Union hacks clash over electoral malpractice

Union hacks clash over electoral malpractice

Seven electoral tribunals have been launched amidst accusations of rule breaking in the aftermath of last Friday’s Union elections.

The allegations of electoral malpractice, with two leveled at candidates for President, are the first since 2011 which will be heard in front of a tribunal panel.

Unsuccessful Presidential candidate Sunny Jain has been accused of publicly soliciting votes, campaigning in written and electronic form and providing members with a list of selected candidates, all of which are against the Union’s stringent electoral rules.

Lisa Wehden, who won Friday’s election for President, has been called to a tribunal for allegations including taking part in a conspiracy, engaging in an electoral pact between candidates and systematic campaigning in public places and member’s private lodgings. Charlie Vaughan, who was successfully elected Librarian, has been hit with the same charges.

Other charges come from Chris Frost, last Friday’s third Presidential candidate, who is taking on OUSU Women’s Vice President Sarah Pine, whilst ex-Returning Officer Joshua Atkinson has submitted against Rob Harris, New, who was elected to Standing Committee.

Annie Teriba, a Wadhamite who lost her election for Secretary by three votes to New College’s Dom Merchant, is claiming innocent interference against the Returning Officer who administered the election, Wharton Chan.

Whilst in recent years similar allegations  have been submitted to the election’s Returning Officer, they have all subsequently been withdrawn.

The tribunals will be held on Friday evening, with the possibility of some of the cases continuing on Saturday morning.

The tribunal panel is composed of three ex-officers of the society, all of whom have left the University, who will adjudicate on the allegations. They have the power to strip elected officials of their positions, revoke memberships, impose fines, and in some instances call a re-poll.

‘The Riot Club’ and a tired, exaggerated caricature of Oxford

‘The Riot Club’ and a tired, exaggerated caricature of Oxford

There is a curious quaintness to The Riot Club. The Bullingdon Club and company have an incredible power over the media, somewhat understandably. In the middle of austerity, it’s bloody funny to imagine that some of the best-loved politicians in the country once spent their student days getting uproariously drunk and smashing up some poor unsuspecting restaurant. Recent scandals over drinking societies add to the allure of the whole matter, no doubt.

At its heart, though, The Riot Club appears to be the old joke at the expense of straw-man Oxford toffs, caricaturing a small subsection of the student populace before revelling in their self-destructive hedonism. It is hardly pioneering work: a group of jumped-up lads, presumably with double-barrelled surnames and titles to boot, get drunk and violent. Remove the tuxedos and the pseudo-edgy political overtones, and it’s Skins. Or a Saturday night out in Chelmsford.

I don’t want to be an apologist for the arrogance of drinking societies like the Bullingdon Club, but the supposedly moral drive of the film is flimsy at best. The members of the Riot Club do look unabashedly unpleasant by and large, but I can’t shake the feeling that even as the film prods us, saying “Go on, look at those nasty wealthy buggers! God, how I hate them!”, it’s also secretly fantasising over owning a golden hip-flask and fencing with the people who own half of Scotland. This isn’t a hard-talking documentary – it’s not even an outright condemnation of the lifestyle some members of Oxford lead. The Riot Club is set to be painfully formulaic with a veneer of tutting social condemnation – an orgy of sex, drugs and violence in sub fusc, if you will.

The fear that it will put students from lower-income backgrounds off applying is quite understandable, especially if the film does really spend the whole time focussed in on the ten members of the Riot Club. Realistically, however, there are bigger issues in the real-world which have cast shadows over Oxford – the I, too, am Oxford/ We all are Oxford clash; the fiasco over the Pembroke rugby club; the continuing ruckus in the Union. These are far more interesting issues than the corny stereotype of alcoholic Hoorah Henrys– they are far more important too. In comparison, the Bullingdon club is as distant to the majority of Oxford students as it is to the rest of the UK (bar Boris and friends, perhaps).

