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Our Last Hurrah? Not Unless We're Lucky!

5th June 2011

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Alex Park

When I first came to look at Lancaster university, I was told by every representative of every college that theirs was the best, which certainly didn't come in handy when eventually choosing which college I wanted to belong to. I finally received the following piece of unbiased advice, “To be fair, whatever college you join will instantly be the best within days of arriving.”


Now, I've generally been regarded as a stubborn creature. Perhaps there was something inside me that refused to believe that could possibly be the case. But I still had high hopes when arrived, of chanting college mottos, attending college parties, having crazy nights in and out with my future flatmates.


This never happened. Of my three other flatmates, only one of them besides me even attended the big night out. I went along. I played the games. I sang the songs. But none of this instilled me with a great sense of pride or belonging. As for my other flatmates? None of then were seen at various freshers events. I went through the first weeks of university life in an extremely lonely fashion until my course started and like-minded people began to gravitate together. I didn't even see my fresher's reps after the first day- and I was in a lot, too nervous to go outside on my own and my flatmates all seemingly recluse.


It's not that my flatmates were horrible people- indeed, when I saw them, they were quite nice. One of them gave me a birthday card on my birthday. We washed up our utensils, kept the place generally tidy, never stole each other's food. We were all extremely polite to each other, but I kid you not when I say I saw one of them only a handful of times throughout the year. Our kitchen was a dark, dingy unappealing place and we all spent as little time in there as possible.


It's safe to say the college system well and truly failed me, and it quickly became apparent that I was not the only one. A close friend of mine who started the year after found herself in a flat of ten, with only three others who were freshers –and none of them had anything much in common. Despite having much nicer accommodations than mine, designed to promote socialisation, she did not make any friends until she joined Theatre Group. Had she not had the fortune to get in a play in her first year, we would never have met, and her first year would have been extremely lonely. Another friend of mine actually got on swimmingly with her flatmates, but she still elected to move away from them in her second year and bares no loyalty to her college whatsoever. It was simply a name for her accommodation.


Of my close group of friends, only one of them is supportive of the college system. Of course he is- he and his flatmates get on brilliantly and are moving in together next year. But for the rest us? We had to move off campus to live with our friends. We won't be attending graduation together. And even though it is our final year at Lancaster University, it seems unlikely that any of us will be attending extravs.


Last year, with the exception of one college, all extrav tickets were sold within a matter of hours and there was a lot of anger from students who had queued up outside their own college to secure a ticket. I can see the frustration there. Die-hard extrav goers intent on going to several of them no doubt split up into small groups to occupy space in several lines and secure tickets for all their friends. Yes, the frustration is valid. This year, to counter-balance that, the JCR have announced that for the first four hours, tickets to each extrav can only be purchased by a member of the college. Should they wish to purchase multiple tickets for their fellows, they must produce Purplecards for all of them, just to make sure. After four hours, tickets are open to all... despite the fact they will probably all be gone. You would have thought, at the very least, students who queue up would be able to buy one ticket for someone not in their college, for their graduate friend or their partner from another college? One person I interviewed told me he has a friend who has come down every year from back home to attend extrav with him –a custom that will be sadly broken this year?


I have no wish to attend my college's extrav. Even in my first year, I attended extravs based on one thing only: theme. I spoke to a member of County JCR who insisted the new methods in place were fair as “it's assumed most people will want to go to their own extrav.” No doubt this opinion is drawn only from the JCR and their friends, who naturally assume this is the case- they are among the few hardcore college fans left. Indeed, it's been years since I heard a college chant. How few people actually care anymore? No, the average extrav-goer goes to dress up, have fun with their mates, and get thoroughly, thoroughly wasted.


It was with this in mind that my first choice first year was Cartmel's Moulin Rouge. Any excuse to slut up with a corset and suspenders. I sashayied down that night, feathers in tow, and partied with my friends for what was probably the best night of my first year. Unfortunately I wasn't able due to various reasons to go to any in my second year, but comforted myself with the thought of going all out for my final, only to be suddenly shocked to find out that was unlikely to be the case at all. I had set my heart on County's Fairy-tale theme. By complete coincidence, a large number of my friends are in County. It seems ridiculous to think I won't be able to party with them for what could well be the last time. The college system seems to make so little sense- I can barely tell one college from the next. We all pay the same fees to join; they're all run in identical fashions. What is honestly the point? What right to Grizedale students have to Grizedale bar? Did they build it? Did they pay for it? Of course not. The university is run as a whole but the college system is segregative and divisive.


If you were one of the lucky ones who arrived on campus, first day, and instantly bonded with your flatmates, great. But let's be honest, that's probably the only reason you like your college, isn't it? Because you were lucky enough to be partnered with people like yourself. Do you have any other kind of loyalty? What makes your college 'the best?' And what about all the rest of us, who bonded with their course mates or societies? What are we to do on Extrav night? I am devastated enough to be having to graduate with my college, away from all my friends, standing awkwardly in the back of people's shots like the unpopular kid at school. I was hoping I would at least be able to have one final bash on campus will all my mates around. At this time in the year when many people will be leaving Lancaster for good, we should be coming together as a university, not splitting up into segregated little groups that haven't mattered since our first year.

The majority of people choose a college not for the description on the university website, but the accommodation. The description is actually completely useless. Flyde has given itself a representation of being “a sports college” even when it features no extra facilities apart from being closer to the current Sports Centre than any of the other colleges. I originally liked the idea of grouping together people from different areas of academia because it seem less segregative than what other college-based universities do, grouping freshers together with people on their course. It is for that reason I don't want the system dissolved altogether, although I have noticed, for the most part, that the most people befriend those of a similar course, and not just because they met through it. Almost all of my friends come under the arts and humanities side of education, and I would speculate that the closest friends within the college system share such similarities as well.


The college system can work, but I think many are in agreement when I say it matters little after first year. If you don't bond immediately with your flatmates, you won't bond with your college, and it can be a real let down for new students especially after all the hype generated from open days. I think a lot can be said about freshers reps and the important role they play in integrating new students into their colleges. There is a positive correlation between those that enjoy the colleges and those that can actually remember their reps names. Perhaps this is a call to the university to provide better training for them before sending them off to the freshers. It is certainly a call to them to break down the barriers dividing the college and make Lancaster University... Lancaster University. Not just a series of college names I genuinely won't be able to remember in a few years time. No, my last few memories of Lancaster University will instead be of sitting home during Extrav Week, feeling increasingly jealous of the friends who were plain lucky enough to have friends in their college, and of standing alone outside the Great Hall after Graduation, enviously watching large groups of friends toss hats up into the air while I stand awkwardly by...

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