Queen’s JCR has voted to reform the selection process for its “exclusive” dining societies.
In a motion at the JCR meeting held on Sunday, it was argued that the Reginae, Eaglets and Halcyon societies practiced selection processes that were not “conducive to the inclusive atmosphere of Queen’s”.
The JCR President and Committee were subsequently mandated to lobby the College to enforce a ban on institutional and exclusive social societies at Queen’s.
Proposer Michael Coombes pointed out that unlike other College societies, these dining societies are “unable to differentiate participants based on any objective criteria”.
The societies regularly hold socials within College facilities with senior members of college presiding over the event. Senior members also formally recognise the societies as defined institutional groups at Queen’s.
The Reginae dining society is specifically for Women, the Eaglets for men, whilst the Halcyon society is mixed.
Participation in regularly held social events for each society is restricted to those invited to attend.
The motion claimed that “the current selection process of these dining societies is not transparent to non-members and is based solely on the collective, yet subjective, opinions of existing members.”
At the JCR meeting, representatives of the societies agreed that public knowledge of their existence would not be good for access.
When asked why the societies did not feature on the college website, a representative of the Reginae Society commented: “I don’t think it would help James [JCR Access and Outreach Rep] in his access”.
The JCR President, Alfred Burton, sided with the proposers, agreeing that the exclusive societies should conform to the fair selection criteria used by other College Societies.
He insisted that the kitchen surcharge, which is charged to all students at a flat rate, contributes towards these dinners because it contributes towards the salary of the Catering Manager.
Societies are also allowed access to the SCR wine cellar.
A representative of the Halcyon club said that the societies were “private clubs, which are, besides a very tenuous link with the kitchen charge, separate from the Queen’s JCR”.
He pointed out that “the suggestions [the supporters of the motion] have made for a selection process seem to me to be a very good way to run a dining society”, and claimed that they could found their own under these processes if they wished.
He also pointed out that such a motion passing “would only succeed in forcing said society underground, where its members feel no sense of responsibility which comes from being allowed in college and having the supervision of Senior Members of the college”.
“[There are] other banned societies in Oxford which are still very much active and have received terrible accusations in the press”.
Another College society, the Addison Society, had previously undertaken a reform process.
The President, Charlie Troup, argued that the society “is infinitely richer… now that is non-exclusive and works on the basis where everyone can access it”.
The society holds regular speaker events and now has more attendees at their dinners than in the past.
“Now the mere fact that you’ve been invited can no longer be the basis of the experience when you’re dining. This forces the President and everyone involved to always be looking for better and better speakers”, said Troup.
“Now we have to make sure that we keep people engaged and make sure the society is as good as it possibly can be.”
Proposer Michael Coombes said “I’m pleased that the JCR came together to discuss the issue and voted to lobby for reform”, adding that it demonstrated a “commitment to an ethos of inclusion”.
JCR President Alfred Burton remarked that he strongly supports “the proposition that no societies at Queen’s should exclude students on entirely subjective criteria”.
James Colenutt, JCR Access and Outreach Rep, seconded the motion. He said that he believed “that this [reform] is an important step in making Queen’s an even friendlier and more inclusive community, in which everyone feels welcome.”
He praised the JCR for being able to “come together as a JCR and talk about this issue in a fair and reasoned way”.
The Women’s society Reginae has between 15 to 18 members, with the College Dean as the senior member.
The 15-member Eaglets was founded in approximately 1840, and includes members from the JCR, MCR and SCR.
The Halcyon and Reginae select new members through each current member selecting two students to nominate, and then a voting process occurs. The Eaglets select through a system of proposers and seconders, with discussions over each prospective member.