UPDATE #2 - JCR President's Blog - The 2020 JCR so far

With the term of the 2019-2020 JCR Committee over halfway over (though not in terms of time in residence!), it’s time to reflect on what has been maybe the most trying time for a JCR Committee in Queens’ history.

The challenges have been immense: a virtual Easter term brought about by a global pandemic, the sudden extensive leave of the senior tutor, in absentia graduation, the looming challenge of re-opening the college in a way that is safe and responsible, and the massive hit on the college finances and its implications on student accommodation.

And yet the JCR Committee have shone, and grown in reputation and confidence. In the words of some survey responses ‘out-communicated’ official sources with regular concise and carefully-written update emails. We didn’t let it stop us on the most ambitious initiatives and constitutional reforms in student memory. It was the JCR that made sure we held an online event to mark the otherwise featureless in absentia graduation of our finalists. The JCR has stepped up to the point that we are asked if we will open Dokett gate next year.

We ran over 1448 miles in May to raise over a thousand pounds for charity and keep fit during the lockdown. A raffle and sponsored head shave raised a further thousand. Our online quizzes are successful enough to have continued on a regular fortnightly basis for nearly 6 months. Our Instagram account’s highlights bear testament to bake-offs, a challenges week, commemorations of college marriages, and a special day for wearing stash.

There are big success stories when it comes to planning for next year too. The ballot has been the single most contentious JCR issue in the last 4 years, with multiple systems (all prohibiting group balloting) and controversies. The ballot proposed and partly organised by the JCR Committee this year via Mikel’s beautiful custom form not only dealt with the needs to organise students into households because of COVID-19 but was also clearly communicated and quickly executed without uproar. No balloting groups were split across households and a majority of students received their first choice. With such a success, it’s easy to see this system and JCR-College collaboration as being permanent. Not even we could have anticipated introducing long-awaited group balloting this year. 2020 room booking permissions, buttery seating, booking of the gym are all following suit as JCR-led administrative tasks.

We’ve adapted to the new Facebook-shunning generation with a freshers’ Instagram page (@queenscollegefreshers2020) and are looking to organise a freshers’ week that makes up for the immense stress and uncertainty faced by offer-holders this year, all while abiding by the necessary virus mitigation measures.

We even produced a surprise parody of Billy Joel’s ‘We Didn’t Start the Fire’ and found time to advertise for an April Fool’s JCR committee position.

The pandemic may define our time in office, but that does not mean it has consumed us - just look at this new website!

The College Union (previously an archaic piece of Queens’ bureaucracy) constitution and function have been modernised, to the benefit of the JCR, MCR and societies. Societies have been given a definition and email alias. The way has also been paved for online banking reimbursements of societies. In addition, a new ‘sports and societies guide’ has been produced to better support Queens’ societies.

We didn’t let lockdown stop our access initiatives, and as well as helping with the virtual open days we produced a Queens’ alternative prospectus, coordinated the filming of a virtual tour, more than doubled the number of Humans of Queens’ Instagram posts and launched a new access-oriented TikTok account (@queenscollegejcr) whose videos have collectively reached hundreds of thousands of viewers. Our account has more likes and followers than the University’s own account.

Reflecting on drawbacks and frustrations with the JCR Constitution, we’ve drafted a new document to reflect the needs of a modern JCR, do away with needless constitutional hurdles (specifically replacing open meetings as a constitutional instrument with referenda) and clarify our position as a student representative body. We have trodden carefully, refining our position and recognising where we do and do not have the authority to speak for students. This is to be approved (we hope) in Michaelmas.

We built on the inaugural 2019 Big QJCR Survey in the 2020 edition, securing a turnout of about half the student body and promising an impactful report ready to land on the desk of the new college president and tutorial committee in Michaelmas.

A new JCR Facebook group cover photo, concise harassment and assault guidance, a revived herb garden, finally having ‘JCR Solarium’ (not ‘SCR Solarium’) above the JCR Room, a guide to the lights and a first aid kit in the JCR Room, pigeon holes for QCBC and QEnts, booking the first-year dinner on a recurring basis (so we can have Fridays and not Tuesdays). All of this on top of the usual newsletters, society reimbursements, stocking of sanitary products and dispensing of Queens’ Compliments.

There’s so much to deal with in the second half of term - a huge incoming cohort of first years, maintaining an offsite undergraduate community, following through on efforts to hold anti-racism workshops, supporting students returning from abroad, keeping students well and entertained in a socially-distant Cambridge, managing the unforeseen impact of hundreds of students on quarterly.

To all of this, we say ‘bring it on!’.

Tomos Wood

Queens’ JCR President 2020 - 2021