Whose University: The last word
After a week of entrenched debate and feuding, tensions are still running high . One writer – who chose to remain anonymous because of pernicious bitterness surrounding the subject – speaks out…
I have a long history of mental health issues: depression, anxiety, panic attacks, self-harm. It all started at least 18 months before arriving at Cambridge – around 10 months before even applying – and has been on a downward trajectory ever since.
At times, being at Cambridge definitely makes things worse: there is pressure and stress but I was aware of that before I even considered coming here.
But there are other times when it helps more than I explain: I adore coming back after a long break, arriving at a home-away-from-home and surrounded by an unparalleled plethora of opportunities and ideas.
When I do struggle, which is, to be honest, most of the time now, Cambridge has been fantastic and provided more help than I could want. There’s 24/7 aid in the form of the Porters, pastoral and financial support from the tutorial team, thorough academic assistance from my DoS. Despite being an avid atheist, I would happily approach the college chaplain if I thought they could help.
We have a college nurse available most of the week for instant and useful help and advice. The local GP here has been significantly more helpful than the one I used to see at home, clearly accustomed to dealing with stress and anxiety issues that seem to plague Cambridge students. I was advised by them to seek help from the University Counselling Service and quickly had an appointment booked within a week.
There is a network of support here unlike anything I’ve ever seen and much more thorough than what my friends at other universities have, or at least are aware of having.
Whereas ‘Whose University?’ scares me. I would never approach the people I know are involved if I were to have a problem, be it anxiety over an essay deadline or a panic attack about going home.
I know no one involved particularly well, but there seem to be many activists whose reputations precede them. The aggression that surrounds the campaign puts me off ever wanting to venture near it.
I was disappointed when The Tab published that controversial article about WU?’s meeting. (Unsure how to treat the grammar of an acronym including punctuation correctly but this’ll do.) I’m not here to defend them, though. I was even more disappointed, and somewhat disturbed, by some of the response to that piece.
Labelling a student publication as “fucking disgusting” in the comments as a response to a single piece written by a pair of journalists seems somewhat disproportionate. Assuming the comment’s author was a supporter or campaigner for WU?, they are not the sort of person I would ever want to approach for help.
Helping people with mental health issues or difficult home-lives is imperative, but simultaneously trying to take down the patriarchy and the capitalist establishment seems like a misuse of materials.
And if this isn’t the aim of WU? then I must have misunderstood the barrage of posts and comments that appeared to suggest otherwise (and with an issue such as this, appearances mean a lot).
Posting their ‘testimonies’ on Facebook is nothing close to helpful. People who like the page are generally going to be in support of the campaign. Instead of achieving anything, they are merely providing a barrage of harrowing stories requiring multiple trigger warnings.
I might be fairly outspoken but I am nonetheless explicitly against many of the groups that fill our college hall and bar on occasion, wearing black tie and discussing stocks and shares and us plebs (I can only assume).
This might be an invasion of our space but it often makes me smile: this is our space and they are here for a single evening. They pay extortionate amounts of money to dine in the hall where we can have a hungover brunch on a Sunday every weekend for three years.
When you live and work within the walls of an institution that could very nearly be a UNESCO World Heritage Site, sometimes it takes some perspective to understand the tourists with their selfie sticks and the conference-guests in their three-piece suits. We are ‘privileged’ by merely being at the University of Cambridge.
This is an institution that has been around for longer than Protestantism and has an endowment fund larger than the GDP of many countries. There are many issues with the University of Cambridge and its constituent colleges. It is possible to correct some of them – but not in this way.
To me, WU? is too much an ideological campaign which is masquerading as a transparent platform. They managed to politicise a campaign that should be pastoral. What it needs to be is an solid infrastructure, which will require time to set up.
Shouting and scheming wont help right now; it’s going to take a lot of work and time and money. It’s a sad truth but one that, once accepted, could help us all. I thoroughly agree with many of the goals of WU?; I am someone who needs something like this more than most.
We need big thinkers, not big talkers; large scale plans, not inconsistent ideas. And in the meantime, I propose something else. Rather than trying to tear down the establishment, why not help those who need it however we can in a friendly and positive way?
Stop questioning where the power lies and starting to make a difference, however small. Not Whose University?, but Our University.