Bedders: Problematic privilege?

Hayden Banks 24 March 2015

It’s 9.00 a.m. I’m either hungover, or so tired from my late-night essay crisis that I’ve only just got up, and alas my room is a state. But with a welcome knock at the door I know that I’ve got my bedder at hand to tidy my room, and my gyp for that matter, which is probably littered with pizza boxes and wine bottles. Now I’m not trying to suggest that I’m a borderline alcoholic or a lazy slob, but a little messiness is to be expected of any university student; it’s only natural. What seems entirely unnatural is that I have my very own personal cleaner, who practically slaves to clean up the mess around me so I can lie in just that little bit longer. It’s not that I’m ungrateful for their service – to the contrary, I feel completely disillusioned with yet another Cambridge ‘tradition’ which seems to entirely contradict the purpose of university life. We’ve escaped the wrath of our parents telling us to hoover our rooms at home, just about to embrace our new-found independence, and yet I’m pampered more than I was as a schoolkid. Something’s not right.

There’s naturally variation between the colleges with how far this issue extends. At Queens’ we’re each greeted on a weekly basis with our bedder armed with hoover and duster, they empty our bins, clean our showers and hoover our floors within thirty minutes, something I’m pretty sure I could have managed myself. I have, however, known bedders to refuse to tidy some rooms that are reminiscent of a bomb site, and good on them. We’ve entered university expecting a life of independence and part of this independence should be to tidy our own rooms, it may seem trivial but I wouldn’t expect my own personal shopper or secretary, and it’s the same with cleaners. Students at Christ’s College report variation in the level of service demanded from bedders, from expecting dirty dishes to be washed to actually having to ask to use the vacuum as their room was left unclean for weeks. At Emmanuel, one student commented that she’d ‘seen people spill food in the gyp room and then ask when the bedder’s coming, as if it were ok to just make a mess and leave it for someone else to clear up’, and this epitomizes my argument. University life should prepare students not only for the next stage of their career, but also to foster new levels of respect and maturity so they are able to contribute to society as responsible adults, and arguably this cannot be achieved when we’re still treated like children: it came as no surprise when my friends at other universities turned their noses up at my life of luxury.

Of course there’s the argument that we’re working so conscientiously on our degrees that independence in other ways must be sacrificed, or perhaps more thoughtlessly we should just be thankful for the privilege. I often feel a sense of entitlement when I find my bedder has forgotten to clean my shower when I expected her to do so, but these feelings are quickly overrun with guilt. It may seem insignificant, but this issue reinforces the Oxbridge stereotype, that the Universities harbour egotistical, arrogant students who wrongly feel superior to those around them. There are undoubtedly more important things for these people to be doing than cleaning our rooms.