These 10 tweets show access is a problem even once you’ve got to Oxbridge
‘I got told I would never be a good historian if I only spoke one language’
Access has always been at the centre of discussions surrounding Oxbridge, and more specifically, the application process. Many organisations and charities are working to help those from disadvantaged backgrounds with their applications, including the likes of Target Oxbridge which has been successful in helping black African and Caribbean students and students of mixed race black African and Caribbean heritage increase their chances of getting into Oxford or Cambridge. But what happens once you actually get there?
Access issues clearly persist once you enter the world of Cambridge or Oxford and are seldom discussed, and this Twitter thread (started by @philosophequeer) led to some alarming revelations about certain educational and lifestyle expectations that some students have come across during their studies (did you think Latin was a dead language? Seems not):
1. Knowing Latin is assumed to be the norm
love how oxbridge doesn’t see access as a problem once you’re through the door. can we talk about how a week before my finals, i was told to use latin – a language i never had the opportunity to learn – to help in my french translation exam? would love to hear other‘s experiences
— aaron gabriel (@philosophequeer) July 1, 2020
2. Apparently being good at history is dependent on knowing many languages?
someone just sent me this:
i got told in first term that i would never be a good historian if i only spoke one language and that it was ridiculous i didn't know one already… having come directly from an underfunded state school that didn't even offer language a levels 😡
— aaron gabriel (@philosophequeer) July 1, 2020
3. Assuming everyone is a polyglot appears to be a recurring theme
Latin phrases being used in politics lectures!! not even direct quotes from political theorists, just straight up Latin fallacies and phrases dropped mid sentence and half the room laughing- same with french – thankfully was fluent but y on earth would they presume I know french
— rhiannon (@rhiannonm_s) July 1, 2020
4. The love for Latin endures
Ohhh yeah the music undergrad tripos (Cambridge) has an entire paper in first year where you're expected to analyse plainchant, including, naturally, the setting and word painting in Latin. They provide an English translation (with different syntax ofc), but like… ok?
— Alice Rose (アリス・ローズ) (@alicetheoboist) July 1, 2020
5. Parlez-vous francais? Apparently you should!
not a personal experience but more of a structural one – in english essays you’re allowed to quote in french without providing a translation bc it’s assumed everyone knows french (might also be true for latin? but deffo not any other languages)
— LIV (@livemily18) July 2, 2020
6. An inability to understand that not everyone can splash out on a holiday
Yep. I asked my tutor for help in 1st year because my spoken French was waaay below my peers (with their private school educations, childhood french nannies, holiday homes, gap years, academic parents etc).
Her response: have you thought about maybe spending more time in France?
— Ella Harold (@ellamharold) July 1, 2020
7. Assumed knowledge of Latin strikes (again!)
I'm doing a German paper where one of the 4 set texts is a medieval play where all the stage directions & some of the dialogue is in Latin…? Am I supposed to learn another new language for one paper ??
— lydia (@lydlud_) July 1, 2020
8. The transition from comp to Oxbridge isn’t the easiest
Yep and it’s also about your expectations/entitlement. Coming from a failing comp with big classes it never occurred to me that I could contact tutors for help in between tutorials! Found out before finals that I’d missed out on all that help and guidance for 3 years. Not great.
— Sally (@EssieEmm) July 2, 2020
9. Someone share the hidden reading list, please!
YES. In my first year I lost count of how many academics laughed at me for not having read stuff. I'd go 'What happens in X' or 'What is Y about' & it'd be disbelieving laughter
Some academics were absolutely wonderful, kind & brilliant for their first-years – but not all
— Hope Doherty (@EHopeDoherty) July 1, 2020
10. Etymology seems to be the hardest word…
In most tutorials, i've had to ask what words mean – words that aren't directly relevant, e.g. botony & fashion brand names. Tutors generally laughed, or then took the piss with other terms. Asking for word meanings didn't make me feel inferior, but the responses certainly did.
— Ebie Edwards Cole (@EbieEdwardsCole) July 1, 2020
I think it’s safe to say that there’s still a long way to go when it comes to access once you pass through the mystical gates of Oxford or Cambridge and these tweets certainly highlight this.
The CUSU Class Act campaign, for post-admissions access, have created a google form you can access here for any Class Act identifying students to report any kind of discrimination or unfair disadvantage they have faced during their time at the university, in order for this to be followed up and to inform campaign policy. You can also access their Facebook page here.
As Cambridge students, it’s time that we took notice of the small assumptions, and listened to the many stories from our fellow students that show the pitfalls of an institution that assumes a universally similar background for all.