Charitable Oxford students stood in the city centre for 27 hours straight to raise awareness of an anti-human trafficking charity last week.
The event was hosted by Just Love, a Christian student social justice group in Oxford. It aimed to promote ‘Stand for Freedom’, a national campaign to raise awareness of the 27 million people who are currently in slavery around the world.
Those taking part stood from 9am on 7th June through to 12pm on 8th June. They rotated in shifts, with one student – Izzy Morse, a first-year from Regent’s Park – standing for the whole 27 hours.
“Personally I would say what amazed me was people’s apathy about the situation; people didn’t want to be bothered about it,” she said.
“There was a good number who supported us, but also a huge proportion of people who would literally answer ‘no’ to the question ‘will you help me stop slavery and sign a petition?’. The amount of people who joked about how they wished the women on team were for sale was astonishing. People’s responses at times were scary!”
She went on to explain the cause. “There are actually an estimated 29.8 million people being held in slavery today, according to the most recent Global Slavery Index, 26% of which are children.”
“The whole time was emotionally and physically gruelling, I can hardly walk now my legs hurt so much but it was also an absolute pleasure. These people have their whole lives taken away from them so I can definitely stand for 27 hours for their cause!”
150 different groups have taken part in the wider campaign, with Oxford being invited to take part this year. Aside from physical protest, students were also petitioning, photographing people who stood, selling fair trade food and bracelets made by trafficking survivors. They were also stamping people with ‘Not For Sale’ barcodes, and some also joined in a flash mob.
Ben Coulter, a student who took part in the flash mob, said: “It was an amazing day; I think we got around 800 people to sign our petition, we had a great flash mob, we were selling fair trade goods, and just generally raising awareness about modern day slavery by talking to passers by!”
Hannah Coates, a third-year from Jesus, runs Just Love’s Human Trafficking Action Group, which has representatives across the colleges. She said: “The idea of Stand For Freedom came from the charity International Justice Mission (IJM) who send lawyers and investigators to work in many countries around the world in order to assist local police officers and legal professionals in rescuing victims of trafficking and prosecuting their traffickers.
“I think it is really important that we, as Western consumers, know that trafficked people are often used to pick, dye and spin the cotton which makes many of the clothes in our favourite shops. There is no simple solution to trafficking in supply chains but there won’t be a stop to it unless consumers demand change and improvement.”
Pheobe Scott-Green, also part of Just Love, explained that one person was always standing on the monument, either tied or gagged “to symbolise that those enslaved really don’t have a voice, so we have to speak up on their behalf”.
She went on to say: “It was just staggering how many people think slavery was abolished with William Wilberforce, which it was, but that they don’t know that despite this there are more slaves alive today than there were in the time of Wilberforce.”
Second-year English students have claimed victory after faculty bosses changed course on a plan to restrict choice over one of their finals papers.
Last week students were told they would be “randomly allocated” to a “Special Option” for one of the papers, and students at Christ Church created a Facebook group called “The Grapes of Wrath” less than 24 hours later.
It aimed to unite those “in a rage about the random allocation of modules for our finals.” Students urged fellow members from all colleges to petition the Faculty.
Only two days after this group was formed, members expressed satisfaction at the news that the Faculty would revoke the random allocation of topics, allowing students to rank their options.
The initial email from the Faculty stated that students must “complete a short form to indicate the 5 options that you feel you would most enjoy studying (these will not be ranked), and you will then be randomly allocated to one of the options that you are interested in.”
Sonia Morland, a second-year English student at St John’s, stated, “I’m really glad that they’ve listened to our comments and are now giving us a bit more choice. However, ideally we’d have even more choice (e.g. ranking 3 rather than 5 options).”
The Facebook protest group quickly grew in popularity. At the time of publication it has 164 members. Founding students rallied their “fellow grapes” to help reform “this educational crack den of corruption.”
