The Code of Conduct will be voted on in the next few weeksLucas Chebib

Next year’s Freshers’ Representatives at Downing College have expressed their discontent with proposals for a Code of Conduct to be introduced for the college’s Freshers’ week at a “charged and uncomfortable” meeting of the JCR.

At a meeting of Downing College’s JCR Committee on Monday, the JCR’s Women’s Officers, Emma Lubega and Lucy Symington, proposed that a new conduct policy be introduced for Fresher’s Representatives at the college. The draft policy included a new Code of Conduct, which would interdict “excessive drunkenness”  among Freshers’ Representatives. The policy also stressed that contact between freshers and their representatives should be limited to “only platonic relationships”, as well as the importance of “respectful and socially sensitive language”.

Under the code, infringement of these rules would result in the imposition of a one-week ban from the college bar, as well as removal from the Freshers’ Representatives committee. The policy would be enforceable for the first four nights of Freshers’ Week, after which time the rules would be dropped.

In discussions which followed the proposal, issues were raised by members of the JCR, as well as observing Freshers’ Representatives, around the intentions underlying the proposed policy. Victor Wei, a member of the International Freshers’ Representatives committee, expressed concern that it would “change the dynamic between Freshers and Freshers’ Reps”.

Peter Scharrer, the JCR’s Services Officer and member of last year’s Freshers’ Representatives committee, said that the policy “automatically assumes that a non-platonic relationship [with a Freshers’ Representative] is toxic or harmful” to freshers.

However, Symington stressed that the proposed policy was “only reinforcing an unspoken rule that was already there”, adding, “it’s hard to hold [Freshers’ Representatives] to account for their actions on an unspoken rule with an unknown punishment.”

Members also expressed concerns over the stringency of proposed punishments for breaking the rules outlined in the Code, with one Freshers’ Representative saying that the policy was “underestimating the impact a bar ban for a Freshers’ Rep would have on the Freshers”.

However, the policy drew support from both the JCR’s Ethnic Minorities and LGBT+ Welfare Officers. Sofiya Gatens, JCR President, emphasised that “the point of the policy is not to police relationships” of Freshers’ Representatives, whom she said were “authority figures in this context”.

Several attendees at the meeting have told Varsity that, in the course of the discussion, the atmosphere at the meeting became heated, and was at times adversarial.

One source, a JCR member who wished to remain anonymous, said: “The atmosphere in the room was very charged and uncomfortable.  There was clear animosity between members of the frep team and members of the JCR, particularly the Women’s Officers proposing the changes.  It definitely felt, with a few exceptions, that the JCR were sided with Lucy and Emma’s [the Women’s Officers] proposal and the Frep team were largely unified in opposition.

“Voices occasionally became raised and people were talking over each over regularly throughout the meeting.”

The source added that during the meeting, which “lasted well over an hour”, several JCR members and Freshers’ Representatives left the room, and did not return for the remainder of the meeting. However, JCR President Gatens told Varsity that the Freshers’ Representatives had sought her permission to leave the meeting early before it began.

Ollie Winters, head of the Freshers’ Representative Committee, told Varsity: “Because no one else was made aware of the arrangement it may have looked as if people were leaving in protest but it was agreed beforehand.”

A second JCR member who had attended the meeting agreed that the meeting had been “heated” and “tense” from the outset, but the atmosphere improved as discussions progressed.

Following the discussions, JCR members were invited to propose amendments to the policy, after which time the JCR will vote on whether it should be implemented.


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Winters explained to Varsity that the Freshers’ Representative Committee was opposed to the proposed policy on the grounds that “it restricts the free choices that capable adults should be allowed to make within appropriate boundaries thus infringing upon their right of autonomy.”

“We believe that freps should be viewed as predominantly peers and to impose this policy makes the divide far more apparent than is desirable.”

“Personally we believe that the code of conduct expressed should remain a convention within the frep committee at the discretion of the head freps”, he explained. “However, should the policy with the correct amendments be put to a JCR vote we will of course do everything in our power to implement it.”

Speaking to Varsity, Gatens said that she was “personally in favour of a Code of Conduct”: “ I think it's a very reasonable proposal, asking those in a relative position of power not to engage in any relationship that isn't platonic with vulnerable freshers whilst they are in their sphere of their care for four to five days.

“I understand the criticisms, but I don't think they are sufficiently weighted to neglect the potential need for such a policy.”

She added: “I hope to get this resolved in the next few weeks.”

The JCR Women’s Officers declined Varsity’s request for comment