Presidency in a Pandemic
Reflections from James Bromfield, JCR President 2020-21.
My time as JCR President has certainly not turned out quite how I expected when I ran for the position at the start of Trinity last year. In many ways I thought I was being overly cautious by putting a line in my manifesto about dealing with the implications of the pandemic on JCR life – little did I know then that that one line would come to dominate my whole presidency! From organising a dual-timetabled Freshers’ week that resembled a logistical masterpiece to adapting JCR operations to an online Hilary term, COVID has radically changed the focus of the JCR and how we do things this year. The hardest thing about the whole situation is the uncertainty and rapid change. Like many of us, I have often found myself tuning in for the latest update from the Prime Minister to discover how drastically we will have to alter our plans for the upcoming weeks or term over the past year.
Despite this the JCR has managed to stick together and support each other. With fewer things to fund in terms of events, we shifted our focus to welfare. Our amazing welfare reps, Zaynab and Nikhil, had free rein to comfort everyone with weekly challenges and events and the chance to win prizes throughout our online term, keeping the Hilda’s community together. Our annual Arts Week and Feminist Festival also adapted, very successfully, to the online term thanks to the work of Maggie Moriarty and Joana Baptista respectively. Our communal socialising has managed to continue, despite some Zoom fatigue, including an online crew date. Hilda’s first Drag Race organised by Damian Lewens replaced the annual Pride Bop, proving immensely popular! The JCR has certainly managed to make the best of the situation we find ourselves in, and that’s something that has made me really happy. Even though many of the things I had planned to do as President have been put aside due to COVID-19, the spirit with which the committee and the JCR have stayed positive and continued to look out for each other, as well as continuing to campaign and work towards things they care about in College, has been a lovely thing to see.
Much of my role this year has been liaising with College and the central University about COVID-19 plans and regulations, which often change very quickly. In particular, this has involved a lot of work with the other JCR Presidents to lobby for certain changes at the University level. This has been a really nice group to get to know and certainly a perk of the job! Although COVID-19 has dominated most things, there has still been an opportunity to work in College and at the University level to push for more long-term changes, which has been a real positive to be involved in.
Given the circumstances, perhaps a highlight was being able to have a formal dinner and Christmas lunch in household groups in Hall towards the end of Michaelmas Term. This was the closest we’ve got so far this year to a whole College event (even though it was split across two sittings). It was great to have a small reminder of pre-COVID-19 normality, and to see so many people – at a distance! The JCR Entz Reps, and the College Catering team managed to make both occasions special as memories for this year.
I think my favourite thing about the role of JCR President is the number of people I get to interact with. This too has been hampered by COVID-19 and Teams calls and emails have had to make up for face to face interactions. However, I get an amazing opportunity to speak to so many different members of the JCR, as well as the MCR, College staff, other JCR Presidents, SU officers, and University staff – it’s been incredible to meet such a diverse range of people, getting an insight into so many different areas of College and University life, as well as the all important individuals that contribute to them.
The next JCR President could have a much different world to deal with, which I hope will allow them to take the JCR back to the thriving hub we knew it to be before. I think my advice would be to focus on a few projects you want to achieve and get as much help as possible! St Hilda’s is such a great community that everyone from students to staff has thoughts and will help to shape your plans and ideas. The role requires an eye for the big projects that you want to achieve, but also an adaptability for the spontaneous emergencies that you don’t see coming when they drop into your messages.
If the government road map stays on track (fingers crossed) we can hope for a better Trinity! It would be great to have some slightly more normal times towards the end of my Presidency, and also for the students graduating at the end of this year. Whatever the guidelines are at the time we would love to make the most of what we are allowed to do to get some events of some sort on and reignite that community atmosphere around Hilda’s. Oxford is an intense place to study, but hopefully if one good thing has come out of not being able to be in Oxford it’s a desire to make the most of the time that we do have here.