Can we really call York a collegiate University? Yes we are all owners of the complementary college paraphernalia and have felt duty-bound to attend at least one “wear as little as possible in the name of fancy dress” event at your college bar. But how much does your college allegiance really go beyond those impressionable first months?
The fact of the matter is colleges, to many students, are simply where you happened to end up living in first year. If you didn’t get directly involved in collegiate sport, or if the ambience of B-Henrys or McQs never quite held your interest, there is often little else to incite a soaring college loyalty. While Derwent may be blessed with college spirit to rival that of a Premiership football club, such a loyalty is hardly universal.
While we are a collegiate University on paper, another part of the grand pretence that we have a University heritage that reaches beyond the dark years of the seventies, in reality the University has never fully committed their structure and funding to fully establishing an independent and autonomous collegiate system that extends beyond the pages of the prospectus.
I am not criticising colleges themselves; in truth I think they can promote a much stronger sense of belonging and community than a University that exists en masse. Yet we cannot continue in the purgatory system that embraces the concept of the college on a symbolic level, without providing JCRCs with full resources and independence to operate with some measure of autocracy.
Students at York will never fully engage with their college, or embrace their college spirit for their full three years if it is clear they are to simply remain as a small cog in the strikingly lacklustre University wheel. The struggle for communication that college chairs are currently facing illustrates how little colleges are taken into consideration in the making of overall University policy.
It is about time the University fully committed to this collegiate system, pushing it beyond a gentrified banding of accommodation. Indeed, as much as I am loathe to put this in writing, there is much we can take from our fellow collegiate institutions.
While I don’t advocate the isolationist attitudes the colleges at both Oxbridge and Durham seems to breed, the distinct identities, college orientated spirit and significant financial independence are all qualities universally lacking within the York collegiate system.
While this is hardly a call to arms for students wanting independence for Vanbrugh or autonomy for Alcuin, it highlights how the collegiate system cannot continue to just flaccidly exist, pulled in opposing directions by students and the University. It needs to find its definitive place, position and authority as part of York student life, or it is essential rendered pointless; as one Chair boldly put it, “just simply a marketing ploy.”