Cambridge divided over #endweek5blues reading week campaign

Image credit: Colm Murphy

Cambridge Defend Education have led action this week in support of the #endweek5blues campaign. The action comes after The Cambridge Student reported in January that CUSU had voted to officially back a reading-week.

A number of students have resorted to direct action in the form of a ‘week five boycott’, refusing to hand in work in protest at the University’s lack of a reading week. The campaign intends to highlight the pressures faced by those suffering from mental-health problems as a consequence of the University’s short, work-intensive terms.

CDE also held a rally outside Senate House on Wednesday, and encouraged students to wear pinned blue squares to show solidarity for the campaign. The crowd was addressed by CUSU Welfare and Rights Officer Jack Wright. A petition has been launched via Change.org, arguing that a reading week will "contribute towards making the University a better, healthier and more accessible place of learning." The petition has so far attracted over 390 signatures.

Other actions taken by CDE this week have included a rally held outside Senate House, as well as encouraging students to wear pinned blue squares in a show of solidarity with the reading-week campaign.

The student activist group have also launched a petition via Change.org, arguing that a reading week “will contribute towards making the university a better, healthier and more accessible place of learning”. The petition has so far attracted 390 signatures.

In a blog for the Huffington Post, Daisy Hughes, a Cambridge Student taking action this week in support of the campaign argued: “A reading week won’t mean that I work any less hard or do any less well in my degree. It is not a case of watering down the “Cambridge Experience” or the academic work done here. It’s simply an acknowledgement that we all work better when we have time to be people as well.”

She added: “The best academic work doesn’t come from students who haven’t slept all night and who are constantly stressed and anxious and unhappy because of deadlines.”

Although the campaign has attracted loud support, the student body nonetheless remains divided over calls for a reading week. Notably, St John’s College JCR this week issued a statement opposing the campaign, calling for “clear research into how much, if any, work college supervisors would plan to set during this reading week, and if colleges would intend to set any form of progress test after this period.”

Victoria Brown, an undergraduate historian at St John’s, praised the statement on Twitter: “So proud of my JCR for this statement regarding CUSU’s campaign for a reading week #commonsense.”

One first-year HSPS student also voiced concerns to TCS about the campaign: “I know that the campaign assures us that supervisor’s would not be allowed to set extra work but I fail to see how this could be ensured in practice. The campaigns aims are laudable but I think that it hasn’t sufficiently taken into account the negative financial and mental impact a reading week could have on many students.”

Many colleges have issued guidance to students, assuring that those students who take part in the boycott will not face disciplinary action. Senior Tutor of Sidney Sussex College, Max Beber, urged students in an email to “consider carefully the possible impact of any consequent disruption in your supervision schedule on your overall academic progress.”

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