“I, too, was Oxford” | “I, too, was Able” | “I could Walk” | “I did take sugar”

Ave! The Oxford University I, too, am Oxford  initiative

I too am Oxford

Oxford University (Press) published, St Johns College visiting author Rosemary Sutcliff was left with significant physical disabilities from childhood Still’s disease. She surely would have been very supportive of the “I, too, am Oxford” initiative.

Our project was inspired by the recent ‘I, too, am Harvard’ initiative. The Harvard project resonated with a sense of communal disaffection that students of colour at Oxford have with the University. The sharing of the Buzzfeed article ‘I, too, am Harvard’ on the online Oxford-based race forum, ‘Skin Deep’, led to students quickly self-organising a photoshoot within the same week.  

(Note: that “I, too, am Oxford” has also featured now on Buzzfeed.)

A message that was consistently reaffirmed throughout the day was that students in their daily encounters at Oxford are made to feel different and Othered from the Oxford community. Hopefully this project will demonstrate that despite there being a greater number of students of colour studying at Oxford now than there has ever been before, there are still issues that need to be discussed. In participating in ‘I, Too, Am Oxford,’ students of colour are demanding that a discussion on race be taken seriously and that real institutional change occur.

Rosemary Sutcliff wrote about the responses disability on various occasions. For the ‘Emotions in Focus’ exhibition of erotic art by disabled people, mounted to celebrate The International Year of Disabled People in 1981,  she wrote as part of an introductory article:

I am lucky in having good friends and of course my work brings me into contact with publishers, editors, librarians and the like. People intelligent enough to realise that I am simply another person who happens to have physical difficulties that they don’t. But of course, there are those, not friends but stray contacts of life who adopt the ‘does she take sugar?’ attitude. It was one of these – a blue rinsed American lady in a hotel foyer in Athens, who asked my accompanying friend if she had brought me with her on her holiday.

“No,” said my friend, “She has brought me.”
“My, my, how nice!” said the blue rinsed lady, kindly but obviously not believing a word of it.
“And is she enjoying herself?”
“You’d better ask her,” said my friend.
“Sure,” crooned the blue rinsed lady, “and can she walk at all?” .

Now, I am not, I swear it, touchy or hypersensitive but, at that point, I heard a small clear voice that did not seem to be mine at all but to be hanging in the air about a foot in front of my nose, saying: “Yes, she can a little. As a matter of fact she can speak, if poked in the stomach, and even answer questions, if asked nicely.”

The blue rinsed lady’s mouth opened and remained open. My friend said hurriedly, “I think it’s time we went and changed for dinner,” and we trundled off, leaving that kind and well-meaning lady to recover herself.

In the privacy of our own room we laughed ourselves silly. After which I began to shiver with something that fell like shock, though it was probably only repressed fury. I went on shivering most of that evening and could certainly not enjoy my dinner, I felt too sick.

I have a mental picture of some “I, too, am Able” pictures …

Author: Anthony Lawton

Chair, Sussex Dolphin, family company which looks after the work of eminent children’s & historical fiction author Rosemary Sutcliff (1920-92). Formerly CEO, chair & trustee of various charity, cultural & educational enterprises in UK.

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