The toilers, the cup-of-tea makers, the moneyless troopers, and the alcohol carriers, who hold the Oxford society life together, deserve some sort of token of respect. They give us great events – from Paksoc Punting to Hispanic Society Burritos. They are the chair movers who create post-tute social pleasure. My experience last term as ‘social’ secretary of the Labour club was one of the most enjoyable parts of Oxford life and proves why joining a societies committee is one of the most rewarding things you can do whilst at Oxford. Here are my reasons why:
A moody 0th week Hilary morning emerged. I had finished my first set of collections and was looking forward to preparing for my first social secretary event, welcome drinks. I took the arduous walk from Magdalen to the Tescolator and waited for fellow newly-elected committee members. Our purpose? To buy drinks and some trademark humous for the event. As soon as we did away with the usual gossip of university life we entered the Tesco and initiated, within an instant, a zealous-like discipline in hunt of the cheapest gin, vodka, and rum, whilst balancing the oxford students’ diet with £1 breadsticks. After collating an assortment of valuable liquids – unsurprisingly buying £150 worth of alcohol between 4 students to a tiller – and travelling to the room of the event, the preparation phase had ended. Already committee work had instilled a sense of diehard dedication to the best deals and epitomised the selfless nature of societies. Yet at this moment in time I thought to myself: was it worth putting myself forward the preceding term for this logistical mind-decaying role?
Already committee work had instilled a sense of diehard dedication to the best deals and epitomised the selfless nature of societies.
However, this gloomy perception would change in a couple of minutes as the event started. Expectations were low, the preceding term events on average would be lucky to have 20 people, but as our tactical use of Facebook paid off, over 50 people would turn up in this small Magdalen prison-of-a-room I had booked last minute. With drinks already on the low 45 minutes after the event started, I rushed to the nearby Sainsburys, in awe of what had been created. Thus, my first ever interaction with committee work was a success, with the people’s appetite sated, membership drive attained, and a shift from the drudging of Hilary towards a sunny uplands of a term had began.
Thus, my first ever interaction with committee work was a success, with the people’s appetite sated, membership drive attained, and a shift from the drudging of Hilary towards a sunny uplands of a term had began.
From this positive start, the social part of being a social secretary was boosted manifold. Our weekly debating event ‘Beer and Bickering’ became the subject of numerous Oxfesses and even some Oxloves. The accidental smashing of our glass ‘gavels’ were incidents of ridicule but were at the same time symbols of the heartiness that the event transformed into. The rowdy-family vibe I aimed for in the role succeeded, motions were thoroughly discussed in differing touches of humour of participants, and the humous was devoured! Seeing the fruits of your labour succeed and making numerous people enjoy their Friday night is an indescribable feeling. The art of hosting is an experience that must have universal appeal if it can create such a feeling of universal ecstasy. Those active in societies know the enjoyment of organising a social-experiment of an event, from sorting issues of supply to ensuring all are welcome to participate in the event. Committee work can be some of the most rewarding time spent at Oxford and just the slightest tweak of how an event runs can change the entire atmosphere of the night.
This experimenting can go wrong. I experienced this all too well in trying to solve the issue of University events and life often being alcohol dominated. Changing ‘Beer and Bickering’ to ‘Pizza and Politics’, and moving the event to an earlier 6 pm start, was the worst idea I have ever had. The usual alcohol-fuelled audience arrived and upon spotting the lack of alcohol fermented into a near mob riot. Speeches were dull, people were close to breaking down in tears, and I witnessed the desolation of my social experiment. The way to fix alcoholic-crazed events cannot be to remove them entirely, for then the alcohol eager folk will break down into a tute-Esque phase: barely clinging onto life and bluffing every sentence just for the event to end. Despite this, experimenting is not a damaging affair. As roles like social secretary are often quite vague, they allow you to mould it around your personality and do your environmental wishes. Elections and appointments to such roles are usually only termly so your flexibility to do what the hell you want for a solid 8 weeks can help you find your audience, and your style of event-making.
Elections and appointments to such roles are usually only termly so your flexibility to do what the hell you want for a solid 8 weeks can help you find your audience, and your style of event-making.
As often every committee are painted with the same few, boisterous, and confident faces, students are often afraid to put themselves up for elections for positions that, in the broader picture, should be quite trivial compared to the academic work we (may or may not) do. The trick to solving this is for societies to introduce ‘how to get involved’ events. For all the scariness of the Oxford Union, which has been deemed to have the ‘toughest elections’, it has multiple avenues to encourage people to run. For societies of lesser size, elections are often merely put on notice at the end of terms and usually just have a continuity of the friends of the preceding committee (especially in societies based on appointments rather than open elections). We must solve this by following the Union only slightly by opening society life to everyone through a significant degree of transparency and encouragement to diversify those who join committee life.
For societies of lesser size, elections are often merely put on notice at the end of terms and usually just have a continuity of the friends of the preceding committee (especially in societies based on appointments rather than open elections).
So, my appeal to you, from those worrying about prelims, to those relaxing after arduous mods, get involved! At the end of the day, society work is worth the treks of organisation, and it is one of the best ways to meet new people – through the blood, sweat, tears and toil of gathering Bear and Breadsticks for your event.
Featured image description: Ciaron stands next to a list of motions for discussion at a Labour Club social event.