Somerville JCR has voted overwhelmingly in favour of flying the EU flag on Europe Day in May “in order to show the community that we support all of our European members and that Somerville will do all within its power to stand by its founding values”. The motion passed, 39 votes to 1, with 3 abstentions, following a discussion which focused largely on how flying the flag might be perceived.
The motion noted that “Now, more than ever, the Somerville student body past, present and future needs reassurance that the college is committed to the principles of diversity and equality upon which it was founded”.
The notes continued: “The student body has not been vocal enough in regard to recent political changes despite our commitment to access, equality, diversity and inclusion”.
According to minutes seen by The Oxford Student, the proposer of the motion argued that “European students are having a difficult time due to unknown information about the impact of Brexit” and “flying the European flag would not be a political move but a move to show solidarity”.
In response, one student expressed opposition to the motion “because it would be perceived as a political statement regardless of our intentions. Brexit is happening whether we leave this March or not so the EU flag has no place in our society any more”. They also pointed out “we voted against flying the British flag on certain days in a meeting last term so now voting to fly the European flag would suggest that the EU flag is of greater importance to the college than the UK flag which doesn’t make any sense”.
At the last Michaelmas 7th week JCR meeting, Somerville voted decisively – 21 to 6 with 6 abstentions – against a motion to fly the Union Flag for “national days” such as Remembrance Day and the birthday of the Sovereign.
Tee motion’s proposer replied: “a considerable part of this college community are European citizens, it is a valid point that this could be regarded as a political move but a lot of the European community here do not feel supported by their peers and by the college staff so this would be an important signal to welcome and support European citizens”.
On the question of whether the JCR has the authority to dictate flag policy, the motion was subsequently amended to mandate the JCR to “contact the MCR, SCR and governing body to seek support to ask college to fly the European flag on the 9th May”. Another amendment resolved the JCR to “Issue a statement clarifying that this is not a political statement
The amendment still left one student unsatisfied. They argued that “it is a reasonable assumption for people to make that the flag signifies our desire to be part of the EU, I don’t think that we as a college should make any political statement about Brexit, the EU flag is ultimately the flag of a political organisation”.
Another student made the point that “the flag of Europe is not just the flag of the EU as it represents the European Council and the council of 47 states which the UK is not leaving”. The Council of Europe is a separate international organisation which seeks to promote human rights.
Someone also spoke to dispute the notion that flying the EU flag was a political statement, noting that “the college flying a pride flag does not show that we think that college is under an international governing body of ‘gay-ness’”.
One executive member of the JCR revealed that “Brexit has come up at equalities meetings and the college, SCR and MCR do want to support European students facing difficulties through things such as welfare support… college were very welcoming about this and happy to help us in any way so do think that they will support this”.
In the end it was decided to negotiate the issue with the MCR and SCR with the backing of a mandate from the JCR.
Although the motion passed almost unanimously in the JCR meeting, with only one vote in opposition, discontent was voice on the JCR Facebook group. One student commented “Well let’s be honest, it obviously is a political statement, and a highly controversial one at that”. The comment garnered 24 “likes” at the time of writing.
Another student followed up arguing that “I think it’s a complete contradiction of the previous JCR meeting where there was a vote against the union jack because of the perceived political connotations and potential marginalisation issues. Seems bizarre to set one precedent and then go against it a matter of weeks later”.