An unamed Corpus student has been censured for referring to a group of state school students as “commoners.”
An email condemning the comment was sent to the entire college last Wednesday from Neil McLynn and Peter Nellist, Corpus’s Senior Tutor and
Tutor for Admissions respectively. The email called the student’s views
“incredibly disheartening.” According to the email, their comment was,
“along the lines of ‘Oh look, they’ve let the commoners in…’.”
This remark was overheard by a teacher accompanying a school group
on a Year Ten Taster Day as part of the Oxford Pathways programme, which works with academically able students from non-selective state schools with little history of student progression to Oxford.
The news comes in the face of the University’s bid to increase applications
from state school students, who made up only 57.5 per cent of Oxford’s
acceptances in 2012, through a number of access initiatives.
The email sent to members of the college also said, “The school students
were naturally upset by the comments and we are saddened that this incident was their first impression of a college which prides itself on being friendly and welcoming.
“One of the aims of the day is to dispel many of the myths surrounding
the University and to demonstrate that Oxford is committed to recruiting
students based on academic ability and potential, irrespective of social,
educational or financial background.
“Whilst we cannot, and would not, expect everyone to support Oxford’s
outreach efforts, we would kindly request that, in future, all visitors are
made to feel welcome.”
In a joint statement, the Tutor for Admissions, Senior Tutor, JCR President Patricia Stephenson and Access Officer Jeni Clack expressed their disappointment at the attitude shown by the student concerned. They said, “The Corpus JCR, Fellows and Staff are saddened by this event, and wish to emphasise that the remark does not reflect the wider opinion of the College.
“We pride ourselves on our diversity and being a welcoming community.”
They also emphasised that “Corpus Christi places great importance on
the efforts it makes to widen access,” adding, “Feedback received from our visitors described the Taster Day as ‘inspiring young minds’ and in particular thanked the [undergraduate Subject] Ambassadors for their contribution. We believe comments such as these truly reflect the efforts the Corpus community makes towards widening access.”
A number of students at Corpus articulated their surprise. NamPhuong
Dinh, a Corpus first-year said, “I cannot think of a single person I know in
college who might have said that – and this is a conclusion shared by several other Corpuscles I have spoken to.”
She added, “I personally think that the person who said it might have
meant it as an ironic joke (in the way that Overheard at Oxford would cause outrage if you do not go to Oxford, with all our Northern and wealth remarks), although it does not make it justifiable, especially in that particular situation.”
Alex Rankine, another Corpus student, commented that the incident
“does not mean that most students think this, or even for that matter that the asinine student him/herself really believes it. It certainly does not mean that Corpus contains a greater number of students subject to lapses in taste than any other college.”
In response to the events at Corpus Christi, an Oxford University spokesperson said, “Oxford University takes its commitment to widening access very seriously, and it is hugely disappointing that the unfortunate and unrepresentative comments of a few people might have the effect of undermining the substantial work taken on by the collegiate university to encourage students from all backgrounds to consider applying to Oxford.”