- Undergraduates raised the concerns in a letter sent to master of Christ’s College
- Accused Conservative association of having ‘polarising reputation’
More than 200 students at Cambridge University have penned an open letter citing concerns for their ‘safety’ after the Conservative association booked out their college’s hall for a dinner.
Undergraduates raised the concerns in a letter to former Whitehall mandarin Lord Simon McDonald, who is now Master of Christ’s College, Cambridge.
The Cambridge University Conservative Association (CUCA) – which counts Tory grandee Ken Clarke among its former members – booked Christ’s ornate hall for their annual ‘Chairman’s Dinner’ on November 25.
It means the dinner that was planned in the hall to mark the college’s celebrations for ‘Bridgemas’ – the Cambridge version of Christmas – will have to take place elsewhere.
In the lengthy letter to Lord McDonald’, trainee solicitor Ossie Visick, the president of Christ’s Junior Common Room (JCR), questioned why CUCA was allowed to book the hall, given that it is used on the same date every year for the Bridgemas event.
He accused CUCA of having a ‘polarising reputation’ and said students have ‘raised concerns about feeling unsafe’ because of it.
However, a CUCA spokesman hit back, saying that the hall was booked in April and that the ‘real issue’ was that the JCR had failed to act early enough to secure the hall on November 25 for their dinner.
They added: ‘These students are deploying an extreme rhetoric, over so-called “safety” concerns, in order to corner their college into cancelling our event, and stifle debate on conservative issues.’
Mr Visick said he and the fellow signatories object to CUCA members’ ‘disrespectful and insensitive behaviour’ and added: ‘The college needs to balance its commitment to freedom of speech with its commitment to making our students feel safe, valued and respected.’
He also claimed that CUCA’s debates ‘only spread harm, especially during such a traumatic time for our students with links to the Middle East’.
The student also claimed CUCA events have a reputation for being ‘destructive affairs’.
The student added: ‘To summarise our concerns, we regret that the college has continually prioritised this external (and illegitimately organised) event hosted by a distasteful, provocative society over an internal tradition that is valued by our community.
‘We are calling upon the college to fulfil its commitment to valuing its own students’ traditions and their safety more than an external society’s alcohol-fuelled event.
‘We are calling upon the college to listen to the voice of its students and address their concerns.
‘We request that the college’s leadership annul the booking for CUCA’s ‘Chairman’s Dinner’ on 25th November and approaches its booking processes for external societies more considerately in future.’
Mr Visick also claimed that at a meeting at the end of last month students requested the college reconsider the booking and expressed their discontent through the open letter that has been written.
It has so far been signed by 216 students.
CUCA was founded in 1921 and boasts an illustrious list of former members.
Among them are former Chancellor and Justice Secretary Lord Clarke and ex Home Secretary Douglas Hurd. Both men served in the cabinets of Margaret Thatcher.
The ‘lavish’ Chairman’s Dinner takes place at the end of each term. It sees the chairman hand over the reigns to their successor.
Christ’s hall dates back to the 16th century and regularly hosts formal dinners.
The CUCA spokesman said: ‘The real issue is that Christ’s College JCR failed to secure the 25th of November for their dinner.
‘This is a shame – however we were offered this date by, and did not seek it from, Christ’s College in April.
‘The booking was made in keeping with Christ’s policies, as has been confirmed by the Senior Tutor, and any suggestion to the contrary is wrong.
‘In response to these scheduling concerns, conservative students and CUCA are being accused of a great number of unsavoury things, many of which are baseless, and some of which are from so many years ago that they have nothing to do with the current student body – no current members were present when they allegedly happened, making it impossible for us to address them.’
They added: ‘Evidently, this is nothing to do with CUCA, concerns of safety, debating the Middle East, or any other issue possible to conceptualise next.
‘This is about free speech, cancel culture and the fact the JCR administration feels undermined.
‘Fortunately, Christ’s College have confirmed that our dinner will be going ahead – we are really looking forward to hosting members, alumni, and conservatives in general on the 25th of November.’
Christ’s College has been contacted for comment.
It comes after a debate at Cambridge descended into farce last month when a motion calling for solidarity with Palestine was prematurely stopped amid concerns its proposer risked ‘inciting violence’.
The Students Union President Fergus Kirman said he was ‘astonished and appalled’ by the motion and went on to completely edit the wording, following a mammoth backlash from Jewish students.
The motion blamed the war between Israel and Hamas on ‘decades of violent oppression of the Palestinian people by the Israeli state’.
It added: ‘The Student Union resolves itself […] to condemn the British government’s support for the Israeli state and the distortions of the mainstream media in Britain in its coverage of this conflict.’
The motion concluded: ‘Only a mass uprising on both sides of the green line and across the Middle East can free the Palestinian people.’