For at least the past two years, heads of freshers' representatives have been members of the colleges' drinking societies Lucas Chebib

Downing plans to remove its head freshers’ representatives positions starting next year, following a string of allegations about the College’s drinking societies and their links to its JCR.

Pressure has been mounting on colleges, JCRs and the University to take action to address allegations regarding drinking societies raised on the Facebook page Grudgebridge.

Since Grudgebridge launched its crusade against drinking societies just over three weeks ago, numerous anonymous, unverified allegations against the Downing Pats and Orchids, the College’s two drinking societies, have been posted.

Downing JCR President Jed Soleiman, Vice-President Ali Hyde and several other JCR officers met with its senior tutor, Dr Guy Williams, to discuss the allegations. Soleiman said they decided removing the head freshers’ reps positions would “be the best way forward”.

The changes are part of what Soleiman recognises as a need for all JCR members to “think about any potential conflicts of interest their extra-curricular activities could have in their role” in order to preserve fairness and transparency in how it is run.


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Downing JCR’s head freshers’ representatives have been members of the Pats and Orchids for at least the past two years. The role puts the reps in charge of organising Freshers’ Week events at the College and assisting with first years’ academic and welfare concerns.

Under the current system, head freshers’ representatives recruit their own freshers representatives team. They are nominated, seconded, go through hustings and ultimately elected through a majority vote.

The amendment to the structure of the JCR will be ratified with its new constitution, which Soleiman hopes will be drafted by the end of Michaelmas. After the changes are made, the JCR will instead act together to put on freshers’ week. It is thought that these changes to the JCR’s constitution will come into effect after this year’s Freshers’ Week, in time for Michaelmas 2019.

A number of allegations have been made on Grudgebridge, via its open submission platform, about the problematic involvement of drinking society members on college JCRs and their undue influence on college affairs. The submissions are anonymous, and the page’s administrators do not verify their contents.

Posts to the page have already triggered several changes within the University, including the dissolution of Trinity Hall’s drinking society, the Crescents, and a push by CUSU to create a code of conduct for the groups. However, several posts have been directly refuted or withdrawn, and Grudgebridge’s campaign was denounced by one of its own admins as a “witch hunt”.

Soleiman told Varsity that the election of drinking society members to the roles of head freshers’ representatives for at least the past two years had “the potential to divide the College into distinct groups due to the exclusivity of the culture.

“We’re not saying we want to ban drinking in freshers, but that we don’t feel it’s appropriate for a drinking society to run the introduction the freshers get to the College.”


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He added: “it’s a shame that this behaviour has been allowed to continue for so long.”

Soleiman said Downing would also put in conduct an alcohol awareness workshop during Freshers’ Week to discuss the College’s drinking culture and safe drinking. He added drinking societies will also no longer be stops on the freshers’ bar crawl as the College has “have no official link with them”.

Ollie Winters, a second-year and head freshers’ representative last October, described the change as “unnecessary”, and added he found it insulting. He said he rejected “the idea that being in a drinking society can somehow cloud your judgement or render you incapable of creating an open, inclusive and welcoming culture”.

Winters said that he felt the planned changes are “not only a contradiction of the majority who voted for us but suggest that we are unable to being professional or do not take our job seriously enough to prevent other aspects of our lives from clouding our judgement.”

He described the “huge amount of time and effort my partner and I put in to make it work,” which he said were “sacrifices which we should be allowed to make regardless of our membership of a drinking society.”

The re-drafted constitution will be voted on as soon as it is completed.

Soleiman said: “I’m glad steps are being taken, to ensure that everyone feels welcome in College and that we have the opportunity to reform the system for the better.”

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