For the record, I love Eddies. There’s nowhere else I’d rather be spending my one year at Cambridge- though this is more a case of luck than choice. I applied for my Masters without selecting a College preference; this was partly out of spontaneity, but mainly because I actually knew very little about any of the Colleges! I remember feeling completely out of my depth as I sent off my application in late 2018.
That same year marked 100 years since the first women were given the vote in Britain. The past century has seen remarkable advances in women’s emancipation; equal pay legislation (1970), legal rights to abortions (1968), criminalisation of marital rape (1991)… the list goes on. The relentless, and often unrecognised, hard work of women across generations- of every nationality, class and race- has made the world a better place for women in 2020. Without a doubt there’s been a huge amount of progress in a relatively short period of time, yet it would be a mistake to think our work is complete.
I ran to be the Women’s Officer at St Edmund’s in November last year because I believe there’s so much left to do, even within our own community. In a College that’s weighed heavily towards male students, that’s hardly surprising.
I didn’t imagine myself at largely male College, nor indeed one for mature students, but it’s undeniably enriched my time here; my days of club nights and bar crawls are long behind me at the ripe old age of 24, and luckily, my friends are in the same boat. Yes, occasionally we’ll have a few too many glasses of wine at a formal and end up in the giant Spoons in town, but more often we’ll head to the CR or pub for a pint, or watch a new Louis Theroux documentary in the Mount Pleasant Halls common room.
This certainly isn’t every student’s idea of fun, especially those experiencing university for the first time, but for me it’s perfect. Most people I’ve met here have studied, worked or travelled before coming to St Edmund’s, bringing with them an eclectic mix of experiences, stories and identities.
When I asked friends what they knew about St Edmund’s before I arrived in September, the responses I got were ‘friendly’, ‘international’, and ‘great bops’. Having been here for almost 4 months now, I can confirm that these stereotypes are in fact completely true.
I’ve made friends from all around the world during my time here, from Germany, the Netherlands, India and the US. Our multinational student body isn’t just tolerated here, it’s celebrated. Just last week our International Officer held a celebration for Chinese New Year, where students of all backgrounds came together to share dumplings and learn about the festival. I may be biased, but I truly believe that in many ways, Eddies is the most diverse College in Cambridge. My friend Ollie, the current LGBTQ+ Officer, summarized this perfectly in his election manifesto:
‘At Eddies, we celebrate individuals for who they are. Coming from a conservative background in South Africa, buying a beer from a bar with a great big pride flag on the one wall and a trans flag on the other is what I would call liberating…’
And yet, the reality is we’re still in a position to need an LGBTQ+ Officer. We still need a BME Officer, and an International Officer, and yes, a Women’s Officer too. Our College may be inclusive, but it’s also a microcosm of wider society. There are sexist attitudes that continue to prevail, around sexual violence and women’s safe spaces and other issues that are the daily realities of many female students. And of-course, it is often those with intersecting identities who receive the most hostility.
I was shocked when, during my first week at Cambridge, my degree was mocked, even laughed at, by certain students who simply couldn’t see the worth in Gender Studies. Yet this prejudice comes from a place of ignorance, and following conversations with me and others who had overheard, those same students came up to apologise over the next few days. If anything, I was glad that these exchanges had taken place- even though I’d been frustrated and hurt at the time, what followed was a space that opened up a dialogue, made people rethink their own assumptions, and pushed me to run for Women’s Officer. I feel privileged to work with such talented and hard-working students on the CR, who somehow manage to balance their committee roles with their studies. I love that there’s always something to go to, or people to chat to in the bar, or someone to cycle to rowing practice with.
To end with a cliché, St Edmund’s may not be perfect, but it’s perfect for me!