Debate: There’s no such thing as the Cambridge bubble

Harry Robertson 16 March 2017

We at Cambridge are hugely privileged in our exposure to myriad different political and social ideas on an almost daily basis. Besides our courses, there are countless opportunities to engage with interesting, challenging and different ideas. Take, for example, this recent selection of events on around the university: Samar Yazbek, a Syrian writer and journalist, talked about her book on the devastation in her home country; Tory Work and Pensions secretary Damian Green spoke at Caius; Dr Patrick Hussey gave a lecture about Biotechnology; the Union debated liberalising prostitution; renowned black Labour activist Linda Bellos spoke at CULC; the list goes on…

Our courses are often attacked for being too traditionalist. Yet they, too, are an element of Cambridge life that introduce us to concepts and arguments that very few other have the opportunity, or the good fortune, to grapple with. The HSPS tripos, in particular, addresses the issues that affect wider society such as—among other topics—crime and education policy and their connection to class and race, modern understandings of gender, and the political systems of non-Western states. 

It is often said that students at Cambridge have too little time to check the news and stay involved in what’s going on around the world. But this is clearly untrue. Visit any cafe around the city and you’ll hear students debating Trump, Brexit, Corbyn, and climate change, among thousands of other issues. Simply being in this environment, surrounded by engaged friends and academics, makes it almost impossible to lose sight of what is going on in the wider world.

These friends, for example, often come from countries other than Britain, and conversation with them provides an understanding of the wider world that is not available at school. In supervisions, for example, which include two or three students often from different countries, we are actively encouraged to discuss and debate our opinions and learn from each other. Where else is there such interaction? 

Student newspapers such as this one also avoid a bubble forming and ensure the wider student body remains aware of issues that are important to a range of students from different backgrounds. Recent comment articles in this paper discuss misconceptions of transgender people, the town vs. gown divide, LGBT+ history month, and what it means to be northern. Online, articles that pick up heat are often unavoidable, making nearly every student aware of a certain issues. For all these reasons we can end the myth of the Cambridge bubble.