Pembroke JCR is being driven apart by in-fighting following the collapse of a JCR meeting described as "abusive" and "out of control".
The JCR Committee were forced to hold an emergency meeting to address the issue, which has revealed a serious rift in the College’s community.
OUSU Rep Chris Thursten described Sunday’s events as "a big shock".
"The meeting was a complete shambles," he said. "It got very abusive very quickly. There’s a group of third-years who don’t like the JCR Committee and don’t like the way the JCR’s being run. There’s a them-and-us situation and we don’t want that. We didn’t realise it would fly out of control like it did."
Thursten added that he believed social differences could be to blame for recent hostilities. "They don’t like the President because he’s northern and a bit left-wing and they don’t like me or the rest of the Committee either, and they make that known. It’s like being back at school," he said.
Conflict arose due to confusion over whether or not the JCR was a political body. A group of third-years led by Adam Tozzi and Robert White claimed that in their first-year a motion had been passed stating the JCR was strictly a welfare body, a claim which the Committee were unable to substantiate at the time because the minutes for the meeting had been lost.
An anonymous Pembroke student described how Sunday’s meeting broke down as students started using abusive tactics to make themselves heard.
"The debate was really, really heated and really, really angry," he said. "Tozzi and those supporting the motion behaved despicably, I think they’d been drinking already and they started being quite confrontational to the President. The worst thing that happened was that Tozzi repeatedly called Chris Thursten a "cunt". He was being really vicious, it wasn’t at all like banter among friends. Chris just got up and walked out because he couldn’t accept what was happening."
Tozzi defended himself against the allegations, saying, "Thursten says I called him a ‘cunt’ but I don’t remember saying that. I did call him a ‘greasy twat’. We both exchanged swear words. For this I have already forgiven him, and I hope in turn he can forgive me. The debate was not meant to be personal, but issue based. It sadly turned into quite rowdy affair with both sides trying to outshout each other," he said.
Thursten complained that this was not the first time that the group of third-years had caused problems for the JCR, claiming that Tozzi and his friends are facing action from the Dean for defacing photographs of freshers pinned up in the JCR, a claim which Tozzi denies.
"I was admittedly in the group who were there, so guilty by association. But I’ve heard nothing from the Dean, and neither have any of that group," he said.
Second-year Pembroke student Hadrian Ainsworth said he felt both sides were equally to blame.
"There were unfortunately a couple of third-years who failed to realise that being offensive only serves to turn opinion against you, and that failure to express yourself without insult suggests only stupidity. The President also showed a serious lack of foresight by attaching his name to a political motion in the first week. Last year’s President had the decorum to neither put forward motions, vote on motions, nor debate them publicly," he said.
The meeting was supposed to be followed by hustings for various JCR positions, but these never took place.
"They [Tozzi and White] left and the meeting crumbled: we were supposed to be having hustings but they didn’t happen because the meeting just fell apart, so now those positions are vacant," Thursten said. "The entire committee was furious and a lot of freshers were very confused, stuck in a fight between second- and third-years."
It was finally decided that a further meeting would be held to vote on whether or not the JCR should be a political body.
JCR President Chris Bennetts expressed his hope that the Committee would be able to resolve the situation. "I’ve agreed to work with all those concerned with a view to reaching a compromise which suits everyone," he said.
He denied that the JCR was suffering from serious divisions. "It’s great that we can have heated debates and reach a democratic conclusion; that’s healthy and does not represent a ‘rift’. It’s the job of me, as President, and of my committee, to make sure that everyone can have their say. We did that at the meeting on Sunday, and we will continue to do that," he said.Thursten added, "We don’t want them kicked out of the JCR, we just want them to respect it. I’d just like to have a co-operative JCR who don’t end up screaming at each other."