Her focus on fertility stems in part from the falling national birth rate, which has dipped from 1.92 children per woman in England and Wales in 2011 to just 1.53 this year.MICHAEL DERRINGER, Murray Edwards, Kim Fyson

Public outrage has surfaced over the new Medwards President, Dorothy Byrne’s, plea to students to start a conversation around fertility. 

Among the critics is well-known alumna, Zoah Hedges-Stocks, who attacked the new President following her recent proposals to teach female students about their own fertility.  

Writing on Twitter on 11th October, Hedges-Stocks, who was the first travelling showman to graduate from Cambridge, said that she was “ashamed that this is my college” and that she “wouldn’t feel comfortable donating to the college whilst the President seems to hold such a narrow view of both womanhood and the intellect of her students." 

Hedges-Stocks' reaction was sparked after the Sunday Times reported last weekend that Byrne is seeking to introduce a series of seminars designed to help young women understand that their fertility can dramatically drop after the age of 35. 

Byrne said: “We are teaching about consent, we are teaching about harassment but we are not teaching them the facts about their own fertility. It is a woman’s right to choose to have a baby.”

Her focus on fertility stems in part from the falling national birth rate, which has dipped from 1.92 children per woman in England and Wales in 2011 to just 1.53 this year

Byrne says that better knowledge of fertility would empower young women. She believes that society has “swung too far one way” by not questioning “girls” on their future family plans and current dating lives. She cited herself as a victim of this trend, saying that having put her career in television news first, what “gets lost along the way is that you forget to have a baby, which I nearly did.” 

Thanks to IVF, Byrne is a single parent, having given birth to her only daughter at the age of 45. 

After a deluge of criticism, Byrne has relented on her suggestions for formal seminars. Speaking to the Medwards JCR, she said she “does not plan on delivering any fertility workshops in College”. Instead, she said in a response to Varsity, she simply wants to talk “openly about fertility, in the same way it is important to be aware of the facts about contraception.” 

And yet many commentators are skeptical. Katie Edwards, a writer for The Independent, dismissed Byrne’s claims that fertility is a “forbidden subject”. “The idea that a woman of any age could ‘forget’ about babies – what with the constant reminders about biological clocks and encouragements from medical professionals and family members alike – would be laughable if it weren’t so infuriating.”


Mountain View

Pro-life society present at Freshers’ Fair

Students appear to agree. An anonymous student at the College said that the conversations might “alienate many of Medwards’ male, non-binary, and gender minority students, as well as heaping an unhelpful ‘reproductive focus’ upon others, especially given the fact that the workshops will be the first engagement new students have with the College during freshers week.” 

Another Medwards student, Nieve Brydges, echoed the student's sentiments, saying that it felt like a “kick in the face” for LGBT+ students whose “legitimate desires” to see the College’s “female-only” focus dismantled appear to have been ignored. To these students, Byrne’s message felt like a set-back in an “uphill battle” to cultivate “safe spaces within the University.”  

The student added that whilst “opt-in, university-wide classes may be useful to some students”, they “should never be mandatory nor limited to so-called ‘women’s colleges’.”

However, others are more sympathetic to Byrne’s plans. Another Murray Edwards alumna, Lisa Burke, welcomed the development. She told The Sunday Times: “I was the first of my peer group to have children. At the time I would say it destroyed my career. It’s taken me a lot of time to rebuild my work. However, I also thoroughly enjoyed having time with my daughters.”