Drinking societies scandal: what we know so far

James Musgrave 14 May 2018

The past week has seen a series of attacks on Cambridge’s drinking societies which have left the future of these institutions in doubt. The speed with which the controversy has escalated has made it hard to keep track of the facts, so here is a summary of what we know so far.

On Monday afternoon, a video was posted on the Facebook page Grudgebridge showing a Cambridge student speaking in Wetherspoon’s on Caesarian Sunday. Addressing an audience which included members of the Crescents – Trinity Hall’s all-male drinking society – the speaker appeared to mock ‘inclusivity’, calling it "the single biggest problem facing the Crescents in the modern age".

Although the Crescents distanced themselves from the speaker, issuing an "unreserved apology" for his remarks and emphasising their commitment to being "an open and inclusive society", the video attracted widespread attention. On Wednesday it was announced that the society was to disband, its members were banned from the college bar and their annual garden party was cancelled.

Two days later, the Crescents commented in an email sent to the students and fellows of Trinity Hall that all-male drinking societies have no place "in the life of a modern and inclusive university".

The scandal took on a new dimension on Friday, when the administrators behind Grudgebridge announced in a lengthy post that the page, previously a platform for anonymous rants, was now "dedicated to taking down drinking societies".

The page’s call for followers to submit their own experiences of drinking societies has generated many submissions in the past few days. Most of these posts focus on specific colleges and societies, and some allege incidents of violence, racism and sexual abuse.

One submitter accused a Newnham Nuns member of sexual misconduct and some have spoken out about spiking on swaps, while a number of posts have claimed that societies intimidate other students to manipulate their college’s room ballot.

Other examples of allegations include a Pats and Orchids swap with a "prostitutes/rape victims" costume theme, Churchill Bulldogs using JCR positions to "assign themselves college daughters they wanted to sleep with" and male students at St John's "fining" their peers "if the last girl you tried to have sex with was asleep". 

Grudgebridge’s mission has divided opinion: many have praised the exposing of such stories as a vehicle for reform, while others have questioned the lack of verification or filtering of submissions.

One administrator identified as “J” stepped down on Friday evening due to concerns for his personal safety, but the page’s war on drinking societies continues. It remains to be seen whether its professed aim – to make the Crescents "the first in a chain of dominos which ends with the eradication of these little-boy clubs" – will be realised.