In a victory for proponents of greater equality at Oxford, Merton College has voted to reorganise the way in which disabled, female, LGBTQ and ethnic students are represented.
The motion, proposed by Tanvi Mehta and Will Bennett, was passed unanimously by the college’s JCR and completely overhauls the pre-existing structure for the representation of student minorities.
It removes the positions of Equal Opportunities Representative and International Students’ Representative from the JCR committee, replacing them with representatives for Gender Equality, Disabled Students and Ethnic Minority and International Students. They will collectively sit on a newly formed Equality Sub-Committee, with an LGBTQ Representative, and ensure equality of opportunity along with the prevention of all types of discrimination at Merton.
Tanvi Mehta, one of those who proposed the motion, stated her aim as making the college more inclusive. She said, “Merton is already incredibly open-minded and welcoming, so I feel like this motion only creates a more intuitive and clear structure to maintain that environment!
“I proposed the motion partly because it’s hard for a single Equal Opportunities rep to be involved in/attend all the relevant Equality Campaigns or meetings and it therefore makes sense to expand the team of people working on equality issues. But it’s also because we felt that a single individual isn’t really able to be representative of the various different groups that come under the purview of Equal Opportunities, because they sometimes don’t have an understanding of the issues that all these groups face.”
She added, “With the Equality Sub-Committee, we’re also aiming for better representation of different groups on the JCR committee, and by extension, better representation within the college and University.”
The motion has met with the approval of the college JCR president, Christian Ruckteschler, who took an active role in drafting it. He stated, “in my opinion this reform has the potential to greatly improve the effectiveness of equality representation and advocacy at Merton-both with respect to students and to college. The next few months will show whether this hunch was right”.
The other proposer, Will Bennett, was optimistic about its impact, commenting that it would achieve, “better representation of minority groups so that people who feel discriminated against know who to go to, and feel their voice matters. Merton and other colleges need to get more involved with these issues, seeing that although we are 900 years old, the issues that matter are the ones which are changing the dynamics of the student body today”.
However, he acknowledged that there might be some problems with the new arrangement, terming it “cumbersome”. He stated, “This need to maintain a fluid approach to the difficulties of representing a diverse student body is emphasised in the JCR’s minutes, which state that “maybe in 10 years, we’ll have to change the reps again to redefine them for that generation”.
Interest within the college did not match the proposers’ enthusiasm, however, with one Merton student commenting, “As a fourth year who’s never been particularly interested in the JCR, I can honestly say I couldn’t care less about any motion discussed in that most tedious of bodies.”
With the exception of this Merton dissenter the move has met with almost unanimous praise with Charlotte Hendy, the OUSU Vice President for Welfare and Equal Opportunities, stating “I fully support the motion brought by Merton JCR regarding changes to membership of the Equality Sub-Committee. Increasing the range of student representation on committees directly affecting student experience is always welcome. This move particularly so, as by allowing students with direct and relevant experiences to represent those with differing needs may mean that we are nearer to acknowledging the true nature and extent of diversity among the Oxford student body.”