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Night porters: Student safety jeopardised at University College

Your college matters. It can define everything – from the state of your accommodation to the quality of your tutoring. At University College, it also determines how safe you are. We remain one of the only colleges not to have Porters in our Lodge at night. This presents a very real and present danger to the safety, security and welfare of our College community. 

Objections have been raised multiple times over. We’ve had a series of JCR motions, challenged College, and, as you may even remember, published a Cherwell article in October. Each of these attempts has clearly failed, but I am trying one last time to make it known to the student population just how indefensible this current situation is. 

I was inspired to write this article by a project I undertook over the Easter vacation. I got in contact with my fellow Welfare Reps at as many colleges as I could in order to find out how Night Porters have helped their students. The number of submissions was substantial, and I’m grateful to everyone who contributed. While each of the over 30 statements represented a ringing endorsement of the necessity of Night Porters, a few stood out in particular. One student stated how the porters were substantially helpful, even going so far as to find them a room for the night, after a friend made them feel extremely uncomfortable while staying overnight. Another student, having experienced a serious medical emergency, noted that they would have risked significantly more severe illness, or even death, had the Night Porters not assisted. Finally, one response recalled someone who was being chased down the street by an attacker and was only kept safe due to the Night Porters’ intervention. 

The message of this report, which I will also be delivering to College shortly, is clear and unequivocal. It is certain that incidents across Oxford have occurred,and will continue to occur, where Night Porters were essential to providing first aid, welfare support, and generally protecting the safety of students. If any one of these incidents had taken place at University College between the hours of 11pm and 7am, the outcome could have been significantly (or even fatally) worse. 

Most strikingly, the college defibrillator remains in the Lodge overnight, and is thus inaccessible at short notice. However, I should note that we’re hoping to make some progress on this in the coming weeks. 

My deep fear is that our college is simply hoping that nothing will happen. I’m confident that almost every student at University College would agree that the current system—simply phoning the Oxford University Security Services in case of emergency—is both inefficient and often unhelpful. Most importantly, it doesn’t come close to providing the service that Night Porters at other colleges consistently do. 

To me, this whole situation only suggests that University College are not giving sufficient consideration to student welfare. Unfortunately, my suspicion is that the failure to implement Night Porters is the result of their unwillingness to spend the necessary funds. I know that this saga has already begun to harm the College’s reputation, and to be honest, long may it continue. I hope, if anything, that through this article it becomes clear to the student population that ours is a College that doesn’t show appropriate care for the safety of its community. 

My message to College is simple – stop hoping something won’t happen, and take real action to ensure that it doesn’t.

When asked to comment, a spokesperson for University College told Cherwell

“University College has two resident caretakers and three resident Junior Deans at its main High Street site. It has one resident caretaker and two resident Junior Deans at its annexe. Caretakers and Junior Deans are on-call overnight.

“Overnight, the Lodge phones divert to OUSS, which manages all calls and contacts on-duty resident staff who respond as appropriate.

“OUSS will assist any student who has locked themselves out of their room overnight.

“Should a fire alarm activate, college caretakers and OUSS staff are alerted immediately. Between 2200 and 0800 the Fire and Rescue Service are also alerted automatically and will attend the College.

“First aid kits and the AED are accessible to on-duty resident caretakers 24 hours a day, who will support students appropriately. In the event of a medical or other emergency then, as under previous arrangements, students should call 999. Then, if asking emergency services to attend college premises, students may ring OUSS so that a resident caretaker or other member of college or university staff can provide any assistance that the emergency services may require.

“All students have been made aware of these arrangements, and the College has agreed with the JCR ad MCR that it will review them at the end of the academic year.

“Univ remains committed to the safety and wellbeing of its students and staff.”

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