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Hugh's in booze walkout

St Hugh's JCR vote unanimously to boycott formal hall in protest at new alcohol restrictions
Jack Andrews on Sunday 16th October 2011
Photograph: Lauri Saksa

Frustrated members of St Hugh’sCollege JCR have unanimously passed a motion to “boycott formal hall until further notice” in response to the price hike and new alcohol restrictions reported in Cherwell last week.Tuesday’s Formal Hall was attended only by MCR members and college fellows, as all undergraduate students complied with the JCR’s decision.

There was a high turnout for Sunday’s JCR meeting, and the resolution, proposed by JCR President Victor Greenstreet, was passed after just 15 minutes of debate. An email was sent to all JCR members on Monday morning informing them that “it is now JCR policy to advise its members not to attend Formal Hall.”

The proposal came after Greenstreet had voiced his concerns to the Dean, Bursar and Catering Manager but had received no offers of compromise other than the possibility of an end of term review. Under the implemented changes St Hugh’s Formal costs £10.40 and include two glasses of wine or fruit punch. Further drinks are prohibited.

St Hugh’s student Joseph Williams described these measures as “patronising changes to the system without any consultation”, reflecting the JCR’s anger at the college’s alleged unwillingness to engage in serious debate about the matter.

Greenstreet described his meetings with college authorities as“cordial”, but added, “It was made clear that the changes to Formal Hall were still going ahead.” He said, “The motion is a symbolic expression of the JCR’s opposition to the changes, which individual members are free to disregard but will (hopefully) follow.”

He also stressed that it is still individuals’ free choice whether they wish to attend, since ticket sales are not controlled by the JCR and remain available to undergraduates.

The JCR stated that the college’s explanation for the changes is that they are designed to “enhance the quality of the experience for everyone present, and to address the issue created by a small number of students bringing excessive amounts of alcohol into Formal Hall and thereby creating difficulties for the serving staff.”

However the JCR also points out that there was no disciplinary action taken against any student regarding Formal last term.One undergraduate commented, “College should ban rowdy members of the college from attending Formal rather than dampening the experience for everyone.”

Another argued that the college were persecuting those who did not drink wine, stating, “I don’t think that charging an extra £3.15 for two glasses of fruit juice is an acceptable penalty for non-drinkers.”

Another student claimed that St Hugh’s was treating its JCR members “like juvenile delinquents”, suggesting that “Formal Hall should be about camaraderie, college solidarity and upheld tradition rather than a bland restaurant imitation.” Clemmie Shott tried to provide a degree of perspective on the issue. She said, “To charge £10 for a Formal ticket for the privilege of eating mediocre food and drinking two glasses of wine seems absurd.”

JCR members hope that the move will force the college to reopen consultation and will prevent a term of Formals being wasted. One student remarked that the threat of boycott was “probably the only chance to change the situation”.

A former JCR President said, “It has shown to the college that theJCR is prepared to take action and I am sure serious discussion between college personnel and JCR representatives will follow.”

St Hugh’s College itself was not prepared to explain its reasoning when approached by Cherwell this week. The Dean, Peter Mitchell, said, “My colleagues and I have discussed the issues you mentioned with the JCR and MCR Presidents. I have no further comment to make.”

The St Hugh’s MCR president Solomon Pomerantz declined to explain why the MCR chose not to follow the decision of the college’s undergraduates.

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