Oxfeud: a site of hatred, or a place for the unheard voice?

‘Keep the submissions flowing, and have fun!’ – such is the bizarre language through which a festering site of resentment and anonymous verbal assaults is promoted. The purpose of the Facebook page ‘Oxfeud’ is one that has confused me since its noxious conception. Is it ‘fun’? Rarely. Harmful? Very easily.

During recent weeks, JCR members of my college, St Catz, have been involved in various anonymous attacks against one another, some ad hominem and remarkably vicious; the posts have precipitated wrangles, leaving in their aftermath bitterness and consternation at the inability to locate their murky origins. Oxfeud has – hardly unsurprisingly – created a platform allowing for the dissemination of the language of hate without responsibility. However – whilst I cannot condone activity on Oxfeud – as some have pointed out, it has perhaps been illuminating in bringing to light the anger of those who cannot be as vocal as others elsewhere (although sundry other motivations are also surely present); it is a forum in which anonymity offers all voices an equal chance to be heard. St Catz has traditionally prided itself on inclusivity – and what the Oxfeud posts concerning St Catz seem to do is challenge such complacence.

Oxfeud has – hardly unsurprisingly – created a platform allowing for the dissemination of the language of hate without responsibility.

St Catz is home to students of varying ethnic backgrounds, with many international students choosing to apply to the college due to its self-promotion as ‘diverse’ and ‘welcoming’. Whilst my own background is somewhat complicated, put briefly, I am an international student from Japan. However, what with my accent (a result of having attended primary schools in London), I believe many would be taken aback by how strongly my Japanese background colours my own sense of identity; whilst much of my selfhood has been shaped by my experiences in the UK, I am appreciative of and constantly conscious of the Japanese aspects of my character. However, this awareness is also tainted by various encounters with ignorance: “I’ve never considered Asian people to be particularly attractive”, or conversely “He’s interested in you – he always hits on Asian girls”, “Why do you have so few Asian friends?”, a supposed mimicry of ‘Asian’ eyes by pulling at the outer ends of one’s eyes, and catcalls in shabby imitations of Mandarin. All (bar the last) are comments or gestures which have been directed at me by members of my own college; yet it is hardly a comprehensive account of the prejudices that I, or so many BME students, encounter on a regular basis.

Last term, an internationalism-themed entz (a biweekly bop) intended to conclude Catz International Week – which I (the international students rep) and our BME rep had planned upon taking place for two terms – was threatened with cancellation due to concerns of cultural appropriation and the difficulties of rendering it entertaining. Admittedly valid arguments – but so was our desire to celebrate our cultural diversity.

However, in light of past prejudiced or insensitive responses towards my racial background from other Catz members, the reader may be able to understand why, in a committee consisting dominantly of Caucasian members, I conceded defeat; with none immediately intervening to assist me in defending my cause, I was assailed by mistrust, apprehension, disappointment at the possibility that the opposition of a single Caucasian person could be shared by the rest of the group (admittedly hegemonising on my part, but surely an understandable fear). I feared opposition or apathy verbalised – and so later backed down, smiled, and expressed pained gratitude for being allowed to host the pre-entz entertainment.

The experiences and perspectives of minorities can be suppressed

I am not at all attempting to launch accusations of racism – it is not within my right to coerce an unwilling entz rep into deciding upon a certain theme, and I do not know if his reluctance had other unmentioned bases; neither do I intend to garner sympathy for myself, when the BME rep was much less demoralised than me by the obstacles posed to us. What I instead wish to illustrate is that, in the face of such adamant unwillingness to consider involving cultural celebration in one of the most popular events in college (despite our suggestion of various solutions), I felt that the voices of myself and the international and BME community were not being heard, that our desire for a space to celebrate our diversity was being disregarded. It has been an isolating and even alienating experience realising that a college willing to host a ‘Pride’ entz was not similarly able to celebrate the diverse cultural backgrounds of its members. However, my disappointment stems less from the fact that the International Entz did not take place – it originates more from the fact that we felt that our ideas and opinions were being disregarded and dismissed as insignificant. Even in a college that I have loved being a part of and that prides itself on inclusivity and openness, I felt that my voice could not be heard – whether that be because no one was intervening to openly support me and the BME rep, because I was silently recalling the sickening disappointment of past negative experiences involving my racial identity, or because I was a Japanese girl faced with someone failing to understand how significant cultural celebration in an entz-setting would be.

I have long wanted to write an article based on this experience, but constantly avoided doing so out of apprehension and a sense of insecurity. In currently struggling to admit how insignificant I felt – my voice representing that of so many of my fellow international students was brushed aside, although I of course cannot pretend to be able to speak for every individual – I admittedly do understand why some might be tempted into anonymous expression; I fear criticism in response to standing up for what I feel is right, for attempting to do my job of campaigning for international students, all of which could be diverted away from me by concealing my identity. However, whilst I can therefore attempt to understand the desire for obscurity, to hide behind a (phone) screen of anonymity is nonetheless an act I cannot express sympathy for, most likely whatever the motive. The expression of ideas involves responsibility; to attempt to evade this responsibility is unfair and reckless. Tongue in cheek, may I suggest that those tempted to send submissions to Oxfeud in futurity instead redirect their rant to the OxStu Comment section instead?

To witch-hunt and point fingers can hardly be productive at this point, and would perhaps further drive the unnamed authors of the submissions into a further inability to openly express themselves in the future. Whilst it is difficult to draw a line between cowardice and a real need for a place in which to be heard, it is so easy for a voice to be muffled and unheard by others for whatever reason. What Oxfeud is doing – in spite of its various abhorrent qualities – is to offer St Catz and the university at large the opportunity to reconsider the notion of ‘inclusivity’ and the dangerous implications of creating an environment that is not conducive to the equal expression of various ideas.