By James Rothwell
A failed JCR motion to introduce a “women’s empowerment” scheme at Jesus has sparked allegations of sexism towards its female students.
The motion, which would “mandate the women’s welfare officer to hold an event related to the topic of empowering women”, was defeated due to a lack of a majority verdict.
But some students claim an underlying “culture of sexism” at the male-dominated JCR is also to blame.
English and French student Natasha Frost, who was present at the meeting, said: “I was really upset by [the outcome]. The Jesus JCR is an incredibly male-dominated arena that frequently behaves in a way that is downright misogynistic.”
She added: “It’s not surprising that virtually everyone who voted it down was male, in the context of the kind of ‘laddish’ culture that is encouraged at Jesus.”
One 2nd second year student, who wished to remain anonymous, also said the meeting was indicative of “anti-feminism at Jesus”.
“The motion was only voted against by two women,” he said, “and the rest were men. The meeting was also generally very heated with personal attacks being made on the JCR president and a lot…of shouting down women for being ridiculous.”
When contacted for comment, JCR President Tom Rutland said: “The meeting was certainly lively, but I would not say that only female members of the JCR were being shouted down, although there was a rather horribly ironic moment where one female member of the JCR was shouted down whilst complaining that it was a problem, thus proving the point she was making rather well and at that moment I intervened to point this out.”
Rutland added: “As the person who proposed this motion, I supported it and hoped that it would pass. Women are under-represented both within the JCR and across the university on Common Room and Society committees, and I believe that this is a positive step our JCR could take to address this issue internally.”
When asked about the issue of sexism at Jesus JCR and elsewhere, he said: “Jesus is renowned for its friendliness, and any problems of sexism are limited, but still absolutely unacceptable. I would not say that this is a problem limited to Jesus JCR, but that the pervasive ‘lad culture’ has a really insidious effect on debate and participation across the university, and even the wider student body across the country.”
Rutland has subsequently announced a referendum on the motion, in the hope of gaining a majority verdict on the second attempt.
But not all opposition to the original motion came from male students.
Danielle Zigner, a former JCR President who opposed it, said: “The issue with the motion proposed is that it asks us to enforce the women’s welfare rep to run these workshops in future years. Several female JCR members have expressed the view that this is not what the welfare role is about, and that some candidates suitable for welfare support would feel uncomfortable running for a position that asked them to take a stance in favour of positive discrimination.”
The motion’s verdict was 22 votes in favour, 14 against, and 4 abstentions.
Zigner continued: “Last year Jesus introduced an Equal Opportunities committee into its JCR constitution, which is supposed to consist of representatives for all those groups in college who feel that they are under-represented and in need of support. As the person who introduced this committee I personally feel very disappointed that not one of the women fighting so passionately for this constitutional change has seen it fit to step up to the role of Women’s Representative.”
2nd year Sarah Gashi said she had never experienced sexist behaviour towards her personally.
However she added that “there is a certainly a gender imbalance in the JCR and it’s essential that steps are taken to rectify that.”
“Ultimately, I absolutely support the women’s empowerment motion, but I do not think, as suggested in the motion, that it should be the welfare officer’s job. I would also say that the wording of the motion itself wasn’t as clear, perhaps, as it could have been and I think that was another reason people may have voted against it – not because they are sexist.”
It is not the first time Jesus students have had problems with what is “very much a minority in the JCR, albeit a sexist one”, according to one student.
It is understood that two male members of the JCR have been disciplined for inappropriate behaviour towards a female student on the college’s annual “Doxbridge” trip.
During the trip, the two male undergraduates reportedly gained access into a female student’s room and urinated on her clothing, as well as her front door, as part of a prank, according to several students who wished not to be named.
Rutland confirmed that he was aware of the incident: “Although I did not attend the trip, I am of the understanding that such an event did occur, and that the Dean has dealt with the individuals responsible.”
Jesus college Dean Armand D’Angour said: “This matter is under investigation and is being taken very seriously by college.”