We must work towards a learning environment where we do not fear class listsLOUIS ASHWORTH

This year’s introduction of an easy class lists opt-out system has proven a welcome development across the University. A popular topic of conversation, the discussions surrounding it have come to sound almost identical: they generally begin with someone passionately venerating the move, calling it a step towards undermining an environment of academic elitism which is detrimental to our mental health. Others nod along – they are not really that bothered whether they are on the class list or not, but concede that it is not, in any case, a bad thing.

Cecily Bateman eloquently articulated this argument, deeming it a good thing that we are no longer able to compare ourselves to others by scouring through module grades, spending hours working out how well we performed in a few exams.

In the middle of all of this, however, I feel we have misplaced our focus: ultimately, class lists themselves are not the problem.

Class lists are not inherently negative – rather, they are a product of the academic culture in which many of us have been raised

Undoubtedly, the British education system tests its students far too much. Academic success has become more about a number on a piece of paper than nurturing well-informed and well-rounded individuals. It is no wonder, then, that mental health difficulties are rife among students – myself included – who are trained to place such enormous weight on academic achievement. Class lists are not inherently negative – rather, they are a product of the academic culture in which many of us have been raised.

Take, for instance, that classic pro-class lists argument that ‘this is what real life is like’. Deemed obsolete by many, it is an argument that does in fact touch upon a very real issue for Cambridge students. To gain a place at Cambridge, the ability to thrive in the face of academic pressure is almost a prerequisite. For many of us, class lists are what real life has been for so many years.

I do not believe that working to eradicate class lists is the most productive use of our combined efforts. Making class lists redundant may appear to create a healthier university environment, but in truth this simply masks the real problem. Eliminating unhealthy attitudes to learning that we have developed through years of overly-rigorous testing does not eliminate these attitudes themselves.


Mountain View

Our studies should amount to more than the grade we achieve in exams

To truly overhaul our learning environment, our efforts have the best effect when they are channeled into the conversations we have on a day-to-day basis and into the way we view our own academic achievements. We must focus on calling each other out on the unhealthy ways in which we talk about our exams, the grading of a supervision essay, or how we call ourselves 'lazy' or 'useless' for a mere afternoon of much-needed relaxation.

To make a real difference, we must try our utmost not to engage in this kind of rhetoric. Only then will we truly begin to recognise that our grades are the product of our best efforts to balance work, health, and happiness. This is how we will foster an environment in which our self-worth and our grades are not linked – where class lists could be used as a tool for healthy academic competition, not viewed as a source of dread.

The real, more necessary goal is reaching the point where we know that the few pieces of paper stuck outside Senate House only reflect one aspect of our lives at Cambridge. When we achieve this, they will no longer hold the power to control our sense of self, whether we opt in or opt out.