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Univ JCR condemns dining society’s exclusivity

University College JCR has raised concerns about the ‘Shakespeare Society’, a secret and selective dining society at the College.

A motion condemning the College’s actions towards the Shakespeare Society was passed after discussion at a General Meeting. It was revealed that the society uses College facilities twice a year, once in the SCR, and membership is drawn from JCR members with a senior member present.

The motion noted, “Because it is an exclusive body they are obliged to pay the full external rate”. It also noted that students have recently expressed their anger that “Univ is simultaneously promoting their access work as progressive and innovative, yet condoning the society by offering it the special privilege of the SCR.”

Members describe the society as existing “for the celebration of the arts”. Prior to the motion, the JCR President met with some of the members of the society, in which they expressed their desire to reform the society.

Responding to allegations that the society was secret, a member of the Shakespeare Society said that it was not secret, but, “People just use their discretion in not mentioning it. We are keen to reform this.”

During the meeting, concerns were raised over access, transparency, and the reputation of the College. The motion noted Univ’s progressive work in access; the College won an OxTalent award last year for its access website staircase12.org.

The motion further resolved to “condemn College’s decision to allow exclusive societies use of the SCR” and “to encourage Governing Body to ban the society, in its current form, from using the SCR”.

When quizzed about the selection criteria for membership, another member said, “There isn’t an exact criterion, which is an issue in itself, and is exactly what we hope to change.”

The JCR further resolved to “begin a discussion between College, members of the Shakespeare society and the JCR as how best the society’s aim might be met in such a way as to not be exclusionary.

“The onus will be on the society to prove that a) it can be rehabilitated and b) that is best placed relative to other organisations (Univ Revue, Univ Players, UCMS etc.) to pursue their stated aim”.

It concluded that if the Governing Body were to propose to disband the Shakespeare Society, the matter would be brought to a JCR meeting to debate.

Joshua Richards, University College’s JCR President, told Cherwell, “I am glad that the JCR recognised and affirmed that the Shakespeare Society is a problem in need of a solution. The motion has started a conversation as to how best Univ students’ contribution to the arts can be celebrated in an open and fair way.  

“That is a conversation to be continued by my successor, members of Univ’s arts community, and College Officers. I am confident that they will reach a solution that reflects the inclusiveness of the Univ community.” 

The Senior Member has been contacted for comment.

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