I serve on my JCR committee and absolutely love my JCR. I love the vast amounts of food the welfare reps manage to magic out of their budgets; I love the community atmosphere at the daily JCR teas; I love the desperate attempts of the Entz pres to seem edgy with his throwing of ‘shapes’ at bops. But all of this is undercut by my hatred of the JCR political system.
First and foremost on my lengthy list of complaints is the tendency for JCRs, who for the most part focus on the welfare of the college’s students, to get drawn into pointless debates about political issues, taking stances that the majority of the JCR itself doesn’t really care about. This has happened with RMF over the past few months: JCR after JCR has condemned Oriel/praised RMF/showed some sort of solidarity, but all the words are meaningless given that the statue’s never going to move. The wasted breath and empty praise could have more helpfully been used debating something which would benefit the vast majority of students.
Secondly, and more pressingly, is their total lack of accountability or democracy. There is no real scrutiny of JCRs. You pay your levy, roughly half gets spent on general things, welfare, etc. and then the remaining half seems to just get poured into the vanity projects of whoever brings monetary motions. It’s simultaneously a brilliant and an atrocious thing that any student can bring JCR monetary motions; necessities can be easily acquired without undue stress, but at the same time frivolities can be purchased and discarded. The lack of accountability also leads to a lack of diligence on JCR committees. One VERSA writer reported how their president proposed a motion but never actually showed up to the meeting.
As for the democracy issue, this point was brought home by two JCR meetings in recent weeks. The first was Christ Church and their BME rep. Reports of the meeting suggest that a motion, brought by two people of colour with regards to how they wanted to be represented in the college, was voted down by the predominantly white JCR. In my own college last week, a motion supporting RMF was passed on the very bare minimum quorum; less than 10% of the college. Opportunities for direct democracy were passed over in favour of the JCR meeting making a tricky and by no means uncontroversial decision.
The stories keep coming; another friend told me of a debate in their college where the JCR spent ages pondering the question of whether they ought to condemn the college for planting silver birches as they were said to be harmful to bees, before it was discovered that this was just not true.
The ideal JCR would not concern itself with politics; direct democracy could be employed to deal with all issues and the fortnightly meeting would be rendered redundant since it would be shown to be unfit for purpose.
All JCRs are composed of fundamentally good people working for the welfare of their peers and that in my mind is something to be praised; but cut the bullshit NUS-style proclamations and focus on what really matters.
Tags: JCR politics — meetings — motions — Oxford — rmf