Wadham appears to have decided against enforcing a gender quota on its 2018-19 University Challenge team, after some suggested the idea would be “patronising”.
The college initially held mixed trials for the team over the last three weeks, but when the number of female-identifying attendees was seen to be unexpectedly low, they introduced female-only trials.
However, as the all-female trials were poorly attended, the Wadham SU committee then considered positive discrimination to balance the gender of the team.
It was suggested in the SU meeting that a woman should be placed on the team, even if they did not perform well enough to place them in the top four entrants – perhaps allowing women who made the top six to be in the team.
According to the minutes of the meeting, Jack Wands, Wadham SU President, suggested that a woman should be put on the team, saying: “When we were invited to enter a team we were encouraged to represent the institution as a whole”.
However, others argued this would not be a fair method for either male or female students. One student said: “We should run a team on a meritocratic basis or submit no team. It would not be good for the welfare of the woman entrant to be there knowing she was let in to fill a quota. This is national television.”
Another added: “It would be embarrassing and maybe tokenistic that the team was not selected on a meritocratic basis if this affects performance.”
A majority of committee members voted in support of a motion stating that Wadham would put forward an all-male team if a female applicant failed to make it into the top six entrants. The ultimate decision on whether to field an all-male team will be decided in a women-only vote at the next SU meeting.
Greg Ritchie, one of the social secretaries, told Cherwell: “I think quizzing, like darts and snooker, tends to attract more men than women.
“It is bad when an all-male environment deters women from applying. To this end, I think we’ve done everything reasonable in our power to encourage a diverse team that reflects Wadham, such as ensuring trials were advertised on the women’s Facebook group and holding women-only trials.
“As Wadham SU agreed, putting a woman who isn’t of the necessary standard on the team is not fair on other contestants, the woman herself, or the wider movement for gender equality in University Challenge.”
Verity Babbs, who attended the women’s trials, told Cherwell: “Having the women-only trials was an excellent idea on the part of the organisers, as it was noticeably a different vibe to a previous trial, where I had been the only woman.
“I think the extra trial was encouraging for women who might have felt intimidated to go to previous mixed trials.”
Babbs added that she did not resent the decision against positive discrimination: “I don’t think anyone would be comfortable feeling like they were on the team only to fill a quota space – I think the idea of a quota is patronising to the women who took part in the trials.”
Last month, St Hugh’s was criticised for fielding an all male team in the 2017-18 edition of the television show. Critics of the college, including the pro-vice-chancellor of the University of Brighton, questioned why a male-only team was being fielded by a a college that was formerly all-female.
On the programme, presenter Jeremy Paxman joked: “On the basis of tonight’s team, we could be forgiven for thinking they [men] had rather taken it over.”
The college also faced complaints related to the selection process which was believed to be unfair, as one of the team members selected had not taken part in the college’s internal competition, but was chosen because he was rumoured to be a “good quizzer”.
One unsuccessful female applicant for the St Hugh’s College team said: “It feels like the ‘application process’ was irrelevant.
“As a woman who initially applied, I was pretty gutted to not even be asked about it and only found out who had been picked when they went to do the recordings.”
Update (13/11/17): An earlier version of this article was updated to clarify that a final decision on a quota will be made by an all-women vote rather than by the SU social secretaries.