Post-exam trashings cost the University £25,000 a year, Cherwell can reveal.
Security staff were paid £20,000 in overtime in 2017 to control celebrations, while a further £1,881 was spent on hiring barriers to manage pedestrian flow.
A further £3,500 was reimbursed to Oxford City Council, who clean Merton Street following trashings.
A University spokesperson told Cherwell: “inconsiderate, entitled behaviour passed off as ‘trashing’ can damage Oxford students in the minds of the community and the wider public.
“Getting through examinations is a milestone but we urge our students to find ways to mark this which are far less damaging, costly and – frankly – annoying to community neighbours, the City Council and fellow members of the University.”
The University also reiterated that participating in trashing can lead to fines and disciplinary action.
Several colleges have attacked the tradition. Mansfield labelled it “stupid…damaging to the environment, and wasteful”, while Corpus Christi said trashing was “just not classy”.
According to the University’s code of conduct, trashing is banned. Section 3.3, Part 1 of the regulations states: “No student member shall, in any place or thoroughfare to which members of the general public have access within six miles of Carfax, throw, pour, spray, apply or use any thing or substance in a way which is intended, or is likely, (a) to cause injury to any person, or (b) to cause damage to, or defacement or destruction of, any property, or (c) to cause litter.”
Similarly, it is officially an offence even to be “in possession of any thing or substance with intention to [trash]”, and to “gather without the prior permission of the Proctors in a public thoroughfare within 300 metres” of a place where an exam is being held around the time of its completion.
The University also confirmed that it informs Thames Valley Police of locations that trashing is expected to take place.
While most reports about trashings suggest that it started in the mid-1990s, Cherwell can reveal that it dates back to the 1970s.
Reports from alumni suggest that the tradition caused logjams on the High Street several times a term, and regularly led to fines from proctors.
Cherwell has reported on disciplinary offences related to trashings since the 1980s. A news piece in the final edition of Trinity term 1986 said that all students had been sent an official letter from the Proctors “threatening arrest for those who persisted in holding post-Finals celebrations on the High Street”, after the Thames Valley Police said that charges of obstruction and littering would be brought against them.
The then-Junior Proctor, Dr Paul Slack, said: “Twenty years ago, when I was a student, none of this went on. We used to retire quietly to our rooms to drink champagne. The whole matter has got out of hand.”
Similarly, archive photographs show that students have been using silly string and fizzy wine for over 30 years, although the use of shaving foam is more recent.
The word “trashing” has been used since the early 1990s, and in 1996, the proctors described the concept as a “perennial problem”. They said: “it can be offensive and dangerous, and it does the University’s name no good. [The problem is] exacerbated nowadays by the example set by Formula One racing drivers and by television slapstick.”
In 2007, OUSU President Martin McCluskey urged students to tighten their privacy settings on Facebook, after it emerged that proctors had been using social media to identify who had been involved in trashings.
That year, the proctors fined students over £10,000 in trashing-related offences, more than five times the total that had been raised in all fines in the previous proctorial year.
The following year, Oxford pubs banned trashed students from entering the premises, while the Kings Arms banned any student wearing a gown during exam season.
In 2011, the proctors sent an email to all students reminding them that certain substances were “a disgrace, and potentially dangerous”. They said: “No flour, no eggs, no beans, ketchup, let alone rotting food or worse. Rotting food, vomit, broken glass and other items causing litter are simply not what any of us wants to see. They are a disgrace and potentially dangerous.”
The same year, one student was fined £80 for throwing a trifle at a finalist.
Are trashings worth the 25k cost?
In 2012, there were allegations that two members of staff were assaulted outside of Examination Schools by a celebrating finalist, although Thames Valley Police claimed the men “were not injured”.
In 2014, a now-defunct website called trashing.me for trashing supplies was set up. A member of the team said: “[Trashing] is a unique thing about Oxford which makes it particularly special: I do not know of any other universities where people come to see their friends when they finish their exams. Trashing marks the end of your degree, and the beginning of summer and real life – and as such, is a symbolic and integral part of Oxford life.
Last summer, Christ Church Meadow was shut in order to prevent students from trashing each other there. A notice on the gates of the main entrance said: “For the next six weeks, while examinations take place, Merton Gate and Rose Lane Gate will be closed for three hours or so twice a day to prevent undergraduates from ‘trashing’ in Christ Church Meadow, which creates an appalling mess.
“Students have also been causing a nuisance and putting the safety of members of public at risk, hence we are taking this measure to ensure that the Meadow remains a quiet place for people to enjoy.
“We are also liaising with security services of the University of Oxford and the proctor’s office. We apologise for the inconvenience this temporary gate closure will cause members of the public.”