At any rate, I’m dubious as to whether potential applicants will be put off by one film if the years of cultural sediment which portray all of us as port-swilling aristocrats with a taste for peasant-and-pheasant hunting haven’t done so already. The day that admissions tutors should be scared about a lack of applicants is when my film ‘The Gladstone Clink’ comes out, and prospective students get to watch Oxonians rapidly wilting in an underground Doctor Who set without natural light, and finally deciding that being squashed between those rolling shelves is the only way out. You have been warned.


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PHOTO/Raiding the Parks

It happens here – sexual violence must never be treated lightly

It happens here – sexual violence must never be treated lightly

A few weeks into my first term at Oxford, I got into an argument with a guy who called me and some of my friends – both male and female – pussies. As I explained the derogatory nature of the word, the hurt response it has the capacity to evoke, and the problem of equating women’s anatomy with weakness, I received the usual “God, it’s just a joke” as a response.

On Friday, I overheard a group of students discussing the rape and attempted rape allegations that have been brought against the Union president, Ben Sullivan. The group seemed to divide into two sides, as I heard two male students asserting that it’s too late for these girls to come forward with rape allegations – “If they didn’t come forward right away, they shouldn’t have a chance to at all.” I heard the second group (of both male and female students) respond, explaining that in a world where rape victims are often blamed for the acts committed against them, or at a minimum have serious doubts cast on their claims, it isn’t always easy for someone to come forward right away.

Then last night, as I was writing a paper on gender based violence in refugee communities within the Middle East, I came across the video of men in Oxford walking around chanting about rape.

Let me start by saying – that in the latter two examples I’ve mentioned above – I don’t know the whole story and I won’t pretend to. I believe in the presumption of innocence, and in following due process of law, so if Ben Sullivan is innocent and has been wrongly accused, then I certainly hope that as the investigation proceeds, that will be brought to light. I also don’t know what the aim of the boys chanting in the streets over the weekend was. I would be very happy to learn that they were standing up in protest against sexual assaults committed in university communities, or globally, or anything along those lines, but I can’t say either way without having more information.

All I can say is I can’t believe we’re still having these conversations. Still in a world where in 2014 an educated graduate student thinks it’s appropriate to say something degrading because “God, it’s just a joke.” Still in a world where people don’t understand that rape victims can’t always just “come forward right away” – and that that misinformed perspective on rape and its victims is often the very reason why victims feel uncomfortable reporting the acts committed against them. Still in a world where survivors of sexual assault may have to cross paths with people chanting about rape in the center of town (especially, if indeed this was meant to be a joke or an attempt to degrade rape victims and delegitimize their claims).

On Wednesday evening, I along with Oxford Women in Politics and the Oxford Union, had the pleasure of hosting Alyse Nelson, President and CEO of Vital Voices Global Partnership. Alyse’s organization is committed to empowering women leaders worldwide and to addressing problems of ranging from economic and political gender inequality to sexual assault. As she responded to a question from the audience following her speech, Alyse called gender based violence “the great unfinished business of our time.” And I couldn’t agree more. As we’ve seen within our own community in recent days, weeks, and months, GBV isn’t just a problem that we as privileged, educated Oxford students have to go out into the world to address – among refugee communities in the Middle East, or in Nigeria following Boko Haram’s recent actions, or elsewhere. Gender based violence is not just a third world problem. It’s a problem right here – and every time someone thinks it’s appropriate to cast off a legitimate discussion about discrimination against women because he was “just making a joke,” we take one step in the wrong direction – one step away from making any progress towards gender equality and freedom from sexual violence.

I commend the efforts of WomCam, and It Happens Here, and all of the other organizations in Oxford dedicated to empowering women and eliminating gender based violence. But it’s going to take a lot more than those already committed to the cause continuing to fight in order to make real progress. It’s going to take a 20 year old guy at a club having the guts to tell his friend, “That’s not cool” when his friend makes a rape joke or calls someone a pussy or a cunt. It’s going to take all of us understanding the difficulty sexual assault survivors face every day – from the moment they decide to go (or not to go) to the police to living in a community that trivializes their trauma.

