News Column: Week Two

From Mary Beard’s decision to fund classicists from underrepresented backgrounds to noisy sex at Robinson, here is The Tab’s run-down of the Week Two news

As daunting as it may be, it is now Week Three and exams are drawing near. Luckily for you, The Tab has summarised all the Week Two news so that you can pretend that it is still only the beginning(ish) of May. We do treat you well. From setbacks for Rent Strike Cambridge to Hugh Laurie making an appearance with the Selwyn choir, the week has been full of news.

Mary Beard. The long-time lecturer from Newnham College has announced she is donating a “retirement present” of £80,000 to fund two Cambridge classicists from underrepresented backgrounds. The undergraduates will come from “under-represented minority ethnic group” and a “low income home”. The award is to be named the Joyce Reynolds Award, in honour of one of her Classics tutors, and will be available from the start of the 2021-22 academic year. 

Rent Strike campaigns at Robinson and Jesus call off Easter Term action. In a setback for Rent Strike Cambridge, it has been announced that students at Robinson and Jesus will not be rent striking this term. Rent Strike Robinson said on their Facebook page on Wednesday (12/05) that the reasons behind their decision were threefold. Firstly, financially disadvantaged students “are worried about loss of access to bursaries and paying interest”. Secondly, some students who have been “fined over £100 each” for breaking COVID restrictions “are no longer in the financial position to strike”. Thirdly, the post added that first years, who “have entered the college at a time of increased rules and harsh discipline”, fear that striking “will lead to punishment”.

Although no longer rent striking, Rent Strike Robinson said that their “demands still stand”. In an open letter sent at the end of last month, the demands called for the College to commit to a 30 per cent rent reduction for the academic year 2020-21, a permanent 10 per cent reduction and that those in accommodation over the holidays during the pandemic receive a rent rebate.

Rent Strike Jesus made a similar announcement on Thursday (13/05), but said that the decision had been taken because the strike capacity to ensure student safety had not been reached.

Rent Strike Cambridge have been contacted for comment.

XR Cambridge protesters outside Memorial Court, Clare College (Image: XR Cambridge)

Gnome Rebellion. Extinction Rebellion (XR) have launched a new campaign calling on the incoming master of Clare College to divest fully from fossil fuels. The action featured a mini model protest of homemade gnomes with protest signs like “gnome more excuses”. The group then moved on to Trinity College to thank them for their divest by way of a banner.

St John’s launches climate crisis commitments. St John’s has committed to divesting from all meaningful indirect fossil fuel investments by 2030 and reaching net zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2050. The College committed to divest from all direct fossil fuel investments in 2013. St John’s also plans to carry out renovations to “improve energy efficiency in the College buildings”, a commitment that might require replacing windows, changing boilers, and installing better insulation. News buildings at the College will need to meet “exemplary zero carbon standards”.  Heather Hancock, the master of St John’s, said that the commitments have the “widespread support of the Fellowship” and will be “embedded in every aspect of life” at the College.

St John’s has made a series of climate crisis commitments (Image: Punting Cambridge (Creative Commons Licence))

UCU. The University and College Union (UCU) launched a new campaign on 5th May lobbying the university to extend union recognition to all staff members. The University, according to the UCU, offered to extend union recognition to academic staff. However, this was rejected by the UCU as it fails to cover the majority of University employees. This comes as the University is in ongoing disputes over the UCU’s 2019 report which found that 39 per cent of staff survey respondents were being paid less than the Real Living Wage.

Black Advisory Hub. The Black Advisory Hub was launched on Friday (14/05) by the Cambridge Centre for Teaching and Learning. The project aims to identify “specific barriers and practices that impact the educational experience and attainment of Black British students and disabled students with mental health conditions”. An online space, the Hub is meant to provide “support for new and current Black students at the University” and “introduce ideas for future initiatives to help make Cambridge a more inclusive and supportive environment”.

Tyra Amofa-Akardom, one of the three student co-researchers of the project wrote in a blog post:  “More often than not, Black students rely on word-of-mouth or student-led initiatives like the African Caribbean Society (ACS) and the BME Campaign, which focus on social and/or activist matters. What is missing, we felt, is a centrally coordinated space where relevant education information for Black students is collated, such as resources, academic support, event information, and opportunities such as internships and scholarships.”

Hugh Laurie at Selwyn. Selwyn alumnus Hugh Laurie turned up to a rehearsal of Selwyn’s choir on Saturday (15/05), according to a post on the choir’s Facebook page. Photos of the choir and the actor were accompanied by a caption reading, “Learning to sing in Welsh, with Hugh Laurie. As you do.”

Hugh Laurie and Selwyn’s choir (Image: The Choir of Selwyn College, Cambridge (Facebook))

Robinson students told to stop having noisy sex. Students at Robinson this week received an email from the president of the Robinson College Students Association, Felix Enslin, asking that noise be kept to a minimum during sexual activity out of respect of those taking exams. The email asked for students to not “get busy in a loud and obnoxious way during the exam term”. This followed a drawn-out prologue which included a “massive disclaimer”, self-conscious “childish humour”, and numerous references to sex. The self-declared “Sex Therapist” and “Sexologist” claimed to have broached the subject “without a shred of self-consciousness, irony or embarrassment”.

Cover image: Jacob Gaskell