TW: mention of disordered eating
Wadham Student Union, which is in essence equivalent to other colleges’ Junior Common Room, has decided to review its main-site accommodation arrangements, implementing a “room-swap” system as a result of restrictions due to the pandemic.
Among these restrictions, “households” and “bubbles” have been put into effect around the country, and Oxford’s colleges have decided to use the household system in the coming term to facilitate testing and self-isolation. This is so that the university can run an in-person term, despite the pandemic. Many students were disgruntled by this decision, as room ballots took place prior to the Coronavirus outbreak, meaning that students chose their rooms in a different context – one where students would be able to use the facilities of the whole college freely, and be able to socialise as normal with any of their friends.
In order to combat this disappointment, I, as Wadham’s incoming president, decided to review accommodation arrangements. I liaised with the college’s accommodation officer, coming to the agreement that some staircases should be reserved for incoming students, allowing them to have the chance to access a kitchen. In consultation with the committee and SU members, our Domestic Officer and I decided that the option to swap rooms would be hugely beneficial, giving students the best possible experience and easing some anxiety surrounding a term like no other. To make students aware of this new option, they received an email on Thursday, August 13th, outlining the room swap system. All swaps were to be confirmed by everyone involved in those swaps, to ensure that each student fully consented to the process, and members were given until the following Thursday night to do this. We also gave students the option to move into unoccupied rooms, deferring to the original ballot order if more than one person went for the same room.
The option to swap rooms would be hugely beneficial, giving students the best possible experience and easing some anxiety surrounding a term like no other.
We decided to do this on the basis that the main-site college ballot is done individually, unlike that for our new building, the Dorothy Wadham Building, which can be done in groups, and which was conducted during Trinity term. As most colleges do, Wadham’s main site has a variety of rooms with different facilities, including kitchenettes and bathroom arrangements. The household system dictates that any students who share a bathroom and/or kitchen are classed as being members of the same household, and provisional guidelines released by Wadham’s Domestic Bursar outlined that students would be expected to maintain social distance between themselves and anyone who is not part of their household, among other rules which were set out at the time. Double sets (shared rooms) are classed as households of two people, and other households contain small numbers of people, due to the facilities which their occupants share.
The enforcement of the system also means that not all students living on the college’s main site will have access to a kitchen, and with the college currently planning to serve three meals a day on weekdays and only brunch on weekends, members of the SU quickly made me aware that the system could cause financial issues for some members of the college, as well as health implications for those with a history of disordered eating.
It’s important to note that Wadham’s rooms are all subject to the same rent, in line with the SU’s and the college’s belief that a given student’s wealth should not affect the room that they receive, which is also why our ballot is done at random. This allowed students to use the room swap system without having to reconsider the financial implications of the size of their room or bed, with the sole focus being their comfort and the ability to socialise with their friends in as normal a way as possible.
What the majority of students want is a term that is as safe as possible, while being as close to “normal” as possible.
The room swaps have been successful for us, with around 25 of roughly 120 finalists successfully conducting room swaps, allowing them to have some choice as to who will be in their households, and allowing those who needed it to ensure that they would have access to kitchens. Oxford’s JCR and MCR presidents are working intensely to find solutions for the problems created by the pandemic, and what the majority of students want is a term that is as safe as possible, while being as close to “normal” as possible – what do you think of Wadham’s room swap system? Should the other colleges (where possible) follow suit?
Image: Ukexpat, licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0