The President of Somerville, Dr Alice Prochaska, has confirmed that there will be no shark at the Ball. Although the College emphasised that, “The Somerville-Jesus Ball is a student-organised and student-run event” and that, “the organisers had been very concerned in their plans to ensure animal welfare and safety was paramount,” they stated that, “Somerville College has nonetheless decided that it would be inappropriate to have a shark at the event, and the College authorities have asked the students to cancel the plans.”
They added: “Neither the students nor the College would countenance any kind of mistreatment of any living creature.”
This follows action taken by alumni of the college, who wrote a letter to the President, asking her to, “please use your authority to prevent any live animals from being used at the ball”. Claire Phipps, who graduated in 2011, and Matthew Hawkins, who read History, wrote the letter, which was signed by ten others.
In it, they stressed that they would not be attending the Ball unless it was confirmed the committee would not go ahead with hiring the shark. They also threatened to encourage others to boycott the Ball.
However, upon hearing of the College’s decision not to go ahead with the shark, Phipps expressed her elation: “We are delighted that Somerville College has led by example and made the right and ethical decision – although it is concerning how long it took for this decision to be reached. We were extremely grateful and heartened by the response shown from current and former members of College. We wish the Ball Committee best of luck with the final preparations for the Ball and hope everyone has a great time”.
Hawkins also praised the decision: “It’s fantastic news and it sends an important message.” He added: “From the response that we had it is great to see that the mainstream view is increasingly that nature is not just ours to play with”.
Concerns about the shark were first raised when a poster advertising the Ball bore the legend Ginglymostoma Cirratum, followed by, “you should really go look that up.” “Ginglymostoma Cirratum” is the Latin name for the nurse shark, prompting Ms Phipps to contact Sam Levin, the Chairman of the Ball Committee, to confirm whether plans in fact involved the live animal.
Most of the criticisms centred around concern for the shark’s welfare and the ethics of using an animal for such entertainment.
Others also complained that it was a waste of money, citing the £110 ticket price. Rebecca McKie, a second-year CAAH student at Somerville, commented that they were, “charging a bloody FORTUNE for tickets in order to pay for their stupid shark.”
She added that it, “makes me ashamed to be at Oxford when people think it’s acceptable to behave like this. Somerville is a liberal and caring college, and this makes us look like a bunch of rich elitist twats.”
Chrissie Doran, another Somerville student, agreed, saying: “I thought the idea was pretentious, extravagant and just plain stupid. It just confirms all the negative stereotypes people attach to Oxford, that it has so much money that it doesn’t know what to do with it. Nobody I know who heard the idea said they thought it was a good one. People were either shocked, outraged or said they didn’t really care.”