I realised the extent of inter-college rivalry even before I even arrived at Oxford. On a tour around my college, a current student announced, “all the colleges are pretty much the same, but we’re the best”. It’s a ridiculous statement for any intelligent person to make, but I ignored it – maybe they were a lucky wildcard who’d got in through their inane suckuppishness alone. Nobody with more than 360 UCAS points would be able to deal with that cognitive dissonance, surely?
Now, I’m no stranger to the meaningless competition that goes on in educational institutions – my school made desperate attempts to get students participating in its House system, prodding and probing the pupils who weren’t contributing heartily enough to pre-existing racial, sexual and class tensions. But the great thing about my school was its complete apathy. It was intensely difficult to make us care about which fake team we belonged to.
When I arrived at Oxford in freshers’ week, I was immediately confounded by the exclusive ethos of the initiation pub crawl. Instead of competing with the whole world to down the most drinks, new and old students alike banded together in their little college groups, huddling around each wine-adorned table as if to protect it against the other college’s drinking teams. We each had our own island, and across the oceans of non-affiliated drinkers between us, we regarded one another with cold, sectarian glares, occasionally breaking out into chanting our colleges’ names.
Most of the time, inter-college rivalry is pretty silly, but sometimes, really stupid things happen, like when St. Catz declared war on Magdalen. Let me recap on that one: St. Catz declared war on Magdalen. Not having visited either college, all I know is that St. Catz has infamously ugly (i.e. ‘modern’ in Oxfordese) buildings and Magdalen has a bridge and a tower. Are these not the only differences? The only way it could be more daft is if St. Hilda’s made an alliance with one of the two sides by passing a motion in their JC- oh, wait.
They’re just enjoying uni life, you might say. But is there no other way to enjoy it than making the whole institution cringe? You can gather the true state of things from the number of American tourists you overhear asking “Is this building the university?” – nobody outside of England even knows that Oxford is collegiate! What Oxford’s suffering from is a bad case of split personality disorder – it’s a lot worse on the inside, but occasionally we, embarrassingly, let it show.
If you think that this isn’t a serious problem, consider this: the rumour is that the death toll between students at Trinity and Balliol is at four people. I don’t know where that rumour came from, or whether it heralds from a time when Trinity and Balliol were separate Old English nation states and everyone carried swords, but I know I don’t want to die for Oriel. Sorry.