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JCR President Valedictory Speech 2019

At the last Governing Body of the JCR President’s tenure, they are asked to give a Valedictory Speech (or a farewell speech) that sums up the JCR over the last year. I wanted to share with you what I said in order to give you a bit of an idea of what we’ve achieved over the last year, as well as the points I made in order to leave them firmly on the agenda. It has been an absolute privilege to be in this role over the last two terms. The JCR wouldn’t function without all the Officers and Reps that make it tick – I’d like to thank them publicly for all the work they have done in continuing to make this College and our JCR community so special.

Pres love,

(Text version below)

Thank you all, firstly, for the opportunity to speak. I thought I would use this time to reflect on my own experience over my 2 years here, perhaps giving you a slightly different perspective from that which you could obtain from simply a long list of achievements!

But to begin with, some headline figures. This year, the JCR has supported 10 plays and musicals, 3 films, 2 magazines, an art show, and the work of several societies that John’s students are involved in. That’s all whilst demonstrating fiscal responsibility like you’d never expect from students. Thanks to the extreme generosity of undergraduates, we have donated over £3,500 to 23 charities this year and over £7,500 toward Reach Scholarships.

On the topic of budgets… I don’t know much about the Ball, something for which I am, at times, pretty grateful for. But for the first two weeks of this term I became pretty focused on the ‘Ball for All’ scheme. I am immensely proud that I successfully persuaded the JCR to vote against a request from the Ball Executive for £2,000 of our budget to go toward the scheme.

Now I should make very clear that of course I support the principle of it. What I do not support, however, is the allocation of JCR money – which makes a difference to the day-to-day lives of all undergraduates here – to what is an inherently exclusionary event. I have significant doubts about whether an Oxford Ball can ever be truly accessible and for this reason, I argued that if a Ball wants to go ahead, then that Ball should make such a scheme self-sustaining. Because if there is to be another Ball in 3 years time and members of this Governing Body request – very reasonably – that the Ball for All scheme be widened further… what then? The JCR gets asked for £4,000 next time, and because it gave money this time, it becomes harder to escape precedent? Not on my watch!

I wanted to mention – in more generic terms, given the ongoing investigation – the context in which the alleged incident involving a Porter earlier this term sits. Whilst the training that Abbie, the Project Manager, is working on is an extremely positive step, I think this incident proves that no training should ever lead to a sense of complacency. We, as students, obviously appreciate the dedication and hard work of all academic and non-academic staff in College. But I would like to make the point that work toward equality and cultural awareness should, in my opinion, be prioritised alongside – and not second to – our focus on security and well-being. For when a member of the BME community, or indeed any member of our community, walks through that College gate, their sense of security and well-being is unquestionably affected by the actions we all take toward improving equality and inclusion.

Generic commitments on the College website are one thing. But what I was touched by was the response I received to my personal email to the JCR, reaffirming my own commitment to the points I have just spoken about. We should all remember that there is always work still to be done. Admitting that things aren’t as they should be, I think, has just as much power as the promises we make to right the wrongs ahead.

This leads on to a point about welfare. It was suggested to me once that the College Counsellor not being booked up might be a sign that things are going pretty ‘OK’ at John’s. The services on offer here are great, and too at the University Counselling Service. But the real work to do is in increasing their visibility, in reinforcing the idea that no matter how big or small someone’s problem is, there is someone there to listen.

As part of this, I have extended my thanks to all of this year’s JCR Committee and Peer Supporters for the amazing work they do in making the student experience in this College truly phenomenal. I have also worked hard to promote the value of giving back to the community and in talking to staff, rather than viewing this magical force – that we all know as ‘College’ – as one only to be fought against. To this end, I am immensely proud of the 25 people who stood up to fill each of the 14 JCR Officer roles for next year, without needing a single by-election!

Onto some other achievements.

The Brunch trial this term has been a resounding success; the comments I have received have expressed great admiration for the work that the Kitchen and Buttery staff have put in, and too the opportunity to gather with friends and ‘chat’! This is something that I think we students sometimes forget is OK to do outside of the college bar…

The JCR website revamp has been a great success too, now with a card payment function – I hate to say it, but we’ve beaten College to it! Although I’m of course extremely grateful to Sally and the rest of the Bursary team in taking on the challenge of facilitating card top-ups. It was an absolute pleasure to work with Andrew and Sally – and the MCR – on this year’s Rents & Charges negotiations.

Alfie, the outgoing Vice President of 4 terms service, has worked hard to organise – along with College and a JCR sub-committee – two Freshers’ Weeks. This year, non-alcoholic Entz events especially were a resounding success, proof that we can accommodate for all!

On a lighter note, in my digging through the archives, I found that a little over 10 years ago, some strong opposition was heard at one of these GB meetings in relation to a student demand for longer library opening hours. The JCR records show that – and I didn’t write this – “despite no worthy counter arguments being raised” against the JCR’s proposal, GB opted for, and I quote, “a pithy extension of three hours”. Well, I say to the classes of the late noughties – it appears that College has pulled through! With 24 hours of study time available, there’s now no excuse for a late essay or poor collection mark ever again! That is, of course, if you can find a seat…

To wrap up, it has been an absolute privilege to head the JCR for the last two terms. The personal reward is substantial – my CV gets a nice little boost for a start! But the biggest reward comes from the sense of pride that myself and all the other Officers and Reps feel, when their event is attended or their project is realised. Thank you to all of those in College who I have worked with, especially your patience in responding to my relentless emails.

This truly is a very special place. It’s crazy to think that I nearly gave up on the interview process when I heard I was one of the few who had been requested to stay another day for a 3rd one. With some persuasion, thankfully I stayed to be able to do this role! And with that, I would like to wish Phil and his committee every success going into 2020.

Thank you.

Harry Sugden
JCR President 2019

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