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Christ Church drinking society condemned by students

The Pythic (or “P”) Club, a secretive dining society for students and tutors with a long-standing basis in Christ Church, has been condemned for its past activities by the college’s student body. Consequently, it has not been registered as a society and remains formally banned from meeting on the college’s premises.

The “P” Club, whose membership reportedly once included prominent historian Hugh Trevor-Roper, was reported last year to have held numerous dinners onsite in the college. These were publicised by the college’s Development Office. Students at the college responded vigorously to the report, with meetings held between members of the JCR and the leadership of the college (known as the Censors). In response, the club is now alleged to have attempted to register with Christ Church officially.

Habitually, applications for registration by societies are approved on the day they are issued. However, registration was withheld by the college, reportedly due to its failure to meet Equality and Diversity requirements because of its exclusive nature.

In response, a motion was brought to a college JCR meeting by a concerned member, who sought to both condemn the society as it had existed in the past, and to express the opposition of the student body to the college’s registration. Condemnation of the society came from a variety of sources, including a former JCR President, those involved with both Inreach and Access, and members of the Ball Committee, in an open latter directed at the College’s management within the Christ Church JCR’s Facebook group.

Later taken down, this letter repeated criticisms of the “P” Club raised in the JCR meeting. Dispute revolved around the society’s socially exclusive membership, little known activities and tendency towards preferring undergraduate members from privately educated backgrounds. Members went further by suggesting the exclusive club acted directly against the college’s efforts to promote applications from a wider range of geographic and social backgrounds, including recent joint efforts with St Anne’s to encourage more applicants from the North East.

The club further limits membership for most House members with its alleged price tag of £90 for its dinners. It was also alleged that the society might disadvantage those students excluded from the society by providing opportunities for networking between students, tutors and alumni. A suggestion was made that the continued presence of the society might be made more acceptable if it opened its meeting the rest of the JCR, if they wished to attend.

After the post had been taken down, the JCR President messaged students that “no formal registration of the club had been made”, and that it had been “mutually decided” by the leadership of the College and “relevant parties” that “no application for the P Club to register will be made.”

Inreach Officer Eleri Harry, former JCR Preisdent Joseph Grehan-Bradley and Ball Committee member Milly Lynch were among those who wrote the open letter.

They told Cherwell: “Along with many of our peers, we have always had deep concerns about the exclusive and discriminatory nature of the P Club. Had it been allowed to register, it would have simply been able to continue these practices under official college auspices.

“As such, we are absolutely delighted that the P Club has been banned from meeting on college premises, and that the ties between college and club have been decisively severed. If the club, in these circumstances, chooses to go underground and meet off-site, they would vindicate the student body’s views about its fundamental objectives, nature and bad faith.

“We were very pleased that we were able to give voice to opinions about the club which are held by so many members of our college. We would also like to express our gratitude to the censors, who showed much thoughtfulness and dedication in listening to our concerns.

“Above all, we hope that what we have achieved confirms to all prospective applicants that Christ Church that there is a place for them here.”

A student, who wished to remain anonymous, spoke to Cherwell about the outcome. They said: “The JCR Committee’s discussion demonstrated a deep concern for the P Club’s detrimental effect on outreach and access – a disbenefit that could already be observed.” They went on to say that “there was a clear distaste for the existence of any exclusive society, expressly or tacitly endorsed by the SCR, that contributed to an exclusionary culture and left many feeling like imposters or inferiors. The mere existence of such a society coupled with the limited and restricted knowledge already possessed by the committee was sufficient in raising concern and condemnation.”

However, not all members of Christ Church approved of the JCR Committee’s decision. Three of the members (out of 24) voted against the condemnation in the JCR Committee’s meeting (held by a secret ballot), and several students have expressed their belief anonymously to the author that registering the society would have been a better course of action than condemnation. No members of the “P” Club were willing to comment.

When contacted for a statement, Christ Church responded that “Since 2017, Christ Church has required all clubs and societies using the College’s name or facilities to be formally registered and approved by the Censors. Registration requires clubs and societies to abide by all College regulations and policies, including those related to equality and diversity.”

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