Ninety years after the first women joined Oxford University, a Cherwell investigation shows they remain significantly under-represented as Presidents of our JCRs. Gathering the names of 200 JCR presidents from the last ten years, it appears that only one third of PresCom members have been female. A comprehensive survey of the last fi ve years (150 presidents) shows that 32% were women.
Partial data since 2003 suggests much the same story. This year, 11 out of 30 JCRs have elected female presidents. The lowest number of recorded JCR presidents was in Michaelmas 2011, when only 7 of 30 JCRs had female presidents, less than one quarter of PresCom.
However, the data also suggests the situation may be improving. In 2009, there were 8 female and 22 male JCR Presidents, but by 2012 this has risen to include 16 female presidents, the first year in the university’s history that the number of women outnumbered men. Rachel Jeal, Lincoln JCR President, suggested there may soon be equal numbers of men and women. “There does not feel like there is any gender based distinction in character (who is more vocal, for example) among the Presidents.
Whilst in the past it may have been male dominated it is very quickly evening out, and is more a case of personality that determines who stands for president rather than gender.” Despite the apparent increase in the number of women across the university, the data does highlight certain colleges which do not follow the trend.
Balliol, which has admitted women since 1979, has not elected a female president since 2005. In 2007, Hannah Lochead served as president – however, she was not elected, taking over after the death of a male president. Speaking to Cherwell, Alex Bartram, Balliol’s current JCR President, said “Judging by the make-up of PresCom, Balliol is not the only one to have this problem. I’ll be honest, however you look at it it’s a bad situation and it needs to change. I should make clear that it’s not as if women don’t play a very big part within the JCR; indeed, the current JCR Vice-President and Treasurer are both women. But clearly something’s going wrong somewhere.
“The (Balliol) JCR, unlike most JCRs, has two dedicated Women’s Offi cers to highlight the fact that inequality still exists, which I think is important.
“I’ll encourage women to run for Committee positions and for President, but it’s difficult to see a quick fix and condescending to suggest that there ought to be one.”
It is a similar case for Keble, who have not had a female President for eight years. Sean Ford, Keble’s JCR President, commented that the lack of female presidents was a “real shame” but stated, “all I can say is that we run fair and open elections and if you look at the broader committee then there is a much more of a balance with 9 out of the 18 members being women.”
St Catherine’s, despite being one of the first colleges to allow women entry, has not had a female JCR President in the past five years. At LMH, although one of the past six Presidents was female, she resigned her presidency due to personal reasons, and was replaced by a man. LMH’s JCR president, Jonathan Chapman said there “is no notable reason” why LMH has had no recent female president.
Chapman told Cherwell, “Given the brevity of the period, it seems to be an coincidence. The current JCR Executive is split 50:50 between men and women… I am sure this presidential anomaly will change in the future, especially given the historical and continued pro-equality stance our College takes.”
Nevertheless, one LMH student commented, “Even though the Vice-President at the moment is a woman, it often feels like the JCR Exec is male dominated. It might not be the case statistically but it does feel, to me at least, like women are in the minority when it comes to college politics.”
St Hilda’s College, which was the last women’s college to admit men in 2008, saw male JCR presidents elected for two years after it went mixed. Caroline Rogers, the JCR’s Women’s Officer, commented, “One of the reasons that St Hilda’s remained a single-sex college for so long was out of a desire to ensure that women would receive the same opportunities as men – five years on, these statistics prove that the gender imbalance continues to be striking among JCRs”
Many students have argued that women remain underrepresented across Oxford. At the beginning of 2012 there was still a gap in the number of female and male students attending the University overall, with only 45% being women (compared to 56% nationally in 2011/12). The numbers for undergraduates, postgraduates and research students are 46%, 45% and 42% respectively.
Although 48% of Oxford staff are women, 59% of administrative and support staff are female. One quarter of academic staff are women. Meanwhile just 20% of all professorships are held by women.
Gender differences also surface in a finals gap: in 2012 32% of men obtained a fi rst, compared with 26% of women. University reports into these differences have shown that this gap varies by size each year, but a gap persists. A proportion of the difference is attributable to subject choice, since fewer women study those subjects in the sciences which award the highest proportion of firsts (e.g. Engineering, Maths, Physics).
In some subjects – Biological Sciences, Geography, Modern Languages – the advantage has swung from male to female and back again over the last 12 years or so. In others, there has been a consistent male advantage.
Rapid change has occurred in one area however. In 2012-13, 40% of University Council members were female, up from just 29% in 2010.
The investigation also reveals that, despite recently facing criticism for a lack of black and ethnic minority (BME) undergraduates, minority students are well represented as JCR presidents.
By researching the ethnicity of all JCR presidents since 2008, Cherwell can reveal that the number of minority presidents closely reflects their number within the University. Of the 150 JCR presidents since 2008, 21 were non-white – 14% of the total number. This exceeds the intake for domestic BME students in the University, who make up 13% of undergraduates.
Oxford has frequently been criticised for failing to admit more BME students from the UK.
In 2011, David Cameron branded the University “disgraceful” for taking “only one black person” as an undergraduate in 2009. It later transpired that in fact this fi gure only referred to Black Caribbean students. There were actually a total of 26 students in the 2009 intake who identified as black, causing the University to brand Cameron’s comments “incorrect and highly misleading.”
The University still receives frequent criticism for the university’s relationship with minority students. In Trinity term of 2013 Cherwell reported that two first year students had attended a bop at St. Hugh’s having blacked up as ‘Niggas in Paris.’ At the time, the African Society President Melvin Mezue commented that “such acts are not uncommon around the University.”
However, it remains unclear what proportion of JCR Presidents across the whole five years are British BME students, rather than international students from ethnic minorities.
According to the data collected, a breakdown of JCR presidents for Michaelmas 2013 suggests that British BME are underrepresented as JCR presidents this term. Of the 30 undergraduate colleges, only three have minority JCR presidents, or 10% of the presidents. However, only one of these presidents is a British student. There are also two white, non-British JCR Presidents.
Indeed, some students have suggested that the number of ethnic minority JCR presidents is due to the high number of international students who are JCR presidents, not British BME students. One second year PPEist suggested, “The number of minority JCR presidents is probably due to international students. This isn’t surprising – a lot of international students went to private schools, and it’s private schools which dominate Oxford’s extra-curricular scene anyway.”
Speaking to Cherwell, David White, a former Pembroke JCR President said, “Looking as Prescom itself can be diffi cult as there is a very small sample size, only around 30 people, and perhaps things should be looked at on a college by college basis.
“I would say that on behalf of Pembroke, our JCR Presidents over the past few years have been diverse both in terms of race and gender. As long as each college elects who is best then it doesn’t matter who they are. The key thing is that everyone has the opportunity to run and to be fully supported if they are elected – there should be no prejudice in the whole system. As a British Ethnic Minority student I felt I had the full support of Pembroke throughout my time as President, and didn’t feel like my minority status gave me either a noteworthy advantage or disadvantage.”
The University has repeatedly stated that it makes great eff orts to ensure ethnic minority students are well represented in the University. According to its equality policy, “The University embraces diversity amongst its members and seeks to achieve equity in the experience, progression and achievement of all students and staff through the implementation of transparent policies, practices and procedures and the provision of effective support.”
Speaking at his Oration last week, the Vice-Chancellor stated, “It is only by having a fully diverse workforce, where people are appointed and promoted solely according to their merits, that the University can achieve the very best in teaching and research.”