Let’s stop arguing about everything and actually do something

It’s time to get out of the Cambridge bubble.

Betty Stubbens’ Musical Entertainment Group BNOCs Bubble Cambridge cambridge bubble cambridge student student politics

Student politics is undoubtedly important. 

Working together to form a positive, supportive environment in which academic and personal development is possible is fundamental, particularly considering how the university experience shapes us as people.

Recently a number of courageous students have spoken up about the need for greater awareness of mental health issues in Cambridge University, as is absolutely right. An education system is a reflection of our society, and making our university a more tolerant and caring place should definitely be a priority.

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We need to get out of the dismal bubble that is Sidgwick and do something.

But in order to work, student politics must be actively engaged in wider politics, and unfortunately the gap between our university politics and the outside world seems to be increasing. Not only does this create divides between students within Cambridge University, it also fuels the divide between students and everyone else in society.

The intellectualisation of political issues can in part be blamed for this gap. The nature of student politics often means that issues surrounding race, LGBT+ or class issues become abstracted. It is not an understanding of historical, social and political theories that is problematic. But focusing on the minute details of intellectual debates not only alienates students who are not as intellectually clued up, but it distracts from finding solutions to very real, everyday problems.

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All the theoretical chat’s got me like.

Working with access teams would be just as, if not more, valuable than Facebook campaigns or student debate sessions, where it is most often a classic case of preaching to the converted. Meeting young people and helping to break down their preconceptions of Cambridge University as an elitist, ‘out-of-reach’ system is surely a direct, hands-on way of reaching out and changing the (mis)balance of privilege.

So why is it that the frantic emails from the access officer at my college still pop up regularly in my inbox, desperately offering a free meal voucher for just an hour of talking to a group of school students? Meanwhile, students squeeze themselves into a room to discuss the outrage of privilege at Cambridge. It really does seem farcical sometimes, the extent to which we seem to have lost sight of how intellectual debates are still born from (an ignored) reality.

It is also problematic that these issues of privilege, class, race and sexuality are, more often than not, viewed exclusively within the university context. It is scary to step outside of the bubble and realise how far into society these problems extend, and I am convinced that this is why we don’t really do it. As uncomfortable as student politics can get, it is still far more comfortable relative to the rest of the world.

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A never ending flow of Facebook notifications.

Last term I started volunteering with Betty Stubbens’ Musical Entertainment Group. Every Wednesday, a group of us go to different care homes in Cambridge to sing classic Golden Oldies for the elderly. At the end of every evening, you leave feeling you’ve really made a difference to someone’s day.

There is a certain sense of sadness, too. The stark reality of the elderly as a forgotten part of society is difficult to take. And yet in student life, the place of the elderly in society is barely considered.

Most would probably take this as an obvious statement, and would ask why it should be. The elderly don’t have anything to do with students: they face vastly different issues. But then, isn’t that always the excuse, in every part of society, when it comes to caring for the elderly?

It shows just how insular the university environment is and exactly why we need to change. “We are at university” is not synonymous with “we are not part of society”. Because if we are this insular now, how will we ever step out of our own world later on in life?

Perhaps the issue is that stepping outside of the bubble does not earn you BNOC points. It won’t give you the buzz of knowing people are admiring you as you enter the buttery.

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Sadly, I don’t think I’ll be a member of this group anytime soon.

But why should that matter? Once you’ve stepped into the real world, the political status of a Cambridge student is meaningless.

It’s your status as a fellow citizen that counts.