Oxford’s University Challenge team given gender quota

Published in The Times, 23 November 2017.

An Oxford college has imposed a gender quota on its University Challenge team to prevent an all-male line up in next year’s contest.

Students at Wadham College have voted that at least one woman should be on the team or else the college will withdraw from the competition.

The college had put on women-only trials to encourage more to apply for a seat on the four-strong quiz team for next year’s series, but these were poorly attended and the team that was finally selected was made up of men. One of them, however, has now stood aside to make way for a woman.

The dearth of women taking part in University Challenge has increasingly concerned universities and the programme’s creators. Last month St Hugh’s, Oxford, which admitted only women until 1986 and is the alma mater of Theresa May, fielded an all-male team, prompting Jeremy Paxman, the quizmaster, to complain. He said that it looked like men had taken over.

The motion to set a quota at Wadham followed a debate on Sunday evening. Some female students said that it was tokenistic, while others argued that the sole woman may be blamed if the team does badly.

Some students had expressed concern that the woman being lined up to replace the student who stood down scored ten points less than the lowest ranked man in auditions.

Others argued that some form of positive discrimination was justified because the team would represent the college on television.

Daniel Villar, who is a member of the team, said that it was infuriating to have people who know nothing about quizzing meddling in who should take part.

“To say this wonderful hobby cannot be enjoyed and its practitioners not able to showcase their talents on television, simply due to their masculinity, seems to be simply injecting politics where it does not belong,” he said.

Mr Paxman has said that the show’s producers want more female contestants but cannot do much about it.

“We would love to see more women on the show but the members of the teams are not chosen by us. It would be ridiculous for us to try to fix this in any other way,” he said.

The motion for a gender quota at Wadham was passed, as well as another stating that it would not enter a team if a willing woman could not be found.

Each university has its own selection process but students generally choose their own teams to represent them.

One other university has attempted to address the gender imbalance. King’s College London said that men should only make up half the team. This year it had two women on the show and lost its first-round match.

Oxford stands in ‘solidarity’ against terror at Manchester attack vigils

Published in Cherwell, 23 May 2017.

Hundreds of Oxford students joined faith leaders and local residents on Tuesday evening to remember the victims of Monday’s horrific terror attack in Manchester which claimed the lives of 22 concert-goers, many of them young children.

Around 100 students attended a vigil outside the Radcliffe Camera, organised by OUSU, to “stand with Manchester”.

Several students, some wearing “I heart Manchester” t-shirts and visibly emotional, spoke at the event, which took place less than 24 hours after a suicide bomber detonated an improvised explosive device at an Ariana Grande concert at the Manchester Arena.

They had come to express their “love and solidarity,” as Katt Walton, a Christ Church student who is from Manchester, said in a speech outside the Rad Cam.

“(We’re) sending out our condolences to the people who have lost loved ones, friends and family, especially as it was an event which was supposed to be a really fun night (and) a lot of younger kids went,” she later told Cherwell.

“It’s really important to remember that this wasn’t a godly act, it isn’t down to Islam, and that this isn’t a time for Islamaphobia to come out of the woodwork. (Terrorism) aims to divide and conquer and the best thing we can do is stand together,” Walton added.

In a further vigil on Cornmarket, faith leaders from the city’s major denominations — Christian, Muslim, Jewish, Hindu — gathered to send their “prayers for Manchester”. Candles were lit and around 50 people took part in a minute silence, remembering the victims of an attack which the Prime Minister Theresa May has described as “cowardly” and “sickening”.

“We hope to show unity and solidarity, and that no terrorist can divide us,” said Dr Sheik Ramzy, Director of the Oxford Islamic Information Centre and a member of the Muslim Council of Britain.

Dr Ramzy, holding a sign reading “We stand with Manchester”, told Cherwell: “We are all together as one family, one British family, to stand against any terror, and we shall win.”

Addressing the crowd outside the Carfax Tower, Bede Gerrard, Ecumenical Canon of Christ Church Cathedral, said: “We are here as human beings, as citizens of Oxford and as citizens of this country. We want to be a country where peace is sovereign.”

“As people of faith we should embrace our diversity,” he added, speaking to Cherwell.

“Religion is so often put forward as something that divides people. And it can do, but it’s not meant to. I think we’re trying to show that together we are stronger than apart.”


The two events follow a major vigil in Manchester’s Albert Square on Tuesday evening to remember the victims of the atrocity. Outside the Rad Cam, students — including finalists wearing full subfusc, and others in their religious dress — stood in silence for a minute to show their defiance to terror.

Orla White, the OUSU Women VP, told Cherwell: “We were hoping to show solidarity with Manchester, and to be led by students who are from Manchester, to provide a space for people to come together and respond to a really horrible tragedy.”

As the vigil ended, the crowd sang a rendition of the Manchester band Oasis’ song ‘Wonderwall’, reading the words from lyric sheets handed out by student union organisers: “And all the roads we have to walk are winding / And all the lights that lead us there are blinding”.

At one point, an irritated student stuck his head out from a Bodleian Library window above to shout: “Don’t you realise you are right outside a library?”

The crowd, with tears and smiles on their faces, sang louder.