And if you’re not convinced that making the world – or Oxford – an equal place for women is a good enough reason (even though I sincerely hope you are) – remember that all of the problems I’ve discussed have a serious impact on men too. As much as a woman faces stigma if she decides to press charges against someone who sexually assaulted her, men face just as many if not more. A community where a man is a pussy, or loses his masculinity, if he is a victim of sexual assault is a community where men will also be hesitant to come forward against their assailants. And that’s a world where rapists get to continue committing these horrible acts, because we’re not standing up in solidarity to stop them.

Thank you to Alyse Nelson, to WomCam and It Happens Here, and to those students I overheard explaining the difficulties sexual assault victims face to their friends. I hope that many more will follow your example, in ways big and small, until gender based violence is no longer the “great unfinished business of our time.”


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PHOTO/Wolfram Burner

£1.8 billion development for University

£1.8 billion development for University

The University has recently unveiled blueprints for £1.8 billion worth of development in Oxford.

The plans include new developments in the science area as well as accommodation provisions for students.

A spokesperson for Paul Goffin, director of estates at the medical sciences campus, said “in order to compete with the best universities in the world to attract top students and academics to Oxford, we need to provide suitable research facilities and student accommodation.

“Our estate strategy over the next ten years will improve our provision of laboratories, libraries and study space, and house more students in University accommodation.”

The university is intending to carry out the plans between 2014 and 2024.

Goffin said of the wider effects: “We are pleased that jobs will be created in the construction and staffing of these buildings, and that our aim to house as many students as possible in University accommodation will ease the burden on Oxford’s rental market.”

Isobel Wilson, a first year English student, said that “I’m really glad to hear how much development is going into the university. I think education is one of the best uses for funding and it’s important that Oxford continues offering the standard of education it is capable of.

“As universities become increasingly international, it’s interesting to see how Oxford is responding, and I think improvements to academic provisions is a good step. Also, as a small-college student, having fantastic resources that are university-wide makes a huge difference!

“I also think it’s great that the university recognises the importance of student accommodation and housing. Oxford is a hard city to live in because of the cost so having more development in that sector can only benefit students”, she continued

According to building development website bdonline, the development is in response to international university competition and comparison of estates with Universities such as Harvard, Stanford and Yale.

At a recent Thames Valley Universities’ investment plans event, Goffin said the university has noted £900 million worth of “capital projects” for the first five years. So far, £700 million of that has been funded.


Growing success for Humans of Oxford

Growing success for Humans of Oxford

The Humans of Oxford Facebook page, launched in March, has seen great success in the first four weeks of term. 

The ‘Humans of’ movement was inspired by the now iconic Humans of New York blog, started by Brandon Stanton.  

The original page now has over five million followers on Facebook. Stanton published the Humans of New York Book in October 2013. 

It has since been emulated across the globe with popular examples including Humans of India, Humans of Paris, and Humans of Sofia. 

Humans of Oxford is run by Ed Klinger, Reeva Misra, Connie Bloomfield, Charlie Goodman and Nathalie Wright, all third year students at Wadham College. 

They started posting photographs on 3 March, but have since received over 2,700 likes in the past three weeks. 

“When we started it, I don’t think we really thought about how popular it would be,” they said.

“Of course, the “brand” names of ‘Oxford’ and the ‘Humans of…’ set-up is enough to get lots of people interested. 

“However, we want to hold their attention and present our page viewers with a different perspective of the city each day,” they added.

The group claims the premise of the ‘Humans of’ movement is very simple, and described it as: “One city, one photo, one person and a short quotation from the subject. Sometimes funny, sometimes poignant, sometimes banal.”

“It is an antidote to the faceless crowds of modern urban life. I guess we wanted to go out and meet people ourselves and also create a sense of community online,” they explained. 

“The best thing about the project is having an excuse to go up and talk to someone – anyone – you see on the street and have a chat. 

“It’s amazing how many conversational doors a smile and a camera can open.”

The Humans of Oxford page can be found here: https://www.facebook.com/humansofox

Climate change interest “short-lived’

Climate change interest “short-lived’

A group of Oxford dons has found that media coverage of climate change has little effect on the public’s views.

