Sir Winston Churchill founded this College to educate future generations with its unique emphasis on the sciences and technology. It has built up to be the outward looking, international community it is today, welcoming students from all over the globe.
The Black Lives Matter protests in the summer of 2020 served to highlight enduring racial inequalities. The defacing of Winston Churchill’s statue in Parliament Square sparked an international debate about his views on imperialism and race. It also revealed a frustration shared by many, especially from ethnic minorities and former British colonies, that their voices on this issue were not being heard and that a more critical perspective was needed on the subject of Churchill, empire and race.
In response to these concerns, Professor Dame Athene Donald, Master of Churchill, announced a year-long programme to examine this specific aspect of Churchill’s life and legacy. The programme has so far staged two events, the latest of which on 11 February received considerable publicity because of the membership of the panel and nature of some of the views expressed. The purpose of this particular event was to highlight different critical perspectives and to pose questions for further discussion, research and debate. It was intended to be challenging and to provide a counterpoint to the many more celebratory events that the College stages, but, by its very nature, it was never going to be easy or definitive.
Churchill College has always staged a wide range of events about the life and legacy of its founder and will continue to do so. Like Churchill himself, the College believes in the importance of free speech. It encourages a plurality of views but as an institution it exists to convene and facilitate discussion, not to censor or endorse. Sir Winston lived his life in the parliamentary arena, relishing the cut and thrust of debate and we believe his reputation is best served by exposing it to scrutiny and challenge as well as praise.
The recent event has highlighted the depth of feeling on this issue on both sides of the debate. As a memorial to Churchill and an academic institution, we recognize our responsibility to engage carefully on these issues. The purpose of the series and the role of the College as home to Churchill’s papers is to support an honest reckoning with the past in all its complexity and nuance.