Students notified the group that Subject and Senior Tutors from seven separate colleges, including New and St Peter’s, had listened to their discontent and filed complaints.
The second email from the English Faculty stated that, as a result of student and tutor feedback, they plan to “amend the sign-up system for this year. You will now be able to rank your choices in order of preference from 1-5.”
Katie-Rose Comery, another second-year English student at St John’s, commented, “I’m very happy that the Faculty have agreed to rank our options as we suggested, and that they responded to us so quickly.”
“Both the speed and ease with which they acquiesced suggests that it wasn’t particularly difficult for them to do, so I don’t see why they can’t have done it in the first place,” she added.
Shelby Holmes, a second-year English student at Trinity said that she was “delighted with the Faculty’s speedy response and their genuine aim to make the course better for the students.”
“Admittedly this isn’t the first time they’ve cocked thing up a bit, as last year’s email containing the coursework questions was actually missing a page, and so students’ work was delayed until the problem was rectified. Despite this I do feel that the faculty try their best, and hopefully such minor problems won’t continue,” she said.
Students are divided as to whether the new course, which contains fewer papers, means a reduction in teaching hours.
Morland stated that it was “hard to compare but it does sound like we’ll be getting pretty little teaching. I guess that’s just an arts degree for you though – I think by 3rd year we are capable of going off and doing a fair bit on our own.”
The English Faculty did not respond to a request for comment.
Students at Exeter marched in protest yesterday over the college’s “unfair” catering charge.
The campaign team behind the protest decorated window’s in the college’s Front Quad with signs reading “Most expensive college in Oxford” and “No food without a fight”.
The 40-strong group of campaigners spilled out into Turl Street and Broad Street, chanting slogans and holding signs reading “Less cash for mash” and “We’ve got beef”. JCR members led the march, and were cheered by nearby MCR members afterwards.
The £840 charge is payable by all students, but charges for individual meals are also paid on top of this sum.
Frances Beddow, a second-year History and English student who participated in the protest, described the system as “unfair”.
“It’s about time college started listening. Hopefully they will now take notice,” she said. Protester Nat Levine agreed, and pointed out that Exeter is the “most expensive college in Oxford”.
A second-year student who did not wish to be named expressed her hopes that the college would change course.
“It’s about time change happened. People have been seeking change on this for four or five years now, but the college has not listened.”
“I feel like it’s happening now,” she added.
The protesters held a banner making workshop in the JCR on Tuesday.
The protest was also covered on Twitter with protestors using the hashtag “#CTCC”, standing for “cut the catering charge”. Balliol PPE student Xavier Cohen, part of the Oxford Activist Network, tweeted: “Protest at Exeter College against a mandatory annual catering charge of £840. #CTCC #hallidarity”.
The charge has been widely condemned around Oxford, with OUSU President Tom Rutland citing Exeter as evidence of high living costs in Oxford. Last week, Rector Frances Cairncross said she had offered to discuss the charge with students.
Students boycotting Hall at Exeter over an “extortionate” catering charge are calling for help from other colleges this week.
A Facebook page, “Exeter College Hallternatives”, had 491 likes at the time of writing and is designed to allow students at other colleges the chance to offer Exeter student places in their Hall.
The College’s catering charge currently stands at £840 a year, making it the second-most expensive college in Oxford according to OUSU statistics.
Sources at the campaign claim that when the Catering Charge is factored in, the cost of eating three meals a day in Hall for someone living in is around £13 a day.
It is understood that costs for someone living out, which most Exeter students do for at least one year, will be much higher. Such students still have to pay a “living out” catering charge.
Nathan Ellis, a second-year student English at Exeter who is involved in the campaign, said students at the college were “incredibly pissed off” about the charge.
“Exeter is the most expensive college in Oxford and has the worst student satisfaction for accommodation. All the students at Exeter are incredibly pissed off that college continue to ignore our requests to engage in discussion about the catering charge and this has forced us into action,” he said.
