Oxford bosses change the name of the Faculty of Oriental Studies amid fears it could cause offense 

Oxford bosses change the name of the Faculty of Oriental Studies amid fears it could cause offense

  • The University of Oxford has changed the name of its Faculty of Oriental Studies
  • It comes after concerns raised by scholars over the use of the word ‘oriental’  
  • They say the word perpetuates stereotypes and recalls British colonialism 
  • The department is now known as the Faculty of Asian and Middle Eastern Studies

Oxford University has changed the name of its Faculty of Oriental Studies over fears it might be offensive to ethnic minorities.

Scholars say the word ‘oriental’, which many view simply as a byword for ‘of the East’, perpetuates stereotypes and recalls British colonialism.

After a two-year consultation with students and staff, it will now be known as the Faculty of Asian and Middle Eastern Studies.

It follows a number of name changes at other universities, prompting criticism that vice chancellors are erasing history.

The word ‘oriental’ was first criticised in 1978 by the theorist Edward Said, but many in the general public are unaware that it is controversial. 

Academics say it is reminiscent of a time when Western culture portrayed people in the East as servile and exotic.

The University of Oxford has renamed its Faculty of Oriental Studies after concerns the word 'oriental' could be offensive. Pictured: All Souls' College at the University of Oxford

The University of Oxford has renamed its Faculty of Oriental Studies after concerns the word ‘oriental’ could be offensive. Pictured: All Souls’ College at the University of Oxford

Professor David Rechter, faculty board chairman, said: ‘The Faculty of Asian and Middle Eastern Studies was selected as the new name after an extensive consultation process and I would like to thank the many staff and students who took part in surveys and gave their views.

‘I am confident this change is the right decision. Many considered the word “oriental” to be inappropriate and, while the change will not affect what the faculty researches and teaches, it does better reflect the breadth and diversity of the academic activity in the faculty.’

Oxford said it conducted ‘extensive conversations with students, staff, alumni and stakeholders’, plus three surveys.

The faculty building in Pusey Lane will also no longer be called the Oriental Institute. Student newspaper Cherwell reported sustained ‘demands for a more culturally sensitive name’ to combat ‘negative stereotypes and portrayals of Asian people, often through a colonialist lens’.

The faculty has its roots in the 16th century, when the first professorship in Hebrew was created. 

It grew in the 19th century when a need for speakers of Asian languages became more important due to the expansion of British imperialism and trade.

On its website, the faculty states: ‘For many people in the “West”, these perhaps sound like “exotic” subjects to study. 

‘In real-world demographic terms, however, the areas taught and studied in this Faculty represent well over half of the world’s current population, as well as covering some of the world’s major civilisations.’

It comes after City University changed the name of its Cass business school because of its associations with Sir John Cass, a 17th century merchant and proponent of slavery. 

Cambridge student accommodation called The Colony was also renamed due to slavery ‘connotations’.

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