by Emily Hudson
There is a place for you here.
Oxford, and Oriel in particular, carries the weight of hundreds of years of tradition and stereotypes, not all of which are favourable, and not all of which have quite faded with the times. This is the message upon which I originally ran for the role of Equalities and Access Officer, which was almost a year ago now. During my time in this role I have learned many things about the workings of college with regards to these things, and it has been an especially tumultuous time for Equalities at Oriel. It may seem that we have very little power to influence college decisions, and this is, in many ways, true – therefore the equalities team has become, primarily, the JCR’s way of making the best of a less than ideal situation. Oriel’s history with regards to many things – race, gender, class and culture – is colourful, to say the least, and as an incoming fresher I found it very difficult to believe that I could ever feel at home here.
And I was right to be guarded. We all work so hard to make things as comfortable as possible for students coming from disadvantage, but there will always be those who are indifferent to the concerns experienced by minorities, indifferent to the pure opaqueness of such a moneyed culture, unaware or simply unbothered by the stark hardness of the glass ceiling. This is not always mean-spirited, but that does not stop it from being upsetting. That said, though, we are here. Any efforts to make students feel more comfortable come from a place of empathy and goodwill; that is all I would encourage people to do. It is, after all, the students who make up the community at Oriel. We have the power to create a wonderful atmosphere for all, and we do manage this on many occasions. That said, if there is anything that can be done to make this better, do say so. Or even better, run for Equalities and Access so that you can be a part of making those changes.
Isn’t it backward that most of the world would feel excluded here? Oxford is a bubble, for many reasons; if ever you feel out of place, do try to remember this. But that said, there IS a place for you here. You belong at Oxford. The tutors knew what they were doing when they chose you – as dressed up as it is in gowns and sandstone, the fundamental principle of a university is learning, and that is what you are here for.
Creating real change can be a lengthy process, as institutions like this operate on a timescale far longer than the average undergraduate degree. Outreach work can have more immediate effects; the Undergraduate Admissions & Outreach (UAO) team run recruitment every year for current students to become Ambassadors to deliver support to students from underserved areas and show them that Oxford may indeed be within reach. I don’t know how many of you went on UNIQ summer schools, or how many of you have heard of it, but programmes like this are fantastic at demystifying Oxford for those who may otherwise have never considered making an application.
It has always been a topic of frustration for me that the burden of access falls upon those who, due to having access issues themselves, will naturally (generally speaking) have a harder time at Oxford already. I became active as Equalities and Access officer partially out of a sense of duty to other students who have come from more challenging backgrounds, as somebody who does understand, to advocate for our interests to college.
Student societies and SU campaigns have committees comprised almost solely of students who said campaigns seek to help – and I believe this is right. The best person to tackle a problem like this is, logically, the person with the most intimate knowledge of how the problem affects people. And yet, it does feel like an injustice, to have to not only experience the disadvantage, but also feel responsible for fixing it. I have thought long and hard about this and am yet to come up with a good solution. Still, I think it is something worth bearing in mind. Some student societies it may be worth looking into, if this resonates with you, are:
- SU Campaigns such as Class Act, Campaign for Racial Equality, Women’s Campaign
- First Gen society, 93% Club
- If you are a woman in stem, there is most likely a society for women in your subject!
- Cultural societies such as ACS, PakSoc, India Society
- JSOC and other religious societies
- LGBTQ+ Soc
There are many more! I hope you have enjoyed equalities week and, as low-key as it was this year, it should be here to stay.