“We will be boycotting Hall until we can see that they are taking our concerns seriously and on Wednesday afternoon we will be having a peaceful protest in college. We are doing all of this to demonstrate to the College that we aren’t going to put up with them taking the piss any more.”
The £840 charge is a flat obligatory rate on all students, which does not entitle them to any food. Any meals purchased are paid for on top of this initial rate.
Last week, Exeter’s Rector Frances Cairncross said: “The College has offered to discuss the costs of Hall with students, but these discussions
Students boycotting Hall at Exeter over an “extortionate” catering charge have this week called for help from other colleges. The Facebook page, “Exeter College Hallternatives”, had 481 likes at the time of writing and is designed to allow students at other colleges the chance to offer Exeter students guest places in their Hall.
The College’s catering charge currently stands at £840 a year, making it the second-most expensive college in Oxford according to OUSU statistics. Sources at the campaign claim that when the catering charge is factored in, the cost of eating three meals a day in Hall for someone living in is around £13 a day.
It is understood that costs for someone living out, as most Exeter students do for at least one year, will be much higher. Such students still have to pay a “living out” catering charge.
Nathan Ellis, a second-year English student at Exeter who is involved in the campaign, said students at the college were “incredibly pissed off” about the charge.
“Exeter is the most expensive college in Oxford and has the worst student satisfaction for accommodation. All the students at Exeter are incredibly pissed off that College continue to ignore our requests to engage in discussion about the catering charge and this has forced us into action,” he said.
“We will be boycotting hall until we can see that they are taking our concerns seriously and on Wednesday afternoon we will be having a peaceful protest in college. We are doing all of this to demonstrate to the College that we aren’t going to put up with them taking the piss any more.”
The £840 charge is a flat obligatory rate on all students, which does not entitle them to any food. Any meals purchased are paid for on top of this initial rate.
Last week, Exeter Rector Frances Cairncross said: “The College has offered to discuss the costs of Hall with students, but these discussions have not yet taken place.”
A motion to boycott Hall passed an extraordinary meeting of the JCR in 4th week, with more than a hundred students in support. The boycott began on Monday of fifth week, with a launch party on Sunday.
During the extraordinary meeting, concerns were raised over the fact that there is only one JCR kitchen available for student use. “During the meeting, students discussed the difficulties of the planned boycott at length. This included the problem of there being only one small JCR kitchen for such a large number of people, making it a challenge for students to prepare nutritious meals for an extended period of time,” JCR President Richard Collett-White stated in an email.
A similar hall boycott took place in Trinity last year, after which, according to a third-year leading the campaign, the Governing Body pledged to explore alternatives to the catering charge by Michaelmas Term, to potentially implement by Hilary Term.
A document produced by the campaign said students were looking for an “explanation” behind the charge: “Exeter students hope for an explanation of why the Fellows have set charges at Exeter far higher than other colleges. We would like College to provide greater transparency and some concrete proposals to reduce student dissatisfaction. We will be significantly decreasing Hall attendance until the JCR are persuaded to end the boycott,” it said.
“Yet despite these concerns, 90% voted in favour of the boycott. Students also emphasised their readiness to protest the catering charge actively and visibly in the coming weeks.”
The charge has caused anger across Oxford. Tom Rutland, OUSU President, used Exeter as an example of unreasonable living costs when he wrote to the Vice-Chancellor last year about his comments regarding £18k tuition fees.
It could be disingenuous to talk of ‘Oxford culture.’ Sure, there are rituals with which we all engage, albeit with varying degrees of enthusiasm. But be it the pomp and back-stabbing of the Union, the cheap(ish) alcohol and questionable music of the club scene, or the 5am starts and straining muscles of rowing, we all inhabit and mould our own subcultures. There is a great deal to celebrate about our university, but there is equally a great deal to critique. One such thing I have run into repeatedly is an enforced culture of apathy; the hidden tyranny of the insistence on all things being ‘apolitical’.
