Why I hate Cambridge
Or, why I love Cambridge but Cambridge hates me.
Gabrielle McGuinness: Week 1: Dejection
A bit like Jedward when they were on the X-Factor, unplanned pregnancy or a thickly sliced tomato destroying a good burger, I find it hard to escape the idea that this place doesn’t want me.
Once I found out I got into Cambridge I was internally ecstatic, but every time I was asked where I was going I would scrunch up my face, slowly mumble in a cartoonish voice “Cambridge…” and then avoid any further discussion on the matter. Not because I don’t want to be here, but perhaps I thought I’d seem like I was bragging when I actually resented myself for joining this élite institution.
By no means am I claiming to have struggled through an extraordinarily tough life in my short 19 years. Being at the second best university in the world is probably just a LITTLE bit better than contracting Ebola in Sierra Leone, or living in Syria under the threat of IS, or being in Oxford. But I’m definitely not just being a whiny toddler as there is such an unescapable lack of diversity here that has left me miserable at times.
For me, my life U-turned when I was about 6 when my mum met my step-dad and we moved out of our mould-infested shoebox in London. This new family brought with it an insight into privilege. I’m a little bit foreign too, so to jump from barbecue’s at my gran’s with jerk chicken a plenty and reggae blasting to long weekends with step-relatives in the countryside where they praise the merits of agas, hunting and the Tories was a very surreal experience. Feel free to call me the Berkshire equivalent of Jenny from the Block (minus the insured ass).
Alas, I am now well-versed in the virtues of the typically white middle class, such as in depth knowledge of the Waitrose essential range, the joys of having multiple bathrooms, hunter wellies and Le Creuset pans.
But I’m a bit like unwanted party guest who was only invited out of pity. Had all this not happened to me, I wouldn’t have believed the idea of going to Cambridge. Whereas, instead, I went to a grammar school where it was encouraged. I resent the exclusive leg-up I got, like I stole a winning lottery ticket. Yet, it’s more unfair that at many state schools going to Cambridge isn’t an option commonly discussed, whereas at many private schools it’s pretty normal.
Even though the stats show considerable improvement over the years where class, race and gender are considered, the traces of the glory days are everywhere for anyone who is not a part of the intended demographic, which is rich white boys who went to private schools hundreds of years ago (no offense Isaac Newton and co).
This stench that is embedded in the walls of the chapels, halls and libraries of our stately colleges is one you can’t febreze away. Even having the collegiate system is old-fashioned.
They say “it doesn’t matter which college you go to” when you apply, but there are so many unfair advantages at some colleges over others in terms of bursaries, funding and accommodation amongst other issues.
We sign up to be members of a University, but instead we’re poster boys and girls to promote an outdated idea of British grandeur that is actually quite alienating.
More focus should be placed on how Cambridge is generally promoted in society and especially in schools from the primary school level because such an incredible place should not be a reality for so few people.
People still think we go to a magical ancient castle for posh people who drink champagne and wear gowns to celebrate the achievement of other lucky posh people, so Cambridge becomes this fictional realm for most.
The Cambridge I see on a daily basis is a pretty snazzy one, full of lots of interesting people with creative ideas and it’s not nearly as stuffy as I expected. But it is still a bit crap. We need to rebrand ourselves to show the world that Cambridge isn’t just May Balls and dead famous people.
It’s a mainly normal place full of mainly normal people, although just not quite as normal as it should be.