The random ballot system used for college marriages at Trinity has come under fire for being “antiquated”, “heteronormative” and contributing to “oppression”.
According to a meeting agenda posted on the College JCR’s website, from Trinity Term, “the Fresher Marriage Ballot will be drawn” at a meeting in 3rd week. The system sets up “arranged marriages”, in which one name of a man and one name of a woman are drawn from a hat and paired.
The JCR post acknowledges the gender-binary nature of the system, pointing out that in “the majority of cases, in a very heteronormative way, men will be paired with women”. It confirms that College marriages between men are rare, stating that “there are slightly more men than women and as such there will be one marriage of three men”. The author of the post is unclear.
One Trinity student told The Oxford Student: “In Trinity we are not allowed to choose our spouses. The process is: towards the end of term when it comes for the College children to be allocated families, there is a marriage ballot. The whole event is peculiar and antiquated.
“What happens is that there are two hats on a table. Each hat contains the names of all the freshers of one gender. The JCR president then picks a name out of one hat and matches it with the other. And there you have it, an arranged marriage.
“As you can see, the whole thing isn’t exactly LGBTQ-friendly nor does it take into consideration of how we, the freshers, feel,” they added.
The JCR claims that the system means nobody feels excluded by the process. On this, the student speaking to the OxStu says: “This is supposedly meant to bring College families closer, but what ends up happening is you get paired with someone you either don’t know or haven’t spoken to, or actively dislike. So you can imagine the treatment the children will get in those cases.”
NoHeterOx co-editor Annie Teriba criticised the system, saying: “I recognise the attempt to make sure everybody is included in College marriages; they can certainly be a social minefield as a fresher, but beyond recognising the bourgeois construct of marriage, we needn’t buy into its heteronormativity too.
“I’m firstly concerned by the implicit suggestion that non-binary and agender people do not exist and secondly, by the incessant need, it seems, to gender all aspects of College life. I guess whoever is responsible probably didn’t mean it but then that’s how most oppression works isn’t it. As a suggestion, maybe just pick some names out of a hat?”
Another Trinity student commented: “I think although the system was designed to promote fairness, it’s unfair for new freshers to have parents who don’t know each other and so are very reluctant to socialise or organise family dinners.”
“Ultimately, it means that the college parents system becomes useless because when parents feel awkward about seeing one another they rarely make time for their college children.”
In a statement, JCR personnel at the college said it was “in no way the intention” of the system to be heteronormative.
“We accept that the titling of the ballot as a ‘marriage’ unfortunately has the potential to be interpreted as heteronormative. However, this is in no way the intention, nor is there any aim to be exclusionary,” said President Eleanor Roberts and Equalities Rep Celia Stevenson in a joint statement.
They claim that the system gives everyone an “equal stake in the ballot regardless of sexual orientation”.
“Furthermore, the random nature of the sorting process ensured that everyone is included in the ballot, and no one is excluded. Potential for feelings of exclusion are not limited to LGBTQ students, and could affect students who disagree with marriage as an institution in general.”
Roberts and Stevenson admitted that “retitling may be a future possibility to avoid suggestions of exclusion.”
They added: “With regards to the claim that the ballot can lead to welfare problems because parents who are forced into marriage will quite possibly… lack the inclination to spend much time with their college kids and thus be poor parents: responsibilities for ‘parents’ are not huge; while they may not be friends, this in no way entails that they will be unable to work together or that they will make poor parents. It is advantageous if ‘parents’ can co-ordinate together to provide advice to new freshers, but they are not ‘forced’ to do so. Parents are entirely able to fulfill their roles independently.”
Roberts and Stevenson hit back at their critics, arguing that “the assumption that welfare issues might arise from a ‘bad’ combination of parents is heteronormative itself, as it assumes that two parents are better than one.”