Don’t get me wrong – between a Labour Club that alternates between listening to backbench MPs and trying to become backbench MPs, a Conservative Association that does its best to resemble a 1920s fox hunt, and the UK’s second least-popular student union, I can certainly sympathise with the level of ‘rejection-ism’ of the obnoxious, the boring, and the irrelevant.
But a bit of taking the piss isn’t what I’m talking about. I have spoken to people (on both the left and the right) who have wanted to leave their colleges because of how ostracised they felt, not because people disagreed with their opinions, but because they were rejected for daring to be ideological. I’ve never had it that bad, but as a naïve fresher I did bring a motion to my JCR calling upon it to support a demonstration against fees. I thought the motion might lose, but wasn’t prepared for being told that I had somehow done something deeply wrong by upsetting the ‘apolitical’ balance of the JCR. The motion was amended to a few sentences saying ‘we recognise that people in the common room have different opinions.’ Quiet Facebook deletions followed. Later, as an OUSU representative, I was told to abstain from voting on ‘political’ motions.
Firstly, the argument that we can be ‘apolitical’ is nonsense. It’s tacit endorsement of the status quo – which is a political act. ‘Neutral’ decisions that JCRs take all the time are loaded with political assumptions, and by being an elected body, the JCR is a political institution. I’m not arguing that common rooms should be partisan (I really don’t want to see an OUCA-OULC contest for JCR food rep) or that we have to spend every Sunday discussing the eurozone, but simply that we can’t get away from politics, and rigid social enforcement of such rules doesn’t accomplish that aim. It alienates people and shuts down debate – exactly what it claims to avoid.
In-vogue OUSU-hate is a classic example. It’s fine for people not to bother voting because they think their union is irrelevant. Personally I’d disagree – a representative voice to the university that also campaigns for equal rights and mental health awareness, charities, student projects, and a counselling service is important. But that’s your decision. What’s slightly odder is when people decide to act as if a weekly student union email is somehow destroying their life. Or when common-room committees railroad through misleading ‘disaffiliation referenda’, which are actually impossible as students are union members as individuals, and which might lead students to think that they’re disenfranchised in elections or can’t use central welfare services. It’s also mildly amusing when people in common room meetings say they couldn’t give a shit about discussing OUSU and then they’re the first to bleat and whine when they find out that their rep voted on something with which they disagree.
This university is full of wonderful people, and I’ve enjoyed the vast majority of my time here. But it’s also not worth brushing every problem under the carpet in the interests of keeping the peace. When doing access work, I used to spend a lot of time telling people that Oxford is an incredibly accepting place – let’s just ensure we’re always living up to that.
Comment is starting its second Conversation series, aiming to collect student perspectives on Oxford life and culture – submit anything you wish on this theme to firstname.lastname@example.org. We might even print it.
FEATURED PHOTO/ Nathan Akehurst
Hundreds of protesters filled Soho square last Sunday as part of a global “day of rage” against last week’s Indian Supreme Court ruling which effectively criminalised homosexual acts in the world’s largest democracy.
Oxford students were called to the protest following an email circulated by the Oxford Indian Society and forwarded around the Oxford University LGBTQ Society mailing list by president Ashley Francis-Roy.
The email castigated last week’s ruling as a “deep betrayal of the fundamental constitutional promise that the dignity of all citizens would be recognised in the world’s largest democracy”. It was emphasised that the judgement was “not about any one community in any one country but about the structures that oppress many across the world.”
According to protester Nikita Kaushal, an Earth Sciences student at Exeter College, “around 10 students from Oxford and many more ex-students” were joined by “significant long-distance support” from students on their Christmas breaks.
Ms Kaushal suggested that “the recognition of LGBTQ as a community in itself and a part of the community at large” was a key motive for the protestors. She added that “the support that the protest received from the non-Indian LGBT community was touching”.