Our Grade, Our Choice: The real bigger picture

Elsa Maishman 29 May 2015

A recent Tab article entitled 'Our Grade, Our Choice’: we’re missing the bigger picture' argues that this campaign represents Cambridge students' inability to cope with being ‘average’, having once been top of their class. I agree that there is a high rate of perfectionism among Cambridge students, and that we need to recognise that it isn't possible for everyone to be top of the class. But this is only one reason why someone might not want their name to be on the list. In my opinion it's the Tab article which is missing the bigger picture: the campaign is less about the struggles of perfectionism and more about consent and the University’s violation of our right to choose whether or not our personal information is shared.

Consider the following examples, which demonstrate how controversial and pointless publishing our grades in rank order at Senate House is.

What if UCAS published a ranking for everyone’s offers or rejections for for all students to see? How about if Cambridge published a list of everyone who was pooled? Of course, I’m just using this as an example, there is nothing wrong with being pooled as all colleges are great, and in fact it’s nice to know that someone picked you out as interesting from a sea of candidates. Using a different analogy, what if Tinder revealed the number of people who had left-swiped and right-swiped you and published this for everyone to see? Or if Facebook posted a ranking of the number of ‘likes’ your profile pictures had received?

All of these cases would be seen as unacceptable and would create huge uproar and result in public protests. They would hold no benefit for either the individuals whose information was published, nor those reading it. Posting these public rankings would not make people work harder when applying to university, or try to be more attractive or more popular in the case of Tinder and Facebook. They would just make people feel more self-conscious, like they were being publicly judged and rated. More than that, they would violate an individual’s right to privacy. Publishing someone’s personal information without their consent is never okay. Full stop.

So why is it acceptable that Cambridge publishes everyone’s grades and corresponding ranks without their consent?

Some argue that it’s for motivation. But this never happened at school, and we always worked well, so why is it necessary now? Some argue that it’s because of tradition. But Cambridge’s tradition is as much its downfall as it’s selling point. People love sitting down in Harry-Potter-esque gowns to candle-lit dinners. But what about the exclusive all-male drinking societies? The white-tie balls? The lack of women – if Cambridge was all for tradition, maybe women would not yet have been accepted. Sometimes things require change. Cambridge should pride itself on being progressive and recognising the concerns of the bright minds it is nurturing, rather than being statically rooted in unhelpful traditions. Lastly, some argue that displaying grades is to reward students who did well in their exams. Of course it’s great if you get a high grade, and really well done. But even so, you’ll tell your friends and maybe (choose to) write a Facebook status about it, so why does it need to be published?

For me, there was a stage when I thought I wouldn’t even be able to sit exams this year. I spent last weekend at home, after two long, unproductive weeks of having insomnia and feeling depressed, and my right arm hurts when I write because I’ve been working so much. I know my ranking will be low this year, because I’ve not been able to revise sufficiently, but I don’t mind, as I’m pleased with myself for even being able to sit the exams. It does unnerve me though that it will be published, that some people out there will read it, and may look at me differently and value my opinions less for being at the bottom. Whether they do or not doesn’t matter, the important point is that they could. The ranks are unforgiving, and unrepresentative of a student's work throughout the year. They don’t tell the full story. They don’t take into account that your dog died, or you struggled with panic attacks all year or caught flu in the lead-up to exams. They are useless and just add extra stress.

Every one of us might have a different reason for wanting, or for not wanting, our name and grade published on the class list. The point of the Our Grade Our Choice campaign is in the name: choice, consent, and the freedom to opt out. Of course, this is currently possible, but only if you provide an acceptable reason. But you shouldn’t need to have a "reason" to be removed from the list of rankings. Whether or not Cambridge shares your grade should be completely up to you.