Elite Cambridge University drinking societies under siege as their darkest secrets are revealed
The UK university’s drinking societies are to be regulated by a code of conduct after a Facebook page posted details of their lurid exploits
From bikini-clad female students wrestling in pools of jelly to binge-drinking, extreme-eating contests and regurgitating live goldfish, the exploits of Cambridge University ’s drinking societies have long provoked tabloid headlines.
Now the future of these groups is under review after a Facebook page dedicated to shutting them down posted hundreds of accounts of inappropriate behaviour allegedly perpetrated by drinking society members, including sexual misconduct, bullying and classism.
The anonymous claims on Grudgebridge include members of a male drinking society sexually harassing “attractive fresher girls” after confiscating their keys and phones; a male member of a society saying female students would “be going home in wheelchairs” after an event; and a drinking society member trying to ban someone from entering a bar because they went to a state school.
In response to the allegations, Cambridge University Student Union (CUSU) is to draw up a code of conduct for drinking societies with members and student sexual harassment campaigners, Cambridge for Consent, which should be in place by the end of term.
The CUSU student president, Daisy Eyre, said the union’s governing body was also expected to vote on whether to back the campaign for the end of drinking societies.
“Personally, I think [drinking societies] are incredibly problematic and disruptive. If you go out to the clubs on a Friday night you will see multiple people wearing drinking society blazers and shirts, making it very clear that they are members of these societies and you are not. And [freshers] can feel really left out if they’re not chosen. And the politics of who is in drinking societies is implicitly and sometimes explicitly homophobic, racist and classist,” said Eyre.
However, other senior student representatives said the Facebook campaign amounted to an “online fatwa”, with several allegations removed from the page because they were false.
The Grudgebridge page began its campaign after posting a video of a Trinity Hall Crescents society event at a local pub where a drunken student made a speech criticising inclusivity, which he claimed was the “single biggest problem facing the [society] in the modern age”.
Although the student concerned was not a member of the Crescents, the society was disbanded due to the incident, which is being investigated by Trinity Hall.
The original administrator of Grudgebridge, who shot the video of the Crescents society, said he then began the campaign to shut down all drinking societies because they reinforced the university’s old boys network and undermined efforts to improve access for working class and black and minority ethnic applicants.
The student, who wishes to remain anonymous, said prior to Grudgebridge there had been a passive resignation about the behaviour of drinking societies by the university. He added: “Now it feels like these lads are s****ing themselves over what might come out.”
The student, who described himself as being lower middle class, added that part of the reason why he had started the campaign was because he went to Eton on a full scholarship. “I know the feeling of being acutely aware of being in a different class,” he said.
The page is now administered by two female students who said it complimented the university’s Breaking the Silence campaign, which allows students to anonymously report sexual misconduct and has led to a huge rise in such complaints.
“Drinking societies aren’t actually responding to Breaking the Silence until now when they’re at risk – when they’ve been exposed,” said one of the administrators.
The other administrator said they had attended one drinking society event in their first term where only attractive white female freshers were invited. “There was the most vile attention and behaviour towards girls by second and third year boys,” she said. “Trying to get girls to sit on their lap. Trying to get them as drunk as possible. We were told that last year three girls’ [drinks] had been spiked.”
Eyre said Grudgebridge had provoked a “seismic shift” in attitudes towards drinking societies at the university. She added: “It’s like the annoyance that has been bubbling up for years has erupted.”
Eyre, who wrote her dissertation on masculinity and the university drinking societies, added: “The norms inside those societies are so warped. It is a crystallised version of lad culture where the jokes are coded in racist, sexist, homophobic deeply intolerant ways. They believe that making jokes – like it’s fine if you slept with the girl who’s passed out – is acceptable and funny.”
Andreas Bedorf, who sits on the CUSU council as the president of Downing College’s graduate students, said the Grudgebridge campaigns “reminds me of a witch hunt or inquisition”.
Bedorf, who is a member of the college’s men’s rowing and drinking society, Downing Tribe, said he had made several fake submissions to the Facebook page, one of which had been published.
The PhD student, who said he would welcome a code of conduct for drinking societies, added: “I know some grudges are definitely true, and [there is] highly problematic behaviours which I totally condemn. [But] I think it would be better to tackle this kind of behaviour rather than drinking societies as a whole when most of them are not problematic and just trying to have a good time and being with like-minded people.”
Grudgebridge’s administrators acknowledged that some false submissions had been posted, including quotes from the play Posh, which depicts a fictionalised version of Oxford University’s Bullingdon Club. They added they were unable to verify posts due to the high number of submissions but they did remove them on request.
A university spokeswoman said colleges were in discussion with their student representatives on a joint approach to unofficial drinking societies and allegations of distressing behaviour, including bullying, peer pressure to drink dangerously, social exclusion and anything that falls under disciplinary procedures.