Want to change drinking societies? Don’t trust Grudgebridge.
The attack on drinking societies has escalated, but in the process it has gone off course.
If the video leak of the Trinity Hall Crescents was the storming of the Bastille, then Grudgebridge's declaration of all-out war on Cambridge's drinking societies equates to the Terror of 1793. This hyperbolic allusion to revolution isn't my own, but that of Grudgebridge itself, with the infamous page, which allows students to submit personal grievances, declaring that the defenders of drinking societies were on "the wrong side of history." The wheels have been set in motion and the outcome is inevitable: drinking societies must fall.
I first read Grudebridge's post from the comfort of my college bar at lunchtime. My initial reaction was one of mild bemusement accompanied by a gentle worry. There are two reasons for this. First, unlike the pseudo-revolutionary Grudgebridge, I don't believe in indomitable historical forces that will smash bourgeois scum like me (and perhaps you). Second of all, I am a member of my college drink soc and whilst I make no apologies for this, I can understand why a lot of people have a problem with drink soc culture.
Until now I haven't had a problem arguing away these problems. My defence went like this: Drinking societies, at their most basic level, are a bunch of people who want to enjoy each other's company with a drink. Each will have its own character and traditions, and most of the time these are harmlessly frivolous, if a little tribal. As for the problems, these are the faults of individuals, or individual drinking societies. From my experience, those who cause offence or harm to others haven't been welcomed back.
It's entirely unfair, and even dangerous to tarnish all drinking society members with the same brush.
This was before the torrent of submissions. Friday afternoon saw me entirely absorbed by Grudgebridge post after Grudgebridge post, each telling a grim story about an experience with a drinking society. Amongst expected complaints of general arrogance there were allegations of sexual harassment and assault. These have to be taken seriously until evidence suggests otherwise. I couldn't ignore the same colleges, with similar stories coming up over and over again. Clearly, for some drinking socs, it seems that things have got to change.
Whether there's a problem inherent to all drinking society culture is not up for discussion now, although it needs to be discussed at some point. For now, some very severe allegations need to be dealt with. The problem is that Grudgebridge is completely unequipped to do so.
For every sincere allegation, there has been a parody or a piece of outright defamation. Already, individuals have come out badly from misguiding or factually inaccurate posts. As a result what matters most is being diluted; an acute case of sexual violence gets tied into a broader battle with multiple agendas and belligerents, many of them petty.
You might argue that it's the right of a victim of sexual assault to link their case to a broader problem of drink soc culture. This would be fine if Grudgebridge had any organised procedure to verify claimants and substantiate their claims before making them public. A post urging people to "tell the truth" when making submissions is as naive as believing a drink soc when they say they're disbanding. At the moment, posts could be being made by victims, "supportive" friends, or someone who has nothing but an agenda and a grim imagination. Already, there are allegations of fake submissions. In harvesting the wheat, Grudgebridge inevitably risks picking up the chaff, and a lot of innocent parties with it.
Worst of all, Grudgebridge's campaign risks spitting in the face of the efforts of the University to create avenues to complain about sexual misconduct, particularly Breaking the Silence. The least they could do is share a link with every relevant post. In place of a system that advocates proper, sensitive investigation, Grudgebridge offers nothing but immediate, unaccountable expression, which then slowly drips off people's newsfeeds. Serious accusations need serious procedures.
The response to Grudgebridge's "campaign"? It has largely been characterised as modern-day McCarthyism and vigilante justice, rooting out anyone associated with drinking culture. It's incredibly worrying that the dismissal of the overall process can allow people to ignore the grim facts within.
Besides all this there's the issue of Grudgebridge itself. This article is not the first to say that the page is not a legitimate and neutral platform. It is run by an individual with intentions of their own, not all of them pleasant. On the one hand, they avow to take down "chauvinistic" drinking socs. On the other, they boasted about selling a video of the Crescents to the Sun, the paper who ran page 3 for decades. Grudgebridge itself has posted its fair share of misogynistic drivel in its time. Here's an example:
No matter what Grudgebridge's good intentions are, the page has developed a reputation too toxic to be taken seriously by all. Their objectives always seem to have been based on antagonism, not justice. A perceived lack of legitimacy risks belittling what could be very legitimate claims, and even worse, gives a bit of cover to those with something to hide. As long as this is the case, Grudgebridge is likely only to inflame the situation.