The Ronald Coyne incident, in which a student was filmed setting alight a £20 note in front of a homeless man, in a display of wanton entitlement and sheer inhumanity, is no longer news to the student body. The response of students has, for the most part, been one of shock and disgust, which has precipitated a greater push towards raising money for charities that support homeless people; one can only hope that this effort will last longer than the media storm which has already begun to die down.
However, since the event has become national news, we must inevitably ask ourselves what responsibility, if any, we have towards the reputation of the University. Whether we like it or not, our behaviour and actions are intrinsically bound up with our position as students here. Coyne’s behaviour, though it is not representative of the whole student body, will serve to perpetuate the idea that all Cambridge students are wealthy and arrogant.
This perception is by no means undeserved. 37.8% of students admitted to Cambridge last year went to private schools, a figure which is completely disproportionate to the fact that only 14% of sixth-form students are privately educated. Of course, not all students in private education have wealthy parents to whom money is not a pressing concern, but incidents such as this do not inspire people to consider nuance and context. Assumptions and generalisations are made immediately, and this will not be a story that is forgotten quickly.
Reputation is power, and reputation is important to the University. In this respect, we should use our position as students to raise awareness of issues within the University which are not directly related to our own behaviour. This is necessary so that the changes are made to make Cambridge a more inclusive, more diverse, and better place to live and study, for both “town” and “gown”.
It would be impossible and impractical for every student to monitor all of our actions and the potential repercussions upon the University’s reputation. Sometimes, in cases on a far smaller scale which are not directly linked to privilege and entitlement, as Coyne’s case is, problematic behaviour is a result of the general idiocy of students. It becomes an issue of determining where behaviour stops representing students as a whole, and where it starts being particularly emblematic of attitudes and behaviour that flourish in the atmosphere at Cambridge.
We don’t necessarily have a responsibility to the University, and we are not here to provide a picture-perfect representation of Cambridge in order to “sell” it to future unwitting generations of Cantab hopefuls. Our responsibility, on our own behalf, is to behave like decent human beings who treat others with dignity and respect, no matter who they are.
For those students who feel embarrassed by this event because of our proximity to it: good. This is not something we should ever be comfortable with. Equally, it is not enough to say that we would never act in the same way; our behaviour needs to speak for itself in our response to this event. The repercussions and media attention in this case may be positive in proving that we have our own reputation to uphold, and it is one which we should actively strive to improve.
We have a responsibility to give an accurate and fair representation of ourselves, particularly to future students. These responsibilities should be upheld regardless of the impact upon our own reputation, and the reputation of Cambridge University as a whole.