In our experience, everyone on Varsity’s team works incredibly hard to support each other and to mentor newer team membersANNA MENIN

It’s been a tough couple of days to be a woman or non-binary person working for this newspaper. Not because anything has been different at Varsity itself, but because of the inaccurate and unfair claims that have been made about the composition of our team by other student publications.

On Saturday night, The Cambridge Student (TCS) published an article entitled “(Varsity) boys will be (Varsity) boys”, which made completely erroneous claims about this newspaper being run by men, and accused our coverage of the CUSU elections of being biased.

While the article was a comment piece, and did not reflect the editorial position of TCS, it was both inaccurate and clearly likely to bring Varsity into disrepute. It is to the credit of TCS’s Board of Editorial Directors that they swiftly took the article down following complaints. However, it had been publicly available for over forty minutes by that point, and will have already done damage.

The next day, The Tab Cambridge weighed in, running an article that quoted incoming CUSU Access Officer Shadab Ahmed claiming that our editorial team is “made up of males all from the same background” – something that is patently untrue at any level of the team. The Tab have since removed this portion of Ahmed’s comment from the article.

We feel compelled to speak out about the falseness of these claims, as they are both deeply upsetting for us (especially those of us who worked extremely hard to cover the CUSU elections), and ignore the invaluable contributions that women and non-binary team members make to the running of this newspaper. Incorrect claims about Varsity’s supposed gender bias damage efforts to encourage women and minorities to participate in the team.

Across all roles and sections, women and non-binary people are instrumental to the reporting, writing, and editing of Varsity: the mischaracterisation and erasure of our contributions with allegations of a male-dominated or male-run culture is not only inaccurate, but grounded in implicitly misogynistic assumptions. This is to cast aspersion neither about the writer of the TCS piece, nor TCS itself, but to demonstrate that the claims put across in the original piece were damaging and played into a misogynistic narrative.

It should also be acknowledged that much of the election coverage was both written and edited by women. In fact, women and non-binary people outnumber men on the Varsity team in a ratio of roughly three women/non-binary people to every two men. Furthermore, to assert that an editorial published under the Varsity masthead is principally the work of men is itself a sexist assumption.

In our experience, everyone on Varsity’s team works incredibly hard to support each other and to mentor newer team members – especially encouraging women and non-binary writers to share their views and apply for senior positions. Varsity works hard to nurture and empower journalists of all genders and of all backgrounds. While we cannot speak for everyone who has been involved in the paper, as team members whose time on Varsity ranges from over two years to just one term, we felt shocked and misrepresented by the recent claims about the paper’s culture.

Accusing Varsity of biased reporting for a point of view expressed in its recent editorial misunderstands an important tenet of journalism. An editorial, by definition, expresses a singular, unsigned view on behalf of a newspaper, which attempts to seek holistic balance. Varsity runs an editorial every week in print: they are never signed, their authorship varies and their style is at the discretion of the incumbent editor. In practice, this means depending on the topic they are written by a small group of senior editors: a group which has never recently been composed entirely of men.

Furthermore, providing analysis of election campaigns is our right, as is seeking to correct false claims, whether they be made by candidates or by other news outlets. As Evie Aspinall is CUSU president-elect, it is to be expected that Aspinall’s policies and public comments will be analysed by the student press.

Aspinall and the other sabbatical officers occupy student-elected positions that will have a major impact on student life in the coming year, and thus it is in the interests of the student body for Varsity to produce a nuanced analysis of their campaigns. In order to do this, it is necessary and valid for us to question all candidates, including on issues such as previous CUSU experience.

“Every day, we work to shape this paper, bringing our individual backgrounds and beliefs to create a paper we claim equal ownership of”

There was some suggestion in TCS’s article that Aspinall’s previous roles within feminist societies should exempt her from any questions about experience. It is clear that Aspinall is a capable and organised campaigner, who has championed causes that put women’s liberation at their heart. However, it remains valid for Varsity to highlight Aspinall’s lack of CUSU-specific experience, and activism being feminist should not mean that it is above questioning. To suggest this is a damaging version of feminism.

Feminism cannot be effective if it is not self-critical – by its very nature it requires careful and conscious analysis of our actions in order to actively improve our behaviour and perceptions. One of the most fundamental tenets of any kind of effective feminism is that simply being a woman, or identifying as a feminist, should not shield you from critical analysis of your political work – and being president(-elect) of a students’ union is undoubtedly political work.

Suggesting that Varsity had any kind of gender bias at play in its coverage of the CUSU election campaigns – based on false and implicitly misogynistic assumptions about the makeup of Varsity’s editorial team – is especially perverse.

Wider issues have also been raised over the nature of Varsitys reporting and the dynamic in which the paper operates. On a structural level, Varsity appoints a new team every term; applications for which are completely open and widely advertised. The assertion that Varsity operates as a ‘clique’ is invalid – especially when one considers the rigorous written application process which all applicants, regardless of their current position within the paper, must complete.

One of the most upsetting things for us about the completely unjustified claims that have been made about the makeup of our editorial team is that we feel as a newspaper we have made a lot of progress with increasing representation and involvement of women and non-binary people over the past few years. We fully acknowledge that there’s more to be done to ensure that our team is representative and sensitive to the dynamics of marginalisation, including the need to increase the number of BME editorial staff and contributors, and to ensure that Varsity is a welcoming environment where all feel comfortable.

However, to ignore the progress already made both willfully disregards these efforts, and erases the hard work that many (men, women and non-binary) team members have put in to bring about this positive change, and the work the team continue to do in this area.

Every day, we work to shape this paper – writing, editing, filming, sub-editing, collaborating, bringing our individual backgrounds and beliefs to create a paper we claim equal ownership of, that we take equal pride in. We will not stand by and watch our contributions be erased or dismissed in order to attack the paper that we all work so hard for.

Correction: This article has been corrected to acknowledge that the TCS piece in question was a comment piece and did not reflect the editorial position of the paper.

Isobel Bickersteth – Senior News Correspondent
Rosie Bradbury – Senior News Correspondent
Noella Chye – Senior News Editor
Lillian Crawford – Film and TV Editor
Belle George – Deputy Opinion Editor
Eli Hayes – Fashion Editor
Sienna Hewavidana – Violet Editor
Perdi Higgs – Music Editor
Aoife Hogan – Digital Editor
Anna Hollingsworth – Long Reads Editor
Vivienne Hopley-Jones – Deputy Opinion Editor
Anna Jennings – Easter Term Editor
Emily Kiel – Subeditor
Holly Knox – Subeditor
Catherine Lally – Investigations Editor
Anna Menin – Associate Editor
Gaia Reyes – Head of Video
Robyn Schaffer – Fashion Editor
Elizabeth Shaw – Senior News Correspondent
Sophie Shennan – Deputy News Editor
Jemma Slingo – Deputy Opinion Editor
Caitlin Smith – Deputy Editor
Stephanie Stacey – Senior News Correspondent, Science Editor
Siyang Wei – Deputy News Editor
Sophie Weinmann – Social Media Editor

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