Life Divided: JCR meetings

Julia Routledge and Abby Ridsdill-Smith go head to head on the topic of college democracy

There might be free pizza there - but are JCR meetings really worth it?

For JCR meetings

By Julia Routledge

The barons of 1215 cleaved to Magna Carta. The Convention Parliament presented a Bill of Rights to James II in 1689. The Victorians were propelled towards widespread suffrage by successive reform acts. And here in Oxford, we too have our own laudable democratic marker – the JCR meeting. “But it’s a pointless forum for pointless debate which belabours pointless issues!” I hear you clamour. “The one good thing about it is the free food.”

Not so – although, admittedly, the promise of Domino’s pizza and lukewarm beer does possess an astonishing power to lure even the most anti-democratic of students to convene on a Sunday evening.

But the JCR meeting is so much more than a beacon of light for an impoverished undergraduate deprived of sustenance for a full three hours since welfare tea.

For a start, where else would you be able to pore over such a diverse array of motions? Into the cauldron of the JCR meeting are sprinkled liberally all the different spices of college life. Motions range from the more serious questions about access and welfare to controversial disputes about the state of the JCR coffee machine, and one particularly memorably occasion at Merton, during which the purchase of an expensive brand of organic, ethically-sourced and vegan detergent elicited ferocious debate on both sides of the argument.

Such awe-inspiring moments are sure to go down in the annals of democracy. The JCR meeting is a humble creature. It does not aspire to greatness and never seeks to be anything it is not, but it is always reliable and there to offer refuge – and on a bleak winter’s evening, that might be exactly what you want.

Against JCR meetings

By Abby Ridsdill-Smith

It’s the Facebook posts which reel you in: repeated demands for quorum on the college noticeboard, desperate offers of increasingly extravagant free snacks and the latest hundred motions for the night to come.

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Filled with a mysterious combination of fatigue, hunger and intrigue, you hit the JCR – and immediately realise the enormity of your mistake. It’s the smell which hits you first. There’s something unique about it: an unusual pairing of hot pizza, the occasionally cheeky beverage and that almost imperceptible undertone, the hidden fragrance of despair.

Emanating from the hollow-eyed committee members responsible for half these motions, it is only added to by the anguish which various thesps bring, as they continue to try to bolster drama funding.

If this experience could be worsened any further, you’re crammed in the JCR with every other person who’s decided that tonight is the night for a wild one (at the JCR meeting) while stuck to a slightly old and peeling chair. Most likely, your phone’s out of charge and you’re metres from the nearest available exit – that’s just how it works.

As for the motions themselves, do I need to tell you how boring they are?

By the time we’ve discussed the pros, cons, intricacies, constitutional amendments, images and best way to present the motion in the minutes (should colour be used? Comic Sans or Times New Roman?) then we’re already two hours into the meeting, with another 15 motions left.

It’s times like this when I really wish I hadn’t checked my Facebook: democracy is all well and good, but evenings of stale chat and pedantry don’t present it in its best form.