The “concession” made by the College follows an unsuccessful motion brought to the JCR last term proposing that high table at formal hall should be abolished.
In an email to second years about the event, JCR President Marsha Sudar wrote: “I’ve asked that there be no SCR presence.” She subsequently commented that “to keep things on the safe side, no one will sit at high table”.
This is despite the fact the JCR motion to abolish High Table, put forward by Olivia Arigho Stiles and Sarika Sharma, two second year historians, did not pass in the JCR in Michaelmas. The motion proved heavily controversial, with most students opposed.
But the proposers of the motion are still keen to continue their campaign, and see this decision as a step forward. Arigho Stiles said: “While we will of course continue our efforts to ensure high table is abolished in College altogether, this decision represents a small but positive step forward in the fight to remove this elitist and unpleasant anachronism.”
Sharma supported this view, commenting: “The lack of inclusion of high table at Halfway Hall was a very pleasant surprise. Our JCR President has made this decision in keeping with a casual, celebratory event of togetherness such as Halfway Hall, which is a victory indeed, if unofficial in nature.
“Despite the defeat of the motion I am happy to say it has had an impact and provoked thought and discussion which I hope to see reflected in wider University culture.”
Jonny Lawrence, a first year student at the College, said that he agreed with the motion, despite the fact it was “overwhelmingly defeated”.
He commented: “I think the abolition would foster a feeling of equality between SCR MCR and JCR, as we would all be sat in an equal fashion and it would have created a much more equal feeling among College. However, it was thought amongst the JCR that it would show a lack of respect for the high staff members.”
He added that he understood the views of most students, saying: “I do agree with the idea that high table shows respect, I just feel that it creates a less equal and friendly atmosphere as the various CRs are split across the dining room.”
JCR President Sudar, however, emphasised that the nature of the Halfway Hall event meant there was no need for high table: “No one will sit at it as it’s a celebration of us all reaching a halfway point in our degrees. There’s no reason for anyone to be differentiated from anyone else.
“I know that many second years are really looking forward to the opportunity of celebrating a noteworthy part of our degrees together,” she continued. “It should be a wonderful evening. We’re really thankful to our College staff for being so supportive of our idea.”
Arigho Stiles was also enthusiastic about the College’s decision, adding: “I’m absolutely delighted there will not be high table at Halfway Hall. After the explosive debate our motion caused on the issue of high table at Somerville, it’s brilliant that the College is making this concession.”
She encouraged students from other colleges to get involved, saying: “I also urge students from all Oxford colleges to lobby their JCRs to abolish high table as this remains a message that extends beyond Somerville, and concerns the University and student body as a whole.”
PHOTO/ Phil Allfrey