Black Oxford alumni join forces to inspire the students of tomorrow

6 October 2017

Dozens of former Oxford students have come together to show talented young black people that race should be no barrier to succeeding at one of the world’s top universities.

Inspired by the recent #BlackExcellence campaign given prominence by students at Yale and Cambridge, Oxford alumni from a host of fields gathered for a photoshoot in London aimed at encouraging future generations of leading black students in the UK.

The idea was first mooted on the Oxford black alumni Facebook page and has since developed into a formal Oxford Black Alumni Network supported by the University. The network now has more than 200 members.

Samuel Gebreselassie, an Oxford Philosophy, Politics and Economics graduate, is one of the figures behind the initiative. He said: ‘The Oxford Black Alumni Network was founded following a campaign to highlight the inspiring and varied achievements of Oxford alumni with black African and Caribbean heritage. This campaign aims to address the lack of visible, educated, successful black people in high-profile places by documenting the stories and achievements of a number of black alumni. It will also show that academic success translates into success in one’s chosen career path. 

‘By increasing the visibility of role models for younger people, we hope this campaign will demonstrate that Oxford is a place where people from diverse backgrounds can belong and thrive.’

Dr Samina Khan, Director of Undergraduate Admissions and Outreach at Oxford University, said: ‘We’re delighted that so many of our brilliant black alumni decided to come together to demonstrate that race is no barrier to success at Oxford. These Oxford students have gone on to hugely impressive careers in a whole range of fields, and we hope that their achievements will send a strong message to people of all backgrounds that they should aim as high as they can – including applying to Oxford.’

Among the alumni who took part in the photoshoot were representatives from the fields of academia, entrepreneurship, the City, law, media, technology, the arts, sport and more. The formal network that has grown out of this campaign will connect black alumni of the University and involve them in projects such as mentoring and buddying schemes for former, current and aspiring Oxford students.

Samuel added: ‘Access to university continues to be an area of interest for our members and we are aware that, alongside issues of under-representation at leading universities like Oxford, black graduates are also under-represented in many careers. This is something that many companies are addressing with efforts to diversify talent pools and instigate more inclusive hiring practices. We aim to contribute to these efforts through the activities of the Black Alumni Network.

‘We also know that there is a need for positive role models, as well as the support networks that can respond to the specific challenges of being a black student at places like Oxford. This is something that we aim to address through greater collaboration with current University students and societies, such as Oxford’s African and Caribbean Society.

‘The campaign and network have been made possible by the energy and enthusiasm of many key supporters, from alumni such as Lewis Iwu and Naomi Kellman to the University’s own Alumni Office and Undergraduate Admissions and Outreach team. It is inspiring that so many Oxford alumni and current students believe in, and want to be actively involved with, supporting the next generation.’