Exeter’s Hall boycott ended this Tuesday after two and a half weeks of students not eating in Hall. The boycott ended officially at an open meeting held between students and senior management, including the Rector and Deputy Bursar.
MCR and JCR students had been boycotting to protest Exeter College’s £840 per year non-redeemable catering charge. However when asked, “Should the JCR end the ongoing Hall-Boycott upon the close of Tuesday’s Open Meeting?”, 111 voted “Yes”, with only 49 voting to keep boycotting Hall. JCR President Richard Collett-White explained the situation: “Following a referendum on Monday, the JCR will no longer be boycotting hall.This should not be viewed as a sign of resignation – on the contrary, many students are keen to make their discontent known through other means of protest in the coming weeks.”
His remarks were echoed by one second-year, “We had the boycott because despite repeated calls for College to talk to us like adults about the high living costs at Exeter, specifically the Catering Charge, they were simply ignoring us. I think most of us felt like the boycott was the only way to make College take us seriously, once they agreed to an open meeting, calling off the boycott was a gesture of good will and willingness to negotiate as well as a relief for many in college who’ve found it difficult practically.”
College’s decision to agree to an open meeting was met with widespread positivity throughout the JCR. Sam Perkins, a physics and philosophy student at Exeter, said, “The Open-Meeting in itself symbolises real progress for Exeter, and the College’s emphasis within the meeting on the present situation being a ‘state of negotiation’ strongly suggests that we should be able to work towards a solution to the problem.”
This sense of progress was echoed by Matt Stokes, a fourth year linguist, “The boycott was never going to lead to direct change in a short period of time. We were right to end the boycott in the way we did: it received a clear majority in the referendum, and it’s better to have a decisive end than it petering out as people start to go to Hall, or even worse to descend into JCR in-fighting about when it ends. It was important to end it before the end of term as momentum would be lost over the holidays and finalists especially will be far less willing to boycott Hall next term.”
However, many students were unhappy with the meeting itself. Collett-White told Cherwell, “The open meeting was largely a chance for the JCR and MCR to discuss a meal-plan proposal with College, but it quickly broadened out into a Q&A session regarding the catering department in general. Although it is encouraging that dialogue is now open, most students left feeling disappointed and unimpressed by the answers they received: they did not seem persuaded by the claim that the college could afford no better.”
This view was mirrored by Stokes. “It was a shame that so many of our questions seemed to be brushed away, and that perfectly acceptable ideas – such as opening Hall up beyond the student body, as Balliol does for example – were openly disregarded. Some claims made by college – for example, that a donor would never possibly give money to cover our chocolate fondants – were unsubstantiated and occasionally patronising. I was also quite shocked to see the Rector laugh off the serious point that in ten years we will be donors to Exeter College, and are unlikely to be the most generous, and also the admission by one student, supported by others, that we feel we cannot advise people to apply to Exeter, and may even warn them against it, because of the cost of living.”
The student behind the Twitter account ‘@TheBursar’sReply’, who asked to remain anonymous, commmented, “We’re glad that the open meeting occurred, and that negotiations are now ongoing. However, as ever, the tone of certain members of Exeter’s staff was at best patronising and at worst simply rude. I hope that when questions were answered with ‘we’ll look into that’, these issues are actually pursued rather than ignored because they have been suggested by students.
“A room full of passionate, angry students was a great sign of support and a show of the general feeling of the student body even when the boycott has been called to an end. This is not an issue that will disappear, and the Governing Body of Exeter must now work hard in negotiating a mutually beneficial outcome.”
Focus has now turned to the beginnings of negotiations between Exeter College’s senior management and representatives from both the MCR and JCR.
One student told Cherwell, “We need to make sure the momentum isn’t let off college even if we aren’t boycotting. We can organise more protests and keep speaking to tutors who are often sympathetic to our cause.
“Now that our profile has been raised, it may be time to start putting pressure on alumni, donors and the incoming Rector. There’s always our 700th Anniversary Founders’ Weekend in April for a sit-in and protest. More radical suggestions such as mass non-payment of battels have been suggested, but I think that would be mistaken as we’re just starting to make progress.
“I don’t see us storming posh dinners in hall, chapel services or the Rector’s Garden Party, but that relies on College continuing to engage with us.”