The Merton College JCR president has raised concerns at a college committee meeting about the majority of students saying grace at Formal Hall being male.
Jules Desai told Cherwell: “It only came about because I was sitting at formal with some friends and no one could remember hearing someone non male read out grace.
“Investigation into the college bylaws revealed a bylaw which dictates the specifics of who reads grace (which isn’t followed at the moment since it is inconvenient).
“After raising with college, they were receptive, are now aware that the situation could be regarded as an equality issue, and are open to the possibility of amending its bylaws should a competent and sensible proposal be submitted.”
Currently the Merton bylaw reads that only “the senior Postmaster or Exhibitioner present or (if there is no Postmaster or Exhibitioner present) one of the Fellows [can read grace]”.
However it is generally accepted that any Postmaster or Exhibitioner can be selected, not necessarily the most qualified.
Female Postmaster at Merton Olivia Williams told Cherwell: “I think this is all about internalized sexism.
“As a female postmaster, I have been asked to do Grace on more than one occasion, but have always said no because I wouldn’t know how to pronounce the Latin, and wouldn’t want to stand up in front of a room of (mostly white male) people with knowledge of the proper pronunciation who would know when I got it wrong.
“Merton as a college is very receptive to issues of Equality, and has in my experience been very quick to address problems students feel are important – for me, this issue is more reflective of the fact that today, white males from private school backgrounds are far more likely to have learnt Latin at school.
“I believe that college are going to run a drop in session for all those eligible to read grace so that all those that want to are able to, and I think this is the best solution.
A second year classics student from Merton said: “I have heard women saying grace fairly often but it still certainly isn’t an equal balance.
“It’s probably more a product of how the reader is chosen by the hall staff (they tend to approach people that they know have read before) than it is discrimination.
“Added to that the idea of reading out loud in Latin in front of the whole hall if you’re not confident; as a result the group of people who have read aloud in hall is fairly small in number.
“It doesn’t seem to be an issue that would be hard to solve in that staff could be directed to have a balance of male and female readers.”