Blessed are those with a democratic JCR.
For those not in the know, JCR stands for ‘Junior Common Room’ and in a Durham context stands for the student representative bodies that control events and administration in our colleges, supposedly opportunity for all. Supposedly.
I am from a Hill College, and am friends with people from other Hill Colleges (naming no colleges specifically), and there is a large consensus amongst those I know that JCRs are essentially corrupt. Granted, my crowd and I are not your big names on campus or your crazy party people; but there in lies the problem. The sad truth is; if you aren’t a member of HMS Popularity Parade, fat chance of you having any influence over your college’s administration.
If you are any of the following; shy, introverted, a non-drinker, have trouble making friends, don’t go clubbing – or any myriad of reasons that means you’re not a ‘big man on campus’ – it doesn’t matter if you’re Einstein, you have no place in a popular JCR. My advice if you’re keen to get involved in something but aren’t a campus celebrity – choose carefully and get in there early; because once they figure out who you are (i.e. not a member of their clique) you will no longer be invited. This is what I have discovered.
Here is a story of themes of which I’m sure will be familiar. Last year, I applied to be a model at my college’s fashion event. I’ve done lots of modelling in my life, so I was definitely qualified. My first red-flag of incompetent administration came from the fact that they wanted us to put our clothing sizes on a public Google doc on Facebook – Hell for anyone with insecurities/mental health issues about their weight or body. But I soldiered ahead, comfortable with my size, despite being minimum 2 sizes bigger than everyone else. I’ll admit I was less comfortable on the big night itself when, in the changing rooms, all other models were laughing and getting pictures together without once asking me, whilst I tried to squeeze myself into clothes for a size 6 as they clearly hadn’t provided for me (note: I wore my own clothes instead, which were frankly nicer). But I must admit – the night itself was a huge success, and maybe I’m not a supermodel in stature, but I was sufficiently popular when I tore pieces of my clothes off onstage and stomped the runway in my huge, shiny heels. I was living as the only plus-size woman on that stage.
This year, I reapplied, with an application based on diversity and the power of modelling – and surprise, surprise, I was rejected. Apparently there was limited spaces and I just didn’t fit; I had my application in 20 minutes after they opened.
I’m not friends with the people who run the JCR, I don’t drink for fun and will only have small amounts under peer pressure, and I don’t like clubbing. This is probably not a coincidence. Especially as it is one story of many.
I’d love to say this sort of thing won’t happen again, but it will happen again and again. We all know that the majority of people who run, campaign and vote in JCR elections are all part of one big group of friends, who pass the baton on through the years to the next generation of popular party-goers, and the next. I suppose in some ways this is a preparation for the injustices of life in general – the best opportunities and offices passing from on elite to the next.
But similarly, this is a great injustice. So much talent is lost because it is non-conformist; it is introspective, alternative, different – it doesn’t fit into the woodwork of extroverts, clubbers and popularity. Much of humanity’s best achievements have been pioneered by people who don’t accept the status quo. Another great many achievements have been pioneered by those mental health issues, of which there are a great many sufferers in Durham. This is not an environment for the shy, different, and mental health sufferers to thrive. It is a shame therefore that some of Durham’s greatest talents could recede into the background in this socially un-diverse atmosphere.
Read our follow-up article, containing the views of students in responses of the issue, here: