- Arts & Literature
- Science & Technology
By James Restall & Alis Lewis
Magdalen students have voted with their feet rather than their stomachs by embarking on a strike opposing the college’s new catering charge.
The strike, which started on Monday, will last for two weeks and will see students boycotting Magdalen’s hall and the food served in the college bar.
Members of the JCR have devised strategies to feed their fellow students throughout the fortnight including a soup kitchen at lunchtime and selling home-cooked evening meals.
JCR President Meg Trainor told The Oxford Student: “All JCR members have been boycotting Hall, and many have volunteered to provide alternative food options during the strike.”
She added: “On Monday 22nd October, JCR volunteers served over 80 portions of homemade lunch and dinner to fellow JCR members.”
This week, third year psychology and physiology student Kate Eccles and ancient historian Tilda Ferree have been serving soup from the ground floor window of a staircase on St Swithun’s quad.
The pair prepared and sold the lunches for a suggested donation of £1 which would be donated to the Food Justice charity.
Eccles said: “The soup kitchen is great, we’ve served about 30 people a day so far and everyone seems to like our soup! Flavours on the menu have been pea and mint, chorizo and chickpea stew, spiced red lentil and leek and potato.
“We are of course strongly opposed to the catering charge which is unnecessary, unfair and will damage access at Magdalen.”
Third year classicist Sam Viner cooked an evening meal of beef stew to be served in Magdalen’s JCR dining room for £2 between 6pm and 7pm, while another student Elena Harty provided a menu.
A Magdalen student who did not wish to be named said: “Students have been using hall quite a lot over the past few weeks, however since the strike, only seven or eight MCR students have been seen eating in hall.”
Henry Watson, Magdalen’s OUSU rep and former JCR Vice President, said: “The JCR has shown solidarity, discipline, and unity thus far in the boycott of college catering. The alternative provision of food by JCR members has been considerable and much appreciated, whilst the response from other colleges has been tremendous in terms of offering us use of their halls.
“We hope that Magdalen College will appreciate how sincere the JCR’s opposition is to the unnecessary and unfair charge they seek to impose, and will return to the negotiating table soon.”
Jess Pumphrey, Magdalen’s LGBTQ officer, said: “I strongly believe that the catering charge is unnecessary and unfair, and so fully support the hall strike. I hope it will convince college to agree to a reasonable course of action.”
She added: “Also, as LGBTQ officer, I have the noticeboard next to hall, so I put up a tenuously and tongue-in-cheekly LGBTQ-related sign to remind people of the boycott.”
A poster promoting the strike was not approved by Magdalen’s Deans and was subsequently pidged in leaflet form to all students.
This week’s strike action follows revelations in The Oxford Student earlier in the term that Magdalen would be introducing a £200 termly catering charge for living in students joining the college in October 2013, which would replace the current “pay-as-you-go” system.
Those preferring to use the student kitchens will be charged £80 per term, while those living out will pay £30.
The levy has been brought in by the college in an attempt to eradicate a £565,000 annual deficit in the catering accounts.
Although the JCR has managed to negotiate college down from a planned £750 annual charge, the revised proposal still makes Magdalen the most expensive college to attend in Oxford. Students fear that the charge will be damaging to access efforts.
Third year classicist Claire Baillie said: “By boycotting Hall, we hope to demonstrate to college how committed the JCR is to supporting our access schemes and to finding a fair solution to the catering deficit.”
She hoped that the JCR could “reopen a productive dialogue with college to tackle the structural problems at the root of the deficit, rather than resorting to a sticking-plaster solution funded by those who can least afford it.”
Tom Edkins, a second year English student, said: “College administrators have frequently responded to criticism about the catering charge with suggestions that students hit by the charge go to the college’s Student Support Fund.
“This attitude is frankly scandalous, promoting the Fund (which is largely maintained by the generosity of alumni donations) as a kind of overflow for their accounts department. College know that the Fund could never support as many students as this new charge will affect, so their proposed solution to financial hardship relies entirely on the assumption that most people won’t apply for support.”
He added: “By placing the burden of a new charge on the Student Support Fund, college are effectively drawing money directly out of a fund whose stated aim is to help the poorest students with the day-to-day costs of a degree.”
Students wishing to support the boycott can sign a petition by sending a blank email to email@example.com
Magdalen College was unavailable for comment when contacted by The Oxford Student.
JCRs across University show “solidarity” for Magdalen’s striking students
Members of JCRs across Oxford have been invited this week to stand in “solidarity” with their friends in the Magdalen JCR by supporting the strike.
JCR Presidents at colleges, including St Hugh’s, Somerville and Brasenose, have expressed support for the boycott by their JCR members inviting Magdalen students to dinner at their respective colleges however remotely they know them.
In an email sent to Keble students, JCR President James Newton said: “As a fellow JCR we have been asked to help ensure that as many people can participate in the boycott as possible. So, if you know anyone at Magdalen even tenuously, please invite them over to Keble for dinner for a few nights over the next two weeks.”
Newton explained that Magdalen students were not asking for charity, but that “this is more an act of solidarity than anything else.”
He added: “Who knows, one day we may need the help of other JCRs, and this would be a great way of establishing good relationships between the colleges.”
JCR President Marsha Sudar was equally supportive in a similar email sent to Somerville undergraduates, and said: “Striking against college is quite a bold move on the part of any JCR so if you feel in support of this idea, inviting Magdalen students to eat with us is the way to go.”
Likewise, the majority of JCR Presidents contacted by The Oxford Student gave full support to the boycott.
Sara Polakova, JCR President at St Hugh’s, was particularly supportive of the strike. She said: “Hugh’s will offer, within its means, a warm welcome to any Magdalenians who wish to come for hall.
“Due to our ‘pay as you go’ bod card system, the said Magdalen students will have to come as a guest of someone from Hugh’s, but I will strongly be encouraging our JCR body to invite all their Magdalen friends over.”
She added: “[D]espite being horrendously far North, I hope that as many as possible will take us up on this offer as to mitigate the inconvenience of the Magdalen hall strike.”
Aditi Arora, JCR President at Brasenose, echoed these welcoming words, saying: “We’re inviting those in Magdelen we know to hall for lunch and dinner as you have to be with a BNC student to eat in our hall.”
Oscar Boyd, JCR President at St Anne’s, was also in agreement, saying: “[The college] will be backing the strike, and members of the JCR have been encouraged to invite Magdalen students to breakfast, lunch and dinner as guests”.
Students who don’t know anyone at Magdalen, but wishing to support the boycott are being encouraged to use the HallSurfers website.
The site was set up last year to facilitate formal hall exchanges between students at different colleges ,and to encourage students across colleges to meet.
In an email sent from HallSurfers to students using the site, staff said: “During this period [the JCR at Magdalen] would very much appreciate it if you could support them by inviting any…students you know [at the college] to Hall. Please help them by hosting them in your college!”
Students looking to do this can do so by making a request to host Magdalen at http://www.hallsurfing.co.uk/requests/post/.
Magdalen JCR President Meg Trainor expressed her gratitude, saying: “We are extremely grateful for the generous and invaluable support of students across the University, many of whom have invited Magdalen members to eat at their own halls during the strike.”
In an email to the JCR this week she also told students that St Hilda’s would be welcoming “all students from across Oxford” to its hall.
Third year classicist Claire Baillie added: “The support, both moral and practical, which has been offered by the wider Oxford community, and the enthusiasm of college members to provide a number of alternatives to Hall during the boycott, has been very touching.
She added that the support of JCRs in Oxford “reinforces our conviction that this is a cause worth fighting for on behalf of future students who will be affected but will have no opportunity to oppose the charge.”