Somerville should have been your first choice
Yes you can go on the grass whenever you like
It’s a sad truth that Somerville isn’t even on the map for some people. Quite literally – most maps of the town centre conveniently stop just short of the college. Once you get to the Ashmolean what’s the point in going any further north, right? It’s not the most northern college by far (St Hugh’s and Wolfson, anyone?) but even the town’s Christmas lights stop just short of our front door. Other Oxford students often have to feign familiarity in front of Somervillians:
“So what college are you at?”
“Oh… yeah, of course… whereabouts is that again?”
Despite its apparent tendency to slip under the radar, Somerville really is one of the best colleges – and that’s not just my doe-eyed, naïve fresher’s perspective talking. Because who cares about olde mediæval architecture and five formals a week when you get one of the most liberal and inclusive environments in Oxford?
Founded in 1879, Somerville’s whole purpose was (as our legendary principal Ali P so brilliantly put it) to “include the excluded”. Our ‘Chapel’ is non-denominational, our Welfare Officers are always on hand around college, and our JCR Constitution has recently become gender-neutral. While we’re not exactly Wadham, we’re extremely proud of our progressive attitude towards LGBT+ issues in our JCR.
College welfare resources are quite frankly incredible. Our fortnightly Welfare Tea is a heavy duty carb-coma and chill session, featuring an inordinate amount of free food. The BME, LGBT+ and Women’s Officers also co-ordinate with the Welfare Officers to organise a special EqualiTea (ba-dum-tsh) where all the officers are available to have a chat if you need it. Along with the Positive Wallaby campaign and the Somerville Cookie Fairy, you’re never short of some much needed comfort in the middle of an essay crisis (or five).
Jess Bollands, an English first year and devoted Somervillian, told us: “As soon as I came to Somerville for interviews I was struck by the friendliness and humility […] It’s the Oxford experience without all the stuffy bits”. And it’s true – we have weekly formals, yes, but without a single item of sub fusc in sight. The catering staff are as banterous as they come, and no-one seems to be sure if we’re actually allowed to go out drinking with them after their shift…
We’re also a college of firsts – Margaret Thatcher, the first female Prime Minister of Great Britain, Indira Gandhi, the first female Prime Minister of India and Dorothy Hodgkin, the first British woman to win a Nobel Prize in Chemistry. We’re not just a “girly” college though – men were first admitted as undergraduates in 1994 and the gender balance has remained equal ever since.
The Grade-II listed, 1960’s concrete monstrosity that is Vaughan accommodation is easily overshadowed by the 24-hour library (which is “perfect at 5:30am” according to some), as well as the newly-built and heavily-discounted Terrace Bar.
All in all, Somerville is definitely the dark horse of Oxford’s colleges. It recognises that your time at Oxford isn’t just about endless hard work – it’s about the whole uni experience. And then there’s the deal-clincher: we’re one of the the only colleges in Oxford where you’re allowed to walk on the grass. All of the grass. At any time. Seriously, one guy just likes to lie down on it for no reason. Go figure.