Editorial: Goodbye tradition, hello flags and female masters

Elsa Maishman 4 February 2016

Cambridge University is so often hailed as ‘male, pale and stale’,’ and although this is still undoubtedly the case, events of this week have brought the university towards a future of increased diversity and representation. 

Unfortunately, the label of ‘pale’ still seems to fit, as our investigation last week indicated that BME undergraduate numbers were even lower than we had thought. It is clear that the University still has a long way yet to go; but some progress, at least, has been made. 

This week saw the election of Bridget Kendall as new Master for Peterhouse. Casting an eye at the demographics of the TCS team, it is no great surprise that the election of a successful LGBT+ female journalist caused scenes of raucous jubilation. 
Cambridge’s oldest college is often hailed as its most conservative, bogged down by the weight of almost 750 years of tradition. The college was the penultimate to admit women, only doing so in 1985.  

Issue Two of this term featured a comment piece calling for greater and more diverse representation in paintings on college walls. Until this point all of the prominant portraits on the walls of Peterhouse have been of white men. Now at least, the college will have cause to showcase a woman,  and an openly LGBT+ woman at that. 

This week was also a comparatively good one for the LGBT+ community, with so many colleges flying rainbow flags to mark the first day of LGBT+ History Month. 

This move may have been criticised by some as tokenistic and unindicative of any real change, but surely it can be nothing but a positive thing that colleges are prepared to so openly declare support for a group that in other parts of the world would be imprisoned just for their identity. 

As always, there is still a very long way to go. There were many Colleges who refused to fly the rainbow flag, citing “tradition” and “protocol.”

Tradition is all very well, but it doesn’t make for a very progressive or at times welcoming university environment. This is the fundamental dilemma of both Cambridge and Oxford: it’s pretty, and good fun for those on the inside, but really not so great for everyone else. Formal Hall involves dressing up in gowns and eating guinea fowl; May Balls a single night of £140 pound’s of champagne-drenched revelry, Porters’ Lodges and Bedders a 24-hour lifeline and room-hoovering.  Tradition is what brings us the delights of the Bullingdon club, the supporters of Oxford’s Cecil Rhodes statue and the Adonian society, and is often best avoided.