The glamour of Cambridge - time we burst the bubble?mcassidy129

One of the recent arguments levelled against the proposed reading week at Cambridge is that it is the stress and pressure of the current system which makes Oxbridge students so successful. Some people see the stressful environment we study in as preparation for the ‘real world’, ignoring the various unrealistic factors that are widespread in Oxbridge life. By glamorising the pressure Oxbridge puts us under, people are prioritising the few who thrive under extreme pressure over those who suffer under the current university system.

Whilst it’s true that Cambridge may teach some of us to manage a heavy workload, as well as helping people make the first steps to living away from home, it doesn’t follow that being at Cambridge is good preparation for the world after university. Cambridge is so often described as a ‘bubble’, and part of the reason for this is that while we study here we are removed from the real world and a lot of the realities that we have to face in it. Getting our bins emptied everyday and getting meals cooked for us at subsidised prices makes our lives much easier than they otherwise would be, so it seems hypocritical when people rally against something else (in this case, a reading week) that would hugely benefit our mental health and wellbeing. Just because the pressure we’re put under at Cambridge may mirror the pressure we will be put under in later life doesn’t mean this should be used as an excuse to marginalise disabled students and those struggling to cope.

More importantly, preparing for life after university is not, and should not be, the sole purpose and focus of studying. Many people don’t apply to Cambridge because of the good job opportunities that it may give them or because it will teach them to be a “responsible professional”, but because they want a good education. To treat a degree as a means to an end invalidates the reasons behind the education that we get here and undermines people being able to enjoy education as a stand-alone process.

The idea that a high-pressure environment is the one most conducive to successful students is something that many people would disagree with. People are clearly stating that the pressure that they face at Cambridge is harmful to their academic work, harmful to their mental health and extremely harmful personally if they have disabilities. Whilst some may thrive under the current Cambridge system, it’s undeniable that individuals are suffering under stress and a variety of mental health issues to which the way in which our education is structured is detrimental. We should not be ignoring the people who find the system toxic and damaging in favour of those who believe that pressure is what makes our university great. Many students would be able to perform better if the system were organised in a more favourable way, and for lots of people the introduction of a reading week would allow them time to recover from the stressful Cambridge workload without diminishing the standard of education that they are receiving.

When the current high-pressured and stressful system is glamorised and prioritised above calls for reform, there is an access problem at Cambridge. People are denied the chance to benefit from studying here because outdated educational ideals are prioritised above the health and well-being of students. This is not just about introducing a reading week at Cambridge; it is about making Cambridge a safer and more accessible place for those with mental health problems and disabilities who are currently severely disadvantaged by the current system.

Anti-reading week articles written in the student press claim to care about mentally ill students, perhaps because they would look unreasonable if they didn't. This care doesn't seem to extend to listening to what students have to say about what could help us, especially when we criticise the systems and institutions which are making us ill. The sympathy of people who will talk over and ignore students with mental health problems is not a sympathy that is useful or genuine. When people with disabilities are called “lazy” for struggling with the current Cambridge system and mental health issues are made light of, we see a perpetuation of the discrimination and oppression of disabled students at Cambridge, and the university remains an unsafe and unwelcoming place for vulnerable students.