"Sexist embarrassment" condemned

A drinking society at St Hugh’s has offered its “most sincere apologies” for invitations it sent out inviting students to a ‘fox hunt’, which had been due to take place this evening. The letter of apology from the Black Cygnets was emailed to the JCR mailing list and addressed to Dame Angiolini, Principal of St Hugh’s College, and college students. It said that the event “will not take place this year or ever again.”

The letter was sent following an emergency JCR meeting at the college on Wednesday evening in which a motion pertaining to the condemnation of the Black Cygnets was passed by a significant show of hands. The motion mandated the JCR to issue “a formal statement of dissociation from, and condemnation of, the Black Cygnets.”

Invitations to the fox hunt were pidged to selected students earlier this week. Women taking part in even were instructed to “pass the following obstacles”, including a set drink to consume at a number of different pubs, with “huntsmen in pursuit”, in order to “evade mauling”, according to the invite.

The letter of apology acknowledged the negative reaction to the invitations by many students at the college and across the University. It stated, “Whilst the theme of the event and the language used in the invitations was clearly in poor taste and could reasonably be interpreted as aggressive, sexually or otherwise, this was not at all reflective either of the intentions of anyone involved or the actual tone of the event itself. The event was wholeheartedly intended to be humorous for all involved and not as a trivialisation of women.”

The letter continued, “Given the grave offense and disgust this year’s fox hunt invitations have caused and in recognition of the role such an event could be seen to play, though unintentionally, in the perpetuation of male privilege, rape culture and hetero-normativity, we have decided to cancel this year’s event and bring an end to this misguided tradition permanently.”

The writers of the letter also alleged, “The rendering of the event, both by the JCR and the student press, presents it as being far more sinister than it is in reality. Although conventionally the two groups in the pub crawl have generally complied with gender division, this is not enforced at the event itself, with male members of the society having run as foxes in previous years and vice versa.

“Additionally, the non-members invited are equally spread across both gender and year group, not selected from amongst first year women. Furthermore the invitation process involves consultation with our friends of both genders, and guests are invited according to whether they would enjoy the pub crawl and not on the basis of sexual attractiveness.”

A statement from the JCR said, “The JCR condemns the Black Cygnets and disassociates itself entirely from this society and its actions. The JCR supports the enquiries of St Hugh’s College to render effective the ban on the Black Cygnets and will support any JCR member who wishes to assist this process in their personal capacity.”

Carenza Harvey, the fresher who proposed the JCR motion, told Cherwell, “I definitely think that similar societies have been allowed to exist and get away with their actions for too long. It is appalling that this sort of behaviour can still take place in a university which is supposed to be a centre of learning and progression – it is this sort of conduct which perpetuates the negative stereotypes already surrounding Oxford.”

A university-wide initiative across JCRs has been proposed by some to tackle the unacceptable sexism present in some of these societies. Some JCR presidents contacted by Cherwell said that their colleges were absent of such societies. Navjeev Singh, President of St Peter’s JCR, said, “St Peter’s prides itself on being inclusive and welcoming. There is absolutely no space for misogyny in this college.” He added, “JCR presidents have been speaking to each other to pool ideas to ensure that these things are eliminated. It should not be an inevitable part of life in Oxford.”

Others emphasised the importance of the role in JCRs in abolishing unacceptable conduct at drinking events. Magdalen JCR President Amelia Ross told Cherwell, “It’s really great to see the JCR coming together to condemn the group. It’s through decisive collective action that demonstrates that these societies, and their behaviour, are seen as unacceptable by a large majority that eventually they will dwindle and disappear.”

However, mixed views were expressed on the possibility of action by OUSU to try to eliminate misogynist drinking events. Jane Cahill, one of the candidates for the OUSU presidency, was doubtful about whether the student union should intervene. She said, “These things aren’t inevitable and students shouldn’t have to put up with it. However, I don’t think the student union should be intervening in cases regarding JCRs and colleges… àJCR Presidents should work together on strategies to tackle these problems, but ultimately it is the colleges who are responsible for the actions of their students and should be disciplining people involved where necessary.”

Sarah Pine, OUSU Vice President for Women, said, “I’m sure the decision to condemn the society was a simple one. Reports of preying on young women, using language of hunting around sex, and rating women through oppressive standards of beauty is oppressive. Some of this behaviour feeds into sexual violence – women’s choices don’t fit into a framework of being ‘caught’ by men.”

She added, “We all have the capacity to act in ways that challenge misogyny. There are OUSU initiatives on sexual violence. We encourage a healthy understanding of sexual consent through the sexual consent discussion groups, which any common room can request.”

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