College bars have suffered following the pandemicDAN GAYNE

In 1985, the Queens’ College JCR was the place to be. A fly-on-the-wall BBC documentary about the College reveals boisterous students lifting and reorganising the furniture, conducting raucous initiations for their respective drinking societies and generally mucking around. “What are you doing!” shouts one jeering student as his friend - a member of the Christian Union - downs three pints of beer. A packed JCR room looks on in amazement without a porter or staff member in sight.

A situation like this would be unthinkable in 2022. That same JCR, though untouched physically, is now firmly under the College’s thumb. The bar is run by professional staff and is locked at 11.30pm latest – during Covid it was shut entirely. You’ll get told off for resting your feet on the furniture let alone moving it around.

Autonomous student spaces like these are sacred. With exploitative leases, intrusive bedders and strict deadlines, they are the areas where students can unwind outside the watchful glare of their aptly named supervisors. But they are going extinct. Time and time again, nanny Cambridge has been caught flexing its institutional muscles, finding new and increasingly imaginative ways to police students.

Sidney Sussex’s latest venture is no exception. This newspaper revealed that college pencil pushers wanted to install CCTV in the student run bar paid for by the bar’s own profits, but ditched the plans following student pressure. The College sheepishly admitted “they didn’t get it right the first time”.

But the problem stretches beyond Sidney: after the pandemic, colleges across the University have been trying to encroach on the few autonomous student spaces that exist. Student-ran college bars are now a rarity; JCRs, once the centre of undergraduate life now stand empty, a graveyard of gowns, draped over unused chairs. And how can we forget King College’s plans to turn their iconic bunker into a soulless conference hall, even if they got put on hold due to a lack of funding.

King wanted to turn their iconic bunker into a soulless conference hall

There is also the desire among college authorities to survey their students’ activities. Colleges arbitrarily lock card access of particular entrances after a certain point in the night. Indeed, so far has the paranoia spread amongst the minds of our masters, that even after stumbling home – should the conscientious undergraduate find themselves in the company of a fellow student – they are officially required by many colleges to fill in an “Overnight Guest” form. If bureaucracy be the food of love: scribble on.


Mountain View

Sidney ditches unpopular plan to install CCTV in college bar

Whilst Cambridge is far from the only university to employ a security service, rarely are they so present as the Oxbridge Porter. Hiding behind the deceptively fuzzy brims of their bowler hats, we find another relic of the University’s past. Friendly though many porters can be, they have long since surpassed the bounds of a bobbie’s beat – venturing from their plodges in college branded vans, they wait in advance of student parties, whilst costumed Cantabrigians tiptoe past.

Sadly, it has ever been thus. Even the town’s infrastructure has been dictated by the University to restrict student independence. The train station is so far from the city centre because the University wanted to prevent students from leaving Cambridge during term time to go to London: proposals to create a more central station were vetoed by the University throughout the 19th and 20th centuries.

The train station is so far from the city centre because the University wanted to prevent students from leaving Cambridge during term time to go to London

And yet we signed up to it. If you’re lucky enough to bag a First at some colleges, you’ll have to verbally submit to college authority. At Gonville & Caius, during the Scholar’s Ceremony you stand up in the chapel to recite a promise to “live a simple life” and “obey the college authorities in all matters”.

But as the students at Sidney have shown us, it doesn’t always have to be this way. If enough pressure is applied, we can resist the hand of college authority to defend the spaces that make being a student wonderful.