Oxford etiquette: BNOC

Student Life

The question of how one becomes a ‘Big Name on Campus’ (or BNOC, an initialism irritatingly reminiscent of a label for prescription medication) is always a fraught one, but especially so at Oxford, which, as part of its characteristic institutional excess, has not one campus but many, such that it is only the most truly determined and ruthlessly efficient social climber who can safely claim to be a ‘big name’ on all of them. Oxford is a diffuse, multifaceted, maddeningly complexly-arranged establishment, and one would need a kind of superhuman sociability, or at least several clones and/or identical twins to pull of the insane task of becoming a BN on every college C.

Nevertheless, the fact that much of college life is dominated by certain charismatic figures within the student body is undeniable. Everyone has their own equivalents to that superhumanly friendly welfare officer, or that charming if slightly odd fellow who hangs around the library at three in the morning, always willing to lend a hand to those experiencing yet another essay crisis, or even that lovely young gentleman who sees it as his duty to provide free condoms to absolutely everyone, societal taboos be damned. They are the glue which holds together the overworked, overstressed, underappreciated mess that is student life. Without them, we would doubtless descend into a pool of over-educated bickering and soul-crushing ennui, and we are all extremely lucky to have them.

So, you may be wondering what the proper etiquette is when dealing with these BNOCs. At least, I hope you are, or it renders the Etiquette column somewhat redundant. One must bear in mind that, despite their seemingly superior social status, they are ordinary students too- they deal with stress, deadlines and unsatisfactory faculty canteens, the same as the rest of us, so one must be careful not to make unreasonable demands of them. Beyond that, simply engage with them on a human level as you would any other student, and you won’t go far wrong.

Behind every Big Name On Campus, there are a thousand smaller names, each of them just as important.


ILLUSTRATION/ Thomas Barnett