really good paper that matches the latter and get three letters of recommendation from people in academia.

And most importantly: you need a good portion of luck.

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Fortunately, graduates do not have to sit exams to get into Oxford University.

(Photo: GETTY, telegraph.co.uk)

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The MJur/BCL: Elitism?

In times of Jeremy Corbyn and Bernie Sanders the issue of elitism is often discussed among members here: Is Oxford University as it stands today representative of a class system or are its institutions a mere relict of the latter sticking to some traditions, but open to all social groups and backgrounds?

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To begin with, the elitist image of Oxford students is often conjured by popular culture, for instance movies like “Riot Club” (which alludes to the real “Bullingdon Club”). Needless to say, the extreme portrayed in said movie has so far not been representative of my life in Oxford.

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A recent article in the Independent, however, raises this issue. The author argues that although there obviously exist no formal class barriers, social life does indeed establish differences between the rich and poor students. The author illustrates the point by referring to ball tickets that are sold for as much as 300 pounds: And indeed, the many social gatherings and respective formalities and traditions seem to offer plenty of opportunities for distinguishing social backgrounds. Also, we haven’t even spoken about the tuition fees yet.

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www.guardian.com Photograph: Stefan Wermuth/Reuters

However, I assume it makes a huge difference whether you are a graduate or undergraduate student. Fellow students in my (graduate) programme seem to be coming from all social classes and backgrounds. This could be on account of our applications not including interviews in person (which are said to be a gateway to the impact of social backgrounds). But even the undergrads I know don’t seem to be especially posh to be honest. Actually, just the opposite: Everyone seems to be super tolerant and voting for Labour (and its current leader).

I once asked a good friend from another university here in the UK why he didn’t apply to Oxbridge. It just had never occurred to him that he would ever stand a chance to get in because of said social barriers. It seems, however, that Oxford University is increasingly working against this perception.

To conclude, it might well be the case that class matters more in terms of college-choice. Some of the colleges traditionally have an „aristocratic“ student body (Christ Church apparently being the most conspicuous example) and thus are richer than other colleges. In this, Oxford University might somehow be representative of a class society indeed.

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Oxford MJur/BCL: Formal Dinners

I know I am repeating myself, but about the closest you can get to Harry Potter in Oxford is taking part in a “Formal Dinner”. These are held in the colleges, mostly on a weekly or more than weekly basis. In general, this is a dinner that – unlike other dinners – takes place in a more formal (who would have thought it?) atmosphere. Lights are dimmed, candles are lit and the three-four courses are brought to your place. Behave well though (for instance, our students were told off for taking selfies; rightly so as far as I am concerned)!

newliturgicalmovement.org

(newliturgicalmovement.org)

Usually, there are seats and dining tables for ordinary students and their guests on the one hand and for professors and college officials (the “High Table”) on the other. Only after the former have taken seats will the latter enter the dining hall. Students will then get up and wait for the High Table to be seated and a prayer and the college grace to be spoken. IMG_20151027_205724

We were the first to enter hall on this occasion at University College

Dress codes differ between colleges. I think it is safe to say that in most cases an ordinary suit (not necessarily a tie) will be sufficient. Oxford students are expected to wear their gown. Some special dinners (or in my college’s case “Formal Formals”), however, require “Black Tie”. While this may feel a bit strange at first, it is definitely great fun to dine with all of your college dressed up.

aiesecinoxford.wordpress.com

(aiesecinoxford.wordpress.com)

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The Oxford MJur/BCL: Magdalen College

One of the most beautiful colleges is Magdalen College. Pronounced <Modelayn>, it is also the name giver of the nearby Magdalen Bridge and – somewhat less spectacular– Magdalen Road.

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Btw: This is the view I get every morning on my way to school

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As an Oxford student, I have the privilege to be allowed into all of the Colleges, even in non-Visitor times (plus, I can bring more visitors).

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Magdalen was founded in 1458 and we can clearly see its’ cloistral heritage. Now this does really look like Harry Potter, right?

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Also, Magdalen College has its own deer park (find the deer by zooming in on the left hand side of the photo).

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Magdalen meadow can be accessed from the college site and the designated path takes around 20 minutes to walk. I always wonder where all of this place comes from all of the sudden. Looking from the outside, you would never expect to find it here.

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Unfortunately I know of no graduate student in the law program who is in Magdalen College 🙁

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