Why you should vote yes in the class lists referendum

Lili Bidwell 2 November 2016

The Yes Campaign has requested this article be published anonymously, due to the remaining stigma around mental illness, and that the author did not want to tout that they got a First.

I have no doubts about the good intentions of the students campaigning to abolish the Class Lists. These students care deeply about student welfare and, like all campaigners, face a relatively thankless task. 

But where I think they have overstepped the mark, though, is in attributing to Class Lists a totemic significance that way overstates their actual impact. Get rid of class lists – they say – and Cambridge will become a more welcoming place to candidates. Get rid of class lists – and we are removing a major source of mental health problems in this University. 
The trouble is that neither of these claims stack up. The real life impact of class lists is far more nuanced and a significant number of students have had experiences that directly combat these claims. I can speak to this, as a member of a minority that, year on year, faces a dramatic attainment gap and a low percentage of firsts. I should feel outraged that the Class Lists lay bare this attainment gap, right? Wrong. When I got a first last year, it was my proudest moment – and validated my right to the Cambridge experience. There’s no better slap in the face of history than getting your name up on a board that never wanted you there in the first place. There are very few moments in Cambridge that I’ve felt like I’ve been accepted – but seeing my name on the class list ranks as one of the few. 

Likewise, the link between Class Lists and mental health problems has been wildly overstated. It says a lot about Cambridge that the past 12 months for me – a slow lapse train wreck into severe depression, withdrawal and self-harm that I thought I’d gotten over in my teen years – are not atypical in any sense of the word. Cambridge is, without a doubt the problem. When I left this summer, I recovered, almost instantaneously. But a piece of paper with my name on it was never the problem. I, and others, can testify to the real issues: chronic underfunding of counsellors, poorly-trained tutors and the inescapable stuffiness of the bubble. The Class List, on the other hand, was always a relief. I don’t want to tell other people my grades – and thanks to the class list, I’ve almost never had to do this outside of a job interview. I don’t want people feeling like they have to ask. I was always grateful that grades were something we could push off to the side, to Senate House. No, I’d rather have the choice to put my name up on a piece of paper that people can choose to look at, and, if they so desire, pass on a kind word to me.

I recognize that my positive experience of Class Lists is not universal. This underscores, though, precisely the point that campaigners for the Yes side are trying to make. Your experience of class lists is not my experience of class lists. For this reason, we need choice. The claim that having to choose whether or not to publish our grades is a source of “stress”,  is irrelevant. I think that students are capable of knowing what is good for them.