Being political at the ‘friendly’ college

College’s effort to silence dialogue is suffocating


It is no secret that recently there has been another push for the University to divest from its investments in not only fossil fuels but also arms. The issue can seem a fairly large and distant one but with a recent study that revealed just how much money each individual colleges had invested it was more likely to hit home. No more so than for Emmanuel students.

Known as the 'friendly' college, Emma more than often lives up to it. As a student it is a place that has always made me feel safe and welcomed. Most students here feel they can call it home. So we were surprised to find out our very inconspicuous, self defined as a 'friendly' and 'increasingly known for its green initiatives' college is one of the worst offenders.

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A screen capture from the Emmanuel website

It came out that Emmanuel was the highest investor in arms out of all the Cambridge colleges with £2,542,964 invested and came very close second to Trinity in terms of Fossil Fuels with £5,764, 284 invested. Especially when you consider Emmanuel is proportionally not as wealthy as Trinity the statistics became quickly uncomfortable.

I have to admit when I found out the extent to which college was invested I felt a little betrayed. It might sound over dramatic but it is hard to hear that the place you were so quick to call a second home is so involved in such unpleasant operations. Especially because they go about it in such a subversive way.

Emmanuel is a very apolitical space, in fact it pushes this apolitical nature to such a point that it feels political. For example when there was the university wide series of banner drops to support Divestment and Disarmament students at Emmanuel felt that they couldn't do similarly because college would see it as unacceptable, too reactionary and make them less likely to listen to student voices on the topic.

There are people at Emma who are pushing to do something about Divestment. The Campaign started recently with a series of posts on the ECSU Facebook page of head shots of those in the year asking for people to 'spot the pattern' to reveal just how much Emma had invested. And in general it's had a lot of support.

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a selection of the headshots from the 'spot the pattern' campaign

But even with this there was a push back. That week the issue got raised at ECSU that it should be made that only current individual students from Emmanuel should be allowed to post on the page. And despite there often being posts from non current students (see ex-student asking for baby sitting) it took for a political group to post on the page for there to be a backlash. Emma as a space is so used to be apolitical that any move to add a political element does not go down well.

The President of Divest and Disarm commented that: 'Emmanuel College has a (well deserved) reputation for being a college of friendly faces and we at Divest & Disarm are proud to be part of such a college. However, there is also a belief amongst some students that speaking out on contentious subjects disrupts this friendly atmosphere, and that passionate debate should therefore be avoided. We believe that debating issues such as divestment openly is an important part of college life and encourage people to speak out for what they believe in.'

I can't help but agree. Emma should not completely overhaul itself in terms of its welcoming and comfortable environment. That's unhelpful and not the point. But having a completely apolitical community is unsustainable. Politics don't have to be an invasive part of daily life but the resistance to most sorts of political opinion is suffocating. Ultimately, students should be free to express themselves and their views in their home. Because college will always be a political space: it's where people, who have a variety of political views live.

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At Emmanuel there is a culture of ignoring politics. It's a bubble within the Cambridge bubble that can make even the most political active individual forget there's any life past the stripey grass of front court. It's one of the differences between the colleges that we tend to forget, this article could hardly be written by someone who attends the overtly political King's.

I love Emma. But increasingly the resistance from college towards any sort of political comment is starting to make me uncomfortable. It's somewhere I've until recently very passionately called my home but feeling that they seem even unwilling to listen to the student body is disheartening.