'Our Grade, Our Choice' used Facebook as a platform for debateAnna Jennings via Facebook

A few days ago the fantastic news arrived that the University intends to formally abolish class lists. Finally, an intrusive and unfair system of displaying results is being removed. Although the ‘Our Grade, Our Choice’ campaign lobbied for an opt-in/ opt-out system to be adopted, we welcome the news that the University plan to go one step further and remove the system all together.

When my friends and I set about starting the ‘Our Grade, Our Choice’ campaign, we did so with the welfare of students in mind. On principle, we, like many other students, saw class list publications as a gross infringement on personal privacy, as well as a burden on mental health. However, the more we reached out to the student body at Cambridge for perspectives and experiences, and the more research we conducted, our perception of the scale of the problems class lists posed to the student body grew dramatically.

At first glance, there is a system in place which allows students to be removed from class lists if their presence is judged by the University to be “likely to seriously endanger a student’s health or mental well-being”. In such an event, medical evidence, a student declaration form, and a Senior Tutor’s declaration should be submitted to support removal. However, this is problematic on several levels: firstly, there is an expense involved in requesting medical evidence and doctors’ letters.

Secondly, if a student is mentally ill, bureaucracy, as well as being at the mercy of a Senior Tutor’s approval (who may not be fully aware of the student’s circumstances) is completely unnecessary and stress-inducing. Furthermore, why should a Senior Tutor, who is unlikely to be a medical professional, have the power to make a decision with a big impact on a student’s health and welfare?

Indeed, there was no guarantee that even after going through all this that the system of class list name removal would even work. I recently discovered a student who, after she had lodged a request to have her name removed from class lists on medical grounds and had it approved, found her results published anyway. This is particularly alarming as many of the testimonials the movement received highlighted the devastating effects of class lists, with many students reporting suicidal thoughts as a result of the style of result distribution.

After outlining our own motivations for change, we approached student-run campaigns across Cambridge, including CUSU, CUSU Women’s Campaign, ‘Whose University?’, and the ‘Make No Assumptions’ campaign. The importance of consulting the wider student body on issues that affect all students at Cambridge was recognised by us. After speaking with these groups, and gathering their support, we realised that the issue of class lists went far beyond that which we had originally been aware of.

What became clear from CUSU Women’s Campaign was the importance of contextual information. Class list publication does not allow the provision of contextual information alongside the results, an aspect which is hugely problematic. For example, if a student has experienced a family bereavement or health problems which affected their result, the presentation of class lists in their current format does not show this. The Women’s Campaign also made us aware of the huge gender attainment gap between women and men in Cambridge in exam results. The ways in which the class lists are used, for example by employers to choose future employees, provides one example among many why class lists are problematic to gender equality.

Another issue highlighted to us was by the ‘Make No Assumptions’ campaign. In a statement they said the system “poses numerous other welfare issues, including some that may be trans-specific. Students who have changed their name (and therefore likely their initials) but have not submitted a deed-poll to the University for whatever reason (e.g. not being out as trans at home) will have the initials of their former name posted on the class lists, which is potentially an incredibly harmful prospect”. Again, we saw a system of class lists infringing on levels of privacy that could easily be protected with simple, and logical, changes to the class list system.

This is why we felt that reform was critically needed. Not only on the grounds of mental health and privacy, but also to protect minorities and marginalised groups in Cambridge. There are more justifications for the abolition of class lists that were also discussed in the wider debate, such as ‘grade shaming’, but they are too numerous to be discussed here. Interestingly, Cambridge is not alone in changing. Indeed, Oxford in 2009 moved to an opt-in/ opt-out system. Other universities have also expressed concerns about privacy and the legality of the public display of results, such as the Universities of Loughborough and Bristol.

Cambridge has a long history of tradition. However, the defence of archaic and damaging practices on the basis of tradition is one of the worst justifications for the maintenance of class lists. On so many levels Cambridge needs to be, and be seen to be, a progressive, welcoming environment for minorities and marginalised groups, as well as a positive environment to be a student for a plethora of reasons, including access. The protection of students and student welfare should be at the heart of an institution like Cambridge, and it is encouraging and reassuring to see reform.