A college at the University of Cambridge has spent £ 120,000 on its failed attempt to remove a monument in its chapel to a 17th-century benefactor who was heavily involved in the slave trade.
Writing to the Guardian, Sonita Alain, a master’s student at Jesus College, defended the decision to fight the case and criticized the “old” church process, which ended in defeat for the college.
The disputed memorial was the subject of a three-day court hearing in February, where the college had to seek permission from the Diocese of Ellie to remove the plaque from the chapel wall, which kept members of the community from worshiping, and move it elsewhere to the college.
Elaine, the first black master at Oxbridge College, said that after research revealed the extent of Tobias Rustat’s 30-year involvement in the transatlantic slave trade, a vast majority of colleagues voted in favor of seeking permission to relocate the memorial.
“It felt simple,” Alain wrote. “From a moral point of view, Rustat’s activities helped finance slave factories along the West African coast. It enabled ships to transport tens of thousands of enslaved women, children and men through the Middle Passage. And that led to these people being worked to death in the killing fields of the Caribbean and America. “
Last month, however, the consistory court ruled that the opposition to the memorial was based on a “false account” of the scale of Rustat’s financial rewards from slavery, and ordered the memorial to remain in the chapel. Since then, Jesus College has decided not to appeal, but has called on the Church of England to find a better way to address racial injustice and the disputed legacy.
“There was no doubt we had to fight this case,” Alain said. “In this way, the college will have spent around £ 120,000 on an outdated trial that had no choice but to follow, dominated by lawyers and ill-designed to address sensitive issues of racial justice and the disputed heritage. The church needs to develop something better than that. ”
Throughout the process, Alain said, she felt that the Rustat monument had received more weight than the 150,000 African people he had helped transport into slavery. “After reviewing the decision, I believe that this process is not able to take into account the life experience of people of color in Britain today.
She compared the dispute over Rustat to the opposition against admitting female students to the university. “Only two generations ago, students were admitted for the first time,” she said. “Opponents cited 483 years of male-only access among other fierce critics. Their arguments proved untenable. The buildings were redesigned and new arrangements and traditions were created. As a result, today the college is fairer and far more exciting from an academic point of view.
She added: “I am proud to be the owner of an institution like Jesus College. The quiet discussion and conversation started by the fellows in May 2019 does not deviate from difficult topics or this way of acting. This is part of our move towards justice. This is important for Jesus College and should be important for the Church of England.
Many high-ranking figures in the Anglican Church, including the Archbishop of Canterbury, have expressed support for Alain and the relocation of the memorial.