Lepers in Halifax? Posh boys in James? Losers in Langwith? Fresher and ‘Alcuinite’ Collette Kerrigan asks whether there’s truth in college stereotypes on campus
“Pretend you’re not from Alcuin” were the wise, if slightly worrying words said to me by a third year on my first nerve-wracking night in York. Being a naïve fresher, I didn’t understand quite what he meant. Great accommodation, lovely people – what could be the problem?
Later, after a week of what the cynical might call ‘community spirit force feeding’, I began to see his point. While being encouraged to identify with and cheer for the college we had moved into a mere 24 hours ago, we were also, absurdly, warned by college veterans to keep a low profile around certain students. Having not ventured too far outside our Alcuinite clique, rumours about the other colleges had begun to circulate like wild-fire: did James College really have cleaners who did their washing for them? Did Goodricke’s infamous Cell Block C actually have iron bars in the windows? The ‘Alcuin Freshers’ Guide’ was particularly good at labelling college stereotypes: Wentworth’s hostility towards undergrads, Halifax’s cliquey tendencies, Langwith – “the weedy little brother of Derwent”. It was only when I met someone from Derwent who, with surprising sincerity, asked whether or not our flats all had private butlers, that I realised what the Alcuin label meant, and it dawned on me that perhaps these other stereotypes were just as ridiculous.
It was only when someone from Derwent asked if all our flats had private butlers that I began to realise what the Alcuin label meant.
But from where do these stereotypes, as old as each of the colleges themselves, derive? Without wanting to over-hype the issue, I put it down to institutionalised college rivalry. Whether it’s Derwent hoodies – in your eye-line wherever you go on campus – or Langwith’s vocal pride in their “fit duck” mascot, as students we are constantly reminded of where our loyalties should lie. That is not to say we are openly hostile towards others, but most of us certainly have a soft spot towards the college that adopted us at the start of our university life.
Some colleges have a history of making radical statements of college patriotism. Back in 1990, Alcuin’s issues with the Students’ Union encouraged an unsuccessful Alcuin Separatist Movement. In an attempt to isolate themselves from the rest of the University, they painted a giant pair of scissors across University Road, dividing Alcuin’s green pastures from the rest of the concrete campus. Needless to say, their covert operations didn’t achieve much, but it definitely put their name on the map. The Separatists’ activities were resurrected last year by the new and improved Alcuin Venom, who tore up turf on the quad to form the letters ‘AV’.
Alcuinites may suffer from the semi-seclusion of being situated on the other side of University Road, but they are currently blessed with the residence of Vanbrugh students in Blocks P and Q. Far be it from Alcuin students to withdraw into their own community, the presence of these affectionately named “Valcuins” has eased their solitude and, more importantly, created a ground for harmless rivalry on their doorsteps. Vortex balls thrown around at ungodly hours and baking powder missiles have made for an interesting night when no one can be bothered to face the delights of B. Henrys.
Other colleges have made attempts to achieve recognition through insulting other colleges. The melodic chant “You Can’t Spell Goodricke Without Dick” can often be heard by groups of intoxicated James students on a night out in town, but their apple pie attack on the same college was taken as light humour. Similarly, some students finally found an advantage in the cold weather last Christmas when they declared a snowball war on Langwith.
A Tuesday night at Toffs will inevitably involve rapturous screaming whenever the DJ shouts a college name and many go to the extent of wearing their college sports kit on the dance floor.
It’s when the all-consuming world of Facebook becomes involved that you realise how engrained the rivalry is. After succumbing to the addictive website, you will find the majority of York students are members of a group that either celebrates their own college or slates another, such as the cleverly named “I’m glad I’m not in Halifax/Alcuin”. Their reasons for this, however, are far less obvious. Is it Halifax’s distance from the rest of the University that makes us ridicule them? Or are we just insecure about our own college-worthiness?
On top of this, some even stretch to inter-block rivalry, wherein blocks or flats form cliques and pit themselves against each other. For example, Goodricke’s B-block is generally laughed at by other blocks for being the ‘quiet’ block. Low-key block parties feature highly on campus, but also have the potential to go wrong. A few weeks ago, Alcuin L block organised an event that, strictly speaking, was prohibited. As with many college parties, this was advertised on the legendary Facebook. Big mistake. Students from an external college, having come across and been unimpressed by this “exclusive” party, reported it to Alcuin’s supervisors, and thus prevented the event from ever taking place.
The popularity of the various JCRs is an important part of the cultivation of college spirit. It goes without saying that the bar scene is a large part of university life and this makes many people believe that James’ lack of student bar must lead to poor college unity. By contrast, Goodricke’s “Mc.Q’s” is a big hit among most students and with its pub theme and general lively atmosphere, they are likely to congregate here on a week night flaunting their “squalor spirit”. Derwents bar’s popularity generates a large turnover, resulting in more money to spend on college spirit necessities – namely their copious items of DCUK merchandise.
Whilst York’s colleges seem to have struck a good balance not prevalent elsewhere, individual college events such as Planet V and Club D are a potential threat to this harmony. Oxford University stands as a warning to those too immersed in college life. Along with college “bops”, tutorials and lectures are largely based within the college, so students often feel no need to venture any further. Is this really the sort of narrow-minded reputation we’d like to fall in to?
It is possible that York’s ‘friendly banter’ is becoming a little unfriendly, and perhaps we should heed warnings from other universities that have taken the joke too far. Durham’s song “who the f*** are Hatfield college”, while characteristically witty, has led a large part of the University to ostracise them.
I’d like to believe that York hasn’t quite reached that stage, and that our college division is far more tongue-in-cheek. At the risk of falling into strained clichés, I’d like to believe that York’s healthy rivalry paradoxically cultivates a collective University spirit, and that while each student has a corner to represent, each student wears the York Uni jumper with pride. Yet the fact remains that whilst I won’t be pretending not to come from Alcuin at all, I won’t be shouting it from the rooftops either.