St Benet’s Hall has taken in its first mixed gender cohort of undergraduates this week, after deciding to admit female students in 2013. Previously, the last college to go co-educational was St Hilda’s, admitting men in 2008.
Female graduate students were admitted in 2014, while the Permanent Private Hall awaited separate accommodation to become available to house new female undergraduates. New facilities were deemed necessary, due to the six monks who are part of the Hall and live on site.
St Benet’s, which has just under 50 undergraduates, has now acquired a second site next to University Parks, allowing for the completion of its co-educational admissions this year.
JCR President Samuel Hodson commented, “Having already accepted graduate women, I am delighted that St Benet’s is welcoming undergraduate women to the Hall this year. Everyone is excited to be extending our unrivalled sense of community to the new members; things are well underway with women making up half of the undergraduate intake this year.”
Until 2012, the master of Benet’s was always a Benedictine monk, and the hall retains a monastic prior and a chaplain, both of whom are monks. Students do not have to be Catholics, but all are asked to be supportive of monastic life and values.
Enthusiasm for the occasion extends throughout the Hall, with the Senior Tutor, Dr Santha Bhattarcharji, telling Cherwell, “We are all delighted to be welcoming our first mixed undergraduate intake, and everything seems to going well so far.”
Kelly Carleton, the student Women’s Officer at the Hall, told Cherwell, “The St. Benet’s ethos is one of community and egalitarianism, so it has been exciting to continue this spirit in welcoming undergraduate women this year.
“This is an historic moment for the Hall, and yet I have been pleased with how natural the transition has been. I am looking forward to seeing where this integrated student community leads St. Benet’s in the future.”
Alice Gent, one of the nine female freshers at Benet’s, said, “I Googled it and I was terrified. I looked at it and it was all male until this year, it’s got a history of being incredibly conservative, it’s got one of the highest numbers of Bullingdon Club membership and I was like ‘I’m a left- wing leaning female young person, I’m going to hate it’. I honestly thought I should go to Durham instead.
“But it’s so much more welcoming than other colleges, I’ve got a friend at another college and they’ve only hung out with the freshers. But ours is so small, you communicate with all of the years. There’s so much more mixing, with postgrads as well.” Eleanor Lambert, another first-year at St Benet’s, said, “all of the 18 undergrads are living in their own building in Norham Gardens, so it’s kind of like being in a house with 17 other people.
“I had a quick tour before my pooled interview, and the guy kept saying that it wouldn’t be a typical Oxford experience, and at the time, I just wanted the typical experience. Actually, the nice thing is it’s small enough that everyone knows everyone.”