As the year draws to a close, we often look to the future – making resolutions and plans for the new year – but it is worth considering events past. 2018 continued the trend of crazy farcical news that begun to lose their absurdity as they multiplied. From Theresa May’s epic moves and Trump’s poorly applied fake tan, to poisoned Russian spies; or the accidental dismantling of democracy by a certain Mark Zuckerberg, to protests ranging from the people’s vote march, the France’s fuel riots, and the masses that turned out for International Woman’s Day – it has not been uneventful.
It is tempting to adopt a laissez-faire cynicism in the face of such events – if we aren’t killed by global warming, a twitter feud could equally bring about world war three. Alternatively, we will all just starve in a post-Brexit apocalypse (did I mention that KFC did in fact run out of chicken this year?). However it is worth limiting our annual reflection to the little corner of the world that for most students, is their first home away from home – our very own Cambridge.
Upon arriving for another year of academia, the people of Cambridge (and the rest of Europe) were greeted with a wave of frosty wind that came to be known as the ‘Beast from the East’. The unprecedented cold offered a brilliant opportunity for all those in denial of climate change – how can global temperatures be on the rise? It’s snowing! Yet the stratospheric shift distracted from the increase in temperatures in other global locations. Siberia, for example, was 35 degrees hotter than historical averages and Greenland has seen three times more hours with a temperature above freezing point than normal.
The esteemed Professor Stephen Hawking passed away at the age of 76: a longer life than anyone expected and filled with inspiring intellectual discovery. It was announced in June that Hawking’s epitaph (the Bekenstein–Hawking entropy equation) is to be beamed into space from a European space agency satellite dish in Spain with the aim of reaching the nearest black hole.
The FT released the results of an inquiry into the diversity of Cambridge University students, which showed that between 2012 and 2016, many colleges had accepted one or none of its black applicants. The university commented that “we have significantly increased the funding we contribute to programmes like Target Oxbridge”, arguing the problem could only be solved at a school level.
The rapper Stormzy announced that he would fund two black students admitted to Cambridge, stating ‘I hope this scholarship serves as a small reminder that if young black students wish to study at one of the best universities in the world, then the opportunity is yours for the taking.’ A small step in the right direction – whilst the university’s access issues remain vitally problematic, this is one to smile about.
The Times Higher Education World ranking put Cambridge as the second world best after Oxf*rd. The shame was slightly lessened by the trusty Guardian, who placed Cambridge as top nationally.
Newnham college unveiled a two-storey bronze sculpture of a vulva called “Beyond Thinking” to celebrate 70 years since women were allowed in. Whilst Newnham continue to describe the structure as a “a vertical column of open set books’, I am not buying it and think a display of female anatomy is far more eye catching.
This was the month of problematic white men, as the Zero Carbon Society rejoiced in the resignation of the University’s chief investment officer, Nick Cavalla. They commented that Cavalla’s actions were “a testament to the effectiveness of student and academic action” but that “the rot at Corporation Cambridge goes deeper”.
Just as the work of student climate change activism is not over, the fight that continues surrounding St Edmund college’s appointment of Dr Noah Carl continues on. Students requested an investigation into the legitimacy of Dr Carl’s background in eugenics work. Little was done by the college. Eventually an open letter entitled ‘No Place for Racist Pseudoscience at Cambridge’ caught national attention after its release in December.
David Runciman, the Head of our Department of Politics, was picked up in national newspapers after his suggestion that six year olds should be allowed to vote. He asked “What’s the worst that could happen? At least it would be exciting, it would make elections more fun. It is never going to happen in a million years but as a way of capturing just how structurally unbalanced our democracies have become, seriously, why not?”. The blasé attitude toward voting is slightly worrying, but Runciman captures a serious sense of the demographic fracturing in British politics.
Those were a few of the notable moments Cambridge saw this past year. Ups, downs, and a lot of student activism sprinkled on top seems to be the dominant theme, and not one likely to change in the new year. However if there is one thing we can look back fondly on is that whilst there are, and remain to be, many injustices, it is rare that these have gone on unchallenged. As students, we are in position to weigh in on the serious debates that will shape our future. And so I wish you a very happy 2019; you too can channel your inner social justice warrior in the new year.