Toope voiced his personal stance for the first time this evening on reports of drinking society behaviourDevarshi Lodhia

Vice-chancellor Stephen Toope and Pro-vice-chancellor Graham Virgo today denounced Cambridge’s drinking societies, and indicated initial plans for University action amid mounting accusations of drinking society misdemeanour.

“I am not very sympathetic of any organisation where the primary purpose is to drink,” the vice-chancellor told the crowd of 80 gathered in the Mill Lane Lecture Theatre this evening in an open meeting previously agreed upon in response to student occupiers last term.

The announcements comes after several days of mounting scrutiny for drinking societies. Trinity Hall’s all-male drinking society announced its plans to disband on Wednesday, after a video was leaked to Facebook page Grudgebridge showing a Trinity Hall student mocking “inclusivity” as the “single biggest problem facing the Crescents in the modern age”. The page has since become a platform for accumulating allegations of abuse and sexual assault perpetrated by members of drinking societies across the University.

Moving forward, the University faces serious questions of how to address allegations against drinking societies of sexual harassment and sexism, and whether a University-wide ban on drinking societies would be a productive and feasible policy. Pro-vice-chancellor Graham Virgo, who was present to address more detailed questions on University policy, said: “The real issue here is changing the culture.”

“There are some colleges that have said, ‘We ban drinking societies’ – great, but the fact is that they go underground immediately when you ban them.”

Toope and Virgo’s remarks followed CUSU’s announcement this afternoon that it has established a working group to combat alleged abuse and sexual harassment connected to college drinking societies – the first official response made to the allegations by any University-wide body.

In the statement, CUSU condemns the “racist, sexist, classist, ableist, transphobic and homophobic behaviour” alleged to have taken place, and says that drinking societies “are a remnant of elitism” which have “long been a negative presence in Cambridge”.

Emphasising the “crucial” importance of college-level organisation, the statement announces the establishment of a drinking societies working group, and suggests that the group may be helpful for JCRs and MCRs who want “support and coordination” in their response to drinking societies.

During the open meeting, Toope was asked by a member of the audience what the University is planning to do with the “inherently problematic structures” of drinking societies, which "promote an environment of racism, sexism, as well as bad practice to the welfare of students".

The vice-chancellor called for the University to “get at the underlying behaviour”, adding: “There are some colleges that have said, ‘We ban drinking societies’ – great, but the fact is that they go underground immediately when you ban them.”

Virgo referenced similar experiences in his role as senior tutor at Downing College, when he banned a drinking society, before bringing it back as a co-educational sporting society the following year. He added: “It is still running, as I understand, very effectively.”

The issues which have come to light should not, Virgo said, be addressed solely by colleges.

“We could, as a University, come out with a statement in those terms, then sit back and say it’s a college problem”, he said, then added: “but [...] this is a really good example [...] of trying to think constructively about what needs to be done to change the culture” – a phenomenon across the University.


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Speaking to Varsity, CUSU President Daisy Eyre said that the working group was designed to help JCRs and MCRs collaborate on action moving forward.

Eyre also stressed the importance of involvement from drinking society members “in order for real change to take place,” emphasising that drinking society members were welcome to contact her.

CUSU’s statement marks the first time a University-wide group has issued a formal response to the claims which have recently surfaced about the actions of drinking societies. At a collegiate level, both Newnham and Downing JCRs emailed their members regarding allegations posted on Grudgebridge. Trinity Hall’s acting Senior Tutor also emailed college members yesterday, exhorting them to devote their attention to “preparing for Tripos and to working together in our community” rather than discussing the allegations on social media.

If you have been affected by any of the issues raised in this article, the following organisations provide support and resources:

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