Univ College Quad
Image credit: Andrew Shiva / Wikipedia, CC BY-SA 4.0

Univ commitment to student safety described as “a blatant lie”

Univ JCR have passed a motion unanimously condemning the college’s decision to close their porters’ lodge at night. From 11pm – 7am, University College students must contact Oxford University Security Services (OUSS), but face a £25 charge for standard lodge services like being let into college if they are locked out. 

The arrangement has been in place since the 2021-22 academic year, when Univ cited financial constraints and recruitment difficulties as the reason they were closing the lodge overnight. However, a motion passed by the Univ JCR on 8th October unanimously requested action on the absence of night porters, noting that “the student body feels unsafe due to both historical and recent experiences of students” with no first aider present on site and students unable to contact Junior Deans without assistance from the lodge. The motion described current welfare provisions by Univ as “simply not good enough”.

While Regent’s Park also lacks night porter provision, students at Regent’s are allowed to directly contact the Junior Dean on duty if they need assistance overnight. At Univ, students are provided with the emails of Junior Deans, but not their contact numbers. The closure of the lodge also means that access to essential equipment such as the defibrillator and first aid kit is limited. 

The policy assumes that students will have the ability to use their phones to contact OUSS as they are advised to call OUSS on their emergency telephone number. If they do not, then the student could be stranded outside the lodge until the morning. Students have been told they should go to the nearest 24-hour college lodge – for in-college residents, this is Queens’. Students calling OUSS from Univ Annexes, such as the Staverton site, have created what the JCR President called “a point of confusion.” Shermar Pryce, the JCR President Emeritus at Univ, came across a fresher stuck outside the lodge at 1am in -1st week this year. 

The motion has requested a formal statement from Univ on why they believe that the college does not require a night porter, as well as the production of a risk assessment of the policy. The JCR President has been making ongoing efforts to address the situation, with a Microsoft Office form open for members of the Univ JCR to submit their concerns. 

The policy was first announced in March 2022 as part of a “period of turbulence” for the lodge after the previous night porter left. All communication about the change came from the porters’ lodge email address until inquiries by the Cherwell prompted an official communication to students from the college. 

Katy Griffiths, Univ JCR’s Wom*n’s rep said, “Night Porters are crucial for the safety of students. We have already had several cases where students have been put at risk due to the lack of provisions between 23:00 and 7:00. The statement put out by the master in response to the Cherwell’s article did nothing to address the safety issues caused by the lack of night porters. It mentioned caretakers who none of the students are aware of, and junior deans who the students can’t contact. Students who have attempted to contact junior deans via email have not received a response until the morning. OUSS are not a replacement for the duty night porters: on nearly every occasion when they have been contacted they have been confused, and unhelpful, which is completely understandable when this is not their job. The £25 fee for them coming to assist a lockout could easily be the reason a student chooses to try and find anywhere else to sleep that night. The statement mentions provisions in the event of a fire but addresses nothing about what to do if other emergency services, including ambulances, need to access a student on site behind a locked door. As wom*n’s rep I feel very uncomfortable thinking about new freshers, some of which are under 18, being told to leave the college premises, unable to return, and go to Queens if they do not have their phone to contact OUSS. Queens has not been informed by Univ that students are being sent there, and has a bodcard locked door at night. “The College remains committed to the safety and wellbeing of its students and staff” is a blatant lie, the college cares about saving money, not the safety and well-being of its students, if this was the case night porters would never have been removed.”

Univ College told The Oxford Student that they “[remain] committed to the safety and wellbeing of [their] students and staff”. They explained that their “two resident caretakers and three resident Junior Deans at its main High Street site” and “one resident caretaker and two resident Junior Deans at its annexe” are available and “on-call overnight”.

“Overnight, the Lodge phones divert to OUSS, which manages all calls and contacts on-duty resident staff who respond as appropriate. OUSS will assist any student who has locked themselves out of their room overnight. Should a fire alarm activate, college caretakers and OUSS staff are alerted immediately. Between 2200 and 0800 the Fire and Rescue Service are also alerted automatically and will attend the College. First aid kits and the AED are accessible to on-duty resident caretakers 24 hours a day, who will support students appropriately. In the event of a medical or other emergency then, as under previous arrangements, students should call 999. Then, if asking emergency services to attend college premises, students may ring OUSS so that a resident caretaker or other member of college or university staff can provide any assistance that the emergency services may require. All students have been emailed this week about overnight support at the College. The College and JCR have agreed to work together to provide answers to any questions that students wish to raise on this matter.”