Caesarian Sunday is good for the University’s image

Elsa Maishman 4 May 2015

As a fresher, I had heard innumerable horror stories about Caesarian Sunday. I read last year's article in the Daily Mail, obviously taking it with a handful of salt, as opposed to a pinch. And yet it was not only sensationalist tabloids blowing the event out of proportion. Emails from tutors were sent out to friends of mine in several different colleges, warning them of "an offensive and damaging tradition" of "drunken and anti-social conduct", which last year did "serious damage to the reputation of the collegiate university." Several students hailed it as an 'access nightmare', arguing that this celebration of drunken debauchery epitomises Cambridge's image problem.

And yet the scenes I was met with at Jesus Green were hardly scandalous. Public drinking and rowdiness is not ideal on such a massive scale, but the only 'antisocial' behaviour I witnessed was students' carefree ability to strew beer cans and other rubbish across a public park in the knowledge that someone else would clear it up. The police officers I spoke to were quite frankly bored of the lack of trouble, stating with a sigh that the day had been a 'complete non-event.'

More interesting, I think, was the reaction of a freelance journalist, who told me that the broadsheet represented was "attracted to Oxbridge," because a large majority of their editorial team are former students. According to them there was "no story here" and if the event had happened at any other university there would have been no interest.

The idea that senior editors of a prestigious national newspaper would increase the privileged high profile of their former university out of nostalgia is extremely worrying. There can be no way of knowing how correct this particular view is, but there is no doubt that if Caesarian Sunday had happened at any other university it wouldn't have been news. The media are always eager to report on shortcomings and perceived scandal associated with Oxbridge, and yet on the other hand we enjoy hugely privileged media coverage in that it is far easier to obtain a national or even international platform for research, events and opinions than at other universities. We are constantly reminded that we are different to 'normal' students, and this weekend it became clear that that extends as far as the ways in which we are allowed to have fun. 

The preventative measures taken by colleges and police may have contributed, along with the appalling weather, to the tame nature of yesterday's celebrations in comparison with those of last year. Getting drunk in a field is not how I would choose to spend a Sunday afternoon, especially if it involved taking part in degrading, sexist and dangerous drinking society 'initiations'. However, I don't see this as the access problem that some people have presented it to be. There are certain drinking societies that perpetuate the 'Riot Club' view of Oxbridge students, but on Caesarian Sunday it is the more 'ordinary' societies that are most visible. These are ultimately nothing more than exclusive groups of students who occasionally drink too much and engage in irresponsible behaviour – not something to rejoice about, especially considering the peer pressure and misogyny that so often manifests itself, but a problem that is by no means unique to Cambridge.

If anything I would suggest that Caesarian Sunday makes Cambridge appear more accessible rather than less. A quick survey of my former school classmates showed that excessive drinking, exclusive societies and lad culture are problems of university, not Cambridge, life. Yes, the Daily Mail delighted in circulating photos of students 'travelling to the festivities by punt' and of male students looking like 'toffs' in blazers and ties, but if we're examining ways in which Cambridge is inaccessible it would be far more fruitful to turn to formal halls and pompous, wine-drenched official ceremonies than Caesarian Sunday. What has been circulated is a vision of Cambridge students having fun, drinking in public, littering and making a nuisance of themsleves – in short, being students. This isn't a wonderul image, and I am not suggesting that the university should condone anti-social behaviour – but there is a difference between warning against excessive drinking and warning against dragging the prestigious name of our great institution through the mud. The one occasion a year when Cambridge students behave like 'normal' students is not something that the University should be so desperately trying to hide.