Louis Ashworth / Varsity

At this time of year, freshers are being introduced to the idea of JCRs and, hopefully, the power they hold within our university: promoting change, representing underrepresented groups, and forging community. JCRs are often neglected as a crucial piece in the puzzle for constructive and visible student action.

At this point last year, as a newly arrived fresher, I didn’t even know what the acronym JCR stood for. I also didn’t fully grasp its actual ability to effect change at my college. Fortunately, I had two enthusiastic committee members as my college parents who made me aware of the important role that the JCR played in the college community. However, there was still scepticism about their influence on the college and their ability to bring about actual change. Despite this scepticism, and with no expectations, I decided to run for Buildings and Services Officer. I won the election unopposed.

Since taking up my role, I have realised that the scepticism around the power of JCRs is unfounded. In fact, having built a constructive relationship with the college, I’ve found common ground and have been able to influence real decisions within the college. This isn’t to say that this will be the same with all colleges, but rather that if you can find common ground with the institutions, you have a launchpad for all types of discussions. Fundamentally, regardless of the way they go about it, colleges should be there for their students, just as JCRs are. Calling them out when they aren’t is more powerful when that relationship has already been built.

“Since taking up my role, I have realised that the scepticism around the power of JCRs is unfounded.”

JCR roles, which can be varied and different, are some of the closest that students can get to the positions of power within the college system. I’ve sat on committees quite literally sitting next to the Master and Bursar, discussing issues such as food hall prices, rents, and building work. These positions put you in the room where decisions are made. Even outside of the official structures, being known and having a relationship with people in positions of power within the college allows you to learn from their often extensive and interesting careers.

In my experience, building a constructive relationship with the college has been impactful for students. My JCR have achieved a more streamlined formal hall booking system, better value food in the hall, and rent compensation for students disrupted by construction work. These changes were easy and involved large amounts of effort, but seeing the real-life impact these changes, and others have had on my college community is powerful and profound.

In my JCR, this is evident through the community that our Women and Non-Binary officer has created alongside FemSoc, a thriving queer community led by the LGBTQ+ officers, and a truly impactful community focused on environmentalism and sustainability with the Green Officer. Building and creating a sense of community post-COVID has been a challenge, but JCRs play an unparalleled role in creating community both directly and indirectly by allocating funds to other college societies. Simply having a student body, such as a JCR, that shows the colleges they will stand up for the interests of all students regardless forces colleges to listen. With proper representation, anything is possible.


Mountain View

You’re not an intellectual powerhouse, you’re a student with a Twitter account

You can be that representation. Running for a JCR role is not like a role in the union or even the student’s union; you are the everyday face around college with a mandate for change and, importantly, the ability to effect change. That elected power is not easily sidelined by the college. I cannot encourage anyone enough to run for your JCR, whether you’re a fresher or entering later years of study. JCRs need your range of experiences and expertise. The elections and hustings are opportunities to gather the best ideas; they certainly shouldn’t be personality contests.

“I appreciate that committee roles aren’t for everyone. But there are ways you can be involved.”

Finally, I appreciate that committee roles aren’t for everyone. But there are ways you can be involved. Firstly, engage with your JCR committees, attend their events, and talk to them about any issues; fundamentally, they are there for you, so make the most of them. Secondly, make your voice heard, be engaged in the hustings process, and make an informed choice based on policies and not friendships. Increased turnout in elections only legitimises JCRs further and provides an even stronger mandate for change.

I truly believe that engagement with your JCR, through running for election, voting or simply attending events will bring about a greater sense of community and change.