Home | Policy & Reform | Black student calls out Oxford for lack of diversity
Varz isn't afraid of tackling delicate topics. Photo: Miss Varz, via YouTube

Black student calls out Oxford for lack of diversity

Malala's bestie is everything you would think she would be. Oxford University student. Activist. Vlogger.

Zimbabwean-born Varaidzo Kativhu aka Miss Varz, 20, from Birmingham in the UK is using her social media capital to try to increase diversity at her top-tier university.

A former state school student with imperfect grades, she initially gained admission to Oxford through a pathways program. Once she was in, however, she became an ebulliently vocal member of the student body.

In addition to studying classical archaeology and ancient history, Gen-Z-style, she started a YouTube channel. Through it, she not only chronicles her experiences as a black woman in a historically white, male institution, she also gives advice to prospective students, especially those from minority or disadvantaged backgrounds.

Though she mixes the serious with the silly (at one point she'll chatter about clubbing, a few second later, she'll detail her stress over the amount of reading she has to do), her social cause is evident. In a video entitled 'IS OXFORD DIVERSE?', Varz answers her own question: "No, no, flat out no."

"The staff are not diverse. My student body is not diverse. The area we live in, Oxfordshire is not diverse. It's just not diverse...," she pointedly tells viewers.

"Every single lecture I walk into is filled with white faces."

In an email, she told Campus Review that homogeneity is a turn-off for diverse, would-be students, and that this has serious ramifications.

"When a young person does not see themselves represented in a space they often believe it means they don't belong in that space.

"A lack of diversity at one of the worlds' best universities is detrimental because this is the place where world leaders are created, the place where many new ideas are formed and change is initiated...

"I believe that for the world to become a better place we need many different voices and ideas to be considered at the table of change."

Due to her optimism, Varz is motivated by the apparent inequity. "It makes me want to work twice as hard so that I prove to the world that I am in fact capable and that I rightfully deserve to occupy a space at one of the world's leading academic institutions," she wrote.

"It reminds me that I need to leave the door open for others who come from backgrounds like mine."

Her thoughts on a lack of diversity are seemingly supported by the numbers: between 2015 and 2017, a quarter of Oxford colleges didn't admit any black British students.

Yet per its Equality Report 2016/17, it seems the university is making progress. For example, one of its three 'equality objectives' for 2016–2020 was to "widen undergraduate access and admissions". Between 2013 and 2017, the proportion of UK students from socio-economically disadvantaged areas admitted to Oxford increased from 6.8 per cent to 10.5 per cent.

Some, however, in the vein of the Trump administration, see university diversity as a non-issue.

"Your 'views' aren't fact or true. Forty-three per cent of the students at Oxford are international students. You said all you see is white faces in your lectures etc. But, that doesn't mean it isn't diverse. Who is to say that some of them white faces aren't from European countries, or Australia, New Zealand etc. You also don't take into account those who are straight, gay, male, female etc. You only talk about skin colour which is why lots of companies or organizations are labeled out to not being diverse, it's simply by ignorance...," LookAlolrus commented on Varz's video.

Varz admits her college, Lady Margaret Hall, the traditionally 'diverse' one, "celebrates difference". Through her place there, and her own actions in starting her YouTube channel, she has gained fame and even a job: consulting to Channel 4 on their digital development. Her initiative reflects her final message in her diversity clip: "It is your job to make Oxford diverse."

That drive won't cease after she finishes her undergraduate studies. Perhaps inspired by her good friend Malala, as well as, obviously, her own journey, she would like to join or start her own education charity, focusing on developing countries. A Harvard Masters degree in international politics or education studies is also on her to-do-list. With her skills, media-savvy and charisma, these goals seem achievable.

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  1. In Zimbabwe’s universities, most students are black. In Japanese universities, she would be faced with the same issue but with students of Asian appearance. In classes I teach most students are females , sometimes having only one or two males in the class. In my own studies, I was one of very few males. So long as the admission standards are fair for any applicant, the profile of a cohort shouldn’t matter. There will always be students with characteristics that may not be common to the larger group they study with, whether it be by gender, race, age, ability, religion, parental status, weight, attractiveness, political leanings, hair style, dominant handedness, etc., etc. True diversity is judging individuals on their own merit, not factoring in the colour tone of their skin, ethnicity or any other number of defined identity categories.

  2. Stephen LITTLEFAIR

    I suspect an English student would say the same about Harare. Best you go and help them with that.

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