The study, carried out between the Oxford group and staff at Princeton University in the United States, compared the number of searches for climate change-related issues on popular search engine Google over a period of almost ten years.

They discovered that intense bursts of interest in climate change issues did not last for long, and the number of hits often returned to a low level just days after climate change was in the news.

The researchers also focused on particular words and phrases, including “global warming hoax” and “climategate”. The latter refers to an incident in 2009 when the email accounts of climate scientists at the University of East Anglia were hacked.

The number of searches for “climategate” halved in just under a week, the team found.

Dr Greg Goldsmith, a co-author of the report and a member of staff at Oxford’s School of Geography and the Environment, said in a statement: “The study uses the search term “global warming hoax” as an indicator of global warming scepticism amongst the public. Although we found an increase in the volume of searches for the term immediately after the news of the hacking of the emails from the Climate Research Unit at the University of East Anglia, the search volume quickly returns to the same level as before the incident. This suggests no long-term change in the level of climate change scepticism.

“We found that intense media coverage of an event such as “climategate” was followed by bursts of public interest, but these bursts were short-lived,” he added.

One student at Queen’s, who did not wish to be named, said: “For what it’s worth, my Google search history is nothing to do with climate change. I don’t think I can share most of the contents of that in a family newspaper.”

Dr William Anderegg from Princeton University said: “Our results showed that the volume of these search terms peaked in 2007 around a unique sequence of major events – the releases of Al Gore’s An Inconvenient Truth in August 2006 and the IPCC Fourth Assessment Report in April 2007 – and the level of interest has declined since then.”

“There is no single reason why the public have become less interested in climate change. However, research certainly suggests that economic issues, such as the recent recession, tend to take precedence over environmental issues like climate change.”

Living below the line

Living below the line

You would be hard pressed to have missed the latest charity craze sweeping Oxford at the moment. ‘Live Below The Line’ challenges participants to live on £1 a day for 5 days in order to raise awareness of the global poverty which so many people across the world sadly live in. The website says that the project aims “to deepen understanding of the challenges faced by individuals living in extreme poverty.” They argue that to tackle poverty effectively, we need to understand it better.

This message was echoed by one student at Jesus who commented; “I’m often conscious that as students, we’re so fortunate to go out for nice dinners, meet up for ice-cream with friends, and have the freedom to eat what we want, when we want. This week has been difficult – mainly due to the fact that it takes careful planning how to stretch the daily £1 allowance and living mainly on plain pasta and digestive biscuits has left me feeling very hungry and bored of what I’m eating.”

However, it is questionable how much ‘Live Below The Line’ does enable individuals to empathise with the plight of those living in poverty. Those participating still have the benefits of central heating, electricity, shelter, running water and numerous other things that many people who face extreme poverty are not entitled to. By suggesting that it is possible to live on £1 a day, one diminishes the much more valid and horrific experiences of the number of people in abject poverty. Much of this comes down to the problematic idea of ‘understanding’ poverty. Poverty is not something that can be understood until it is something you have lived with. Really lived with, as opposed to choosing to live on just £1 a day. Knowing that you can’t give up half way through, knowing that you have no support network when you get hungry, knowing that you don’t have only two more days to struggle through, but a lifetime. Many ‘Live Below The Line’ teams have also worked together in order to cook bigger meals to feed all of them. Indeed, last week the whole Oxford ‘Live Below The Line’ team organised a massive meal at the East Oxford Community Centre. It’s much easier and cheaper to cook in bulk and when you’re actually living in poverty, you don’t necessarily have 9 other people with which to team up and pool your resources.

These criticisms should not serve to downplay the fact that the money raised by the initiative has been impressive. The Jesus College ‘Live Below The Line’ team have raised over £1500 so far for charities such as Tearfund and Unicef. But it’s important not to let the idea of raising money stop us from criticising the ways in which it has been raised. It’s important to challenge damaging assumptions about how we can ‘understand’ poverty. We need to understand poverty by listening to the experiences of those actually affected by it. Maybe then we can think about how raising money can help those people.


