I don’t really care about whether or not the Black Cygnets’ predilection for chasing girls dressed as animals was harmless fun or degrading barbarity, but one thing about it does actually irritate me. Colleges are so paranoid about tabloids getting their hands on evidence that Oxford students not only drink, but even, just occasionally, have a tasteless sense of humour, that they are willing to dean, suspend and actually fine students guilty of little more than making themselves into objects of general ridicule.
I’m not endorsing whatever was done that was so terribly offensive, of course. But you have to wonder who colleges are actually representing when they punish students for moral laxity, now that forging undergraduates into sober, Godly little scholars is no longer the central goal of tertiary education. Colleges are small enough that genuinely nasty or offensive behaviour is hard to get away with. Sanctions do little more than force an air of musty Victorian outrage onto the issue.
But what really grates is the way Oxford is singled by the tabloids as if our drunken antics were any more bizarre, offensive and amusing than what goes on at other universities or even, dare I say it, among adults. I’m quite sure that the most offensive, vomit-slicked mess ever to stumble out of a crewdate pales in comparison to a Friday night pretty much anywhere else in the country. Oxford is, after all, a place where ‘Oh god, I’ve done no work’ means that one has been spending only daylight hours in the library. And yet, the simple fact that this university was founded in twelve hundred and something somehow means that a student passed out in black tie is worth printing.
Colleges should stop panicking so much about what gets printed. People love a story about invariably posh Oxford students staggering about bloated with port. But Oxford’s reputation was never built on its morals, and isn’t going to suffer because someone got photographed dressed up as a pig in drag or throwing up off a tower. If people want to laugh, let them have their fun, and us ours.