The decision taken by fellows of St Hilda’s College to end their 113 year stint as an all-female college was not one that was taken lightly, or one that passed without comment. Between 1993 – when Somerville first admitted men – and 2006, when the governing body at Hilda’s voted in favour of the same decision, the college existed as a curious entity in the Oxford collegiate system: the only all-girls club in town.
St Hilda’s has always enjoyed a reputation as an extroverted college. Their ‘work hard, play hard’ ethos is one of the main facets of college life that is emphasised to potential applicants, but how much did this change with the decision to admit men from October 2008? Over half of St Hilda’s undergraduates questioned in 2006 believed that accepting a mixed cohort would be a mistake, but have boys adversely affected the college? Hilda’s, unsurprisingly, has traditionally enjoyed a strong reputation in women’s sport, has this been diminished over the last two years? And finally, how are those pioneering males getting on? Is their participation in sport hindered by their limited numbers?
Fortunately, it seems that sporting life has, if anything, benefitted from the acceptance of men. The men themselves, benefitting no doubt from camaraderie and stoicism in the face of adversity, have excelled in almost every sport. Will Pembroke, JCR Sports Rep, told Cherwell that at times it can be frustrating playing for St Hilda’s. Despite winning their football division without dropping a point, Pembroke remarked on the struggle to get enough players for all the various teams and his annoyance at forfeiting matches, even against teams which Hilda’s were sure to beat. He went on to add that, in his opinion, the reputation of St Hilda’s as a all-females college, may have a negative impact on prospective applicants as they believe the college has no male sports teams.
When quizzed on the affect of men on the performance of the women’s teams, the answers were both uniform and positive. Despite the reduction of the pool from which to select female athletes and the slide of the college’s women’s 1st VIII six places down the women’s divisions in the last two Summer Eights, all those questioned believed that having men at the college had increased sporting participation. Indeed, Will Pembroke, men’s 1st XI captain, is adamant in his belief that the capacity to share equipment and coaching has made both men’s and women’s teams stronger. The reason behind the decision of those in charge at St Hilda’s to go mixed was to try and restore a college they thought was flagging in comparison to its rivals. If this was their aim then, in sporting terms at least, it seems they have been largely successful.