Oxford University is "institutionally racist" and there is "something deeply wrong" with its biases against students, campaigners have said.
Sizwe Mpofu-Walsh, a PhD student in International Relations at the institution, and one of the founding members of the Rhodes Must Fall movement said the university glorified racist historical figures.
Students from the movement are arguing a statue of Cecil Rhodes, which currently stands outside Oriel College, should be toppled.
Cecil Rhodes, an English-born South African entrepreneur and statesman, made his fortune in the diamond mines
Speaking to Radio 4’s Today Programme, Mpofu-Walsh insisted: "We think Oxford is institutionally racist and throughout its history it has had significant biases towards black people. The first black student was only accepted in 1938."
A spokesperson for the university refuted the claims it was racist, and said African students had been studying at the institution since the late 1800s. Pixley Seme, who became one of the founders of the African National Congress, attended in 190.
Earlier this week, Oxford's chancellor Lord Patten slammed calls for the removal of the Cecil Rhodes statue, condemning the proposal as an attempt to rewrite history in order to pander to "contemporary views and prejudices".
"Our history is not a blank page on which we can write our own version of what it should have been according to our contemporary views and prejudices," he said. "If people at our university aren’t prepared to show the generosity of spirit which Nelson Mandela showed towards Rhodes and towards history.. then maybe they should think about being educated elsewhere."
In the Change.org petition, the Rhodes Must Fall group says: "This statue is an open glorification of the racist and bloody project of British colonialism. An architect of apartheid in Southern Africa, Rhodes is the same apartheid colonialist who said: 'I prefer land to niggers...the natives are like children. They are just emerging from barbarism...one should kill as many niggers as possible.'"
Mpofu-Walsh added: "The fact that the statue is up there is an indication that not everything is fair now.
“Is it because of biased in the system against black students or is that because Lord Patten describes a poverty of aspiration?”
“There is something deeply wrong with the way Oxford presents itself, with the way it has biases against people and we are raising that and for the first time we are forcing the university to confront that problem and probably doing a better job than any generation before us."
The campaign has received both huge support and major opposition, including one prominent emeritus fellow of Oxford University R W Johnson, who went so far as to compare the Rhodes Must Fall campaign to "what Al Qaeda and Isis are doing in places like Mali when destroying statues".
Further controversy has arisen since Ntokozo Qwabe, the co-founder of the Rhodes Must Fall in Oxford campaign, was found to be a Rhodes scholar.
Around 200 of his fellow students responded by publishing a statement declaring the scholarship would not buy their silence: they claimed "There is no clause that binds us to find ‘the good’ in Rhodes’ character, nor to sanitise the imperialist, colonial agenda he propagated.”
The Oxford University spokesperson added: "Oxford is committed both to supporting potential and current ethnic minority students and to ensuring an appreciation of cultural diversity is fully embedded in the wider university community."