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Fighting the mundane to escape the Oxford college bubble

Fighting the mundane to escape the Oxford college bubble

It’s been a few weeks since the beginning of Trinity term, and most of us have finally settled back into Oxford. We’ve had our slightly awkward yet obligatory post-vac conversations (“How was your vac?” “Oh it was fine thank you, how was yours?” “Oh yes, yes, yes, it was very good too, thank you.”). We’ve gone past the excited flurry of catching up with friends. We’ve moved back into our rooms; figured out which lectures we’d like to attend (and which ones we’d rather avoid); and nestled into the daily grind of work. And as the term continues, we’ll return to our favorite activities and places, going about our lives in more or less the same way as we went about them during Michaelmas and Hilary.

Of course, there’s nothing wrong with a routine. It’s nice. It’s comforting. It makes Oxford a home away from home. But after we settle into the familiar rhythms of our day-to-day lives, there’s an almost sad sense of having given up and given in –to the comfortable, the familiar, and the mundane. Here we go again, queuing up at Park End on a Wednesday night to bop up and down on the cheese floor. Here we go again, fuming silently at the swarms of tourists congesting the pavements on High Street. Here we go again, racking up points at Sainsbury’s. Yes, I will swipe my Nectar card, thank you.

After the first few weeks, we lose something that’s magical about the beginning of every term. We forget how, in the beginning (as in most beginnings), we are gripped by such possibility and energy! We want to try something new. We might venture to finally talk to the cute potential-significant-other from lecture. We might resolve to eat healthy food, hang out more (or less, as the case may be), and explore Oxford. We might be excited about the possibility of making new friends, of branching out from our social groups to talk to people we might have never talked to before. It’s like the first couple of days of the New Year, when gyms are packed with people vigorously exercising on treadmills and ellipticals and weight machines, determined to really stick to an exercise program this time around.

However, the numbers of devoted gym-goers inevitably dwindle. Old habits die hard. Instead of running on the treadmill, we run back to our comfortable chairs and chocolate-covered Digestive biscuits. (Unless you are allergic to gluten, in which case perhaps you might fancy some gluten-free chocolate-covered Digestive biscuits.) We lose the flash of courage that had so possessed us to think about talking to the cute, potential-significant-other from lecture. We succumb to unhealthy lifestyles again, trapped within our college bubbles, cooped up once more in the library or out in nightclubs. And we retreat back to familiar social groups, tired of polite conversations about things that are not interesting but are nonetheless necessary, like holidays and the pernicious weather.

But as we approach the fourth week of Trinity, we haven’t yet completely plunged into this mundane yet dangerous pit of sameness.

Instead, we are just tottering on its brink, swaying back and forth, wind blowing in our faces as we peer into the familiar foggy depths of what we’ve always known. It’s tempting to step into a routine, to return to the same clubs, activities, and places with the same people we’ve always known. Like I said, it’s nice. It’s comforting. It makes Oxford a home away from home. It gives us the regularity and stability we need in our fast-paced, gadget-driven lives.

This term, though, I just challenge you to hold on for a bit longer. Hold on for as long as you can to that almost naïve sense of possibility we had at the beginning of term but inevitably lose. Don’t lose the courage to talk to the cute potential-significant-other in lecture. Go to a museum exhibition. Shop at a farmer’s market. Find a new café. Audition for a musical. Try out for a sport. Make a new friend. Attend a lecture outside your subject. Walk a different route to class, away from the hoards of camera-laden tourists. Run a mile, or run for President of a society. Hop on a train or bus or boat or car out of the city.

And when you can’t hold on any more, when you’re ready to fully settle back into your life at Oxford, just remember that feeling. Remember that clear-sighted openness to opportunity that inspired you to try new things, go new places, and meet new people at the beginning of term. After all, it might come in handy when you’re bogged down with books and boredom in the middle of term. Who knows? Maybe you might pick up a new habit for your routine.

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