5th Week Free: campaign for a reading week at Oxford

Testimonial: History student Holly Rowden

I wasn’t familiar with the concept of ‘Fifth Week Blues’ until Freshers week. But, after hearing the second and third years talking about the sense of hopelessness that sets in when you realise there are still 3 weeks to go and so much still to learn, a sense of nervous anticipation grew as I waited for the stress to properly wash over me. Fifth week came and went, perhaps too fast for me to even notice. I was too busy negotiating two essays a week, and the tiring excitement of settling into a new and intense environment so entirely removed from anything I’d experienced before. Perhaps I had been too deeply in ‘autopilot’ to notice. I think it was 8th week when I finally realised that ‘Fifth Week Blues’ weren’t exclusive to fifth week. And I started to wonder if maybe people were right about the workload at Oxford. Having grown accustomed to the periodical crisis of self doubt (‘why am I here? Surely there was some administrative mistake and they meant to offer someone else a place?’), I worried that I had bitten off more than I could chew by coming here. Fifth week hadn’t taken me by surprise because the pressure had been high from day one; the cumulative effect was impossible to ignore. I’d just been somehow convinced into thinking this was normal, just how things are at Oxford, that ‘Fifth Week Blues’ were a tradition (even if a regrettable one).

Whether it’s 5th week or 3rd week or 7th week or 6th week, sustaining yourself for 8 weeks solidly is an enormous challenge, and rising to it often feels like an impossibility. We get generous holidays compared to many other universities, but they almost always begin with a haze of headachy exhaustion.  The structure of terms and the ‘let’s cram as much as we possibly can into a ridiculously small space of time’ mentality are hugely disadvantageous and counterproductive, but above all it’s damaging to mental health, isolating, and drains the enjoyment out of what may otherwise be enjoyable tasks. There’s nothing wrong with striving for high academic achievement. But it shouldn’t come at such a damaging cost. Having ‘Fifth week free’ would allow students to consolidate, recalibrate, reorganise and rest.


Oxford alumni hand back their degrees

In my recent feature on “25 years of climate change failure” I reported among other things the ongoing campaign of Oxford students to persuade the University to divest its massive £ 3.8 billion endowment from all fossil fuel investments.

After deferring the decision in March, the university’s governing body has last Monday chosen a path of the smallest possible action which, with a lot of good will, could be spun as “doing something”. Specifically, the university has asked its money people not to buy any investment in coal or tar sands in the future, as these are the dirtiest kinds of fossil fuels. As I understand it, the university doesn’t hold any such investments at the moment anyway, so it’s not divesting from anything, it’s just promising not to commit any major crimes against our climate in the future. (While they’re sorting out their ethics, maybe they could also pledge not to buy or sell any slaves and make a firm commitment not to burn any witches?)

Nearly 70 Oxford alumni have now protested against this failure to act more decisively by handing back their degrees. The photos are from a slightly improvised reverse degree ceremony held today outside the University Offices in Wellington Square (proper degree ceremonies are held at the Sheldonian Theatre hence the pun “Shelldonian”). The 59 degrees sent in beforehand were lined up at the start of the event, to which the nine participants added theirs in the course of the ceremony. At the end, the alumni successfully divested from the black stuff, namely the gowns and mortarboards.

Prominent alumni who have pledged to hand their degrees (although I’m not sure if they already have) include environmental campaigner George Monbiot and solar entrepreneur Jeremy Leggett.

Archaeologists investigate mystery of young Civil War woman buried in unusual grave in Oxford

Archaeologists believe a young female wrapped in a pin-fastened shroud, carefully buried during the English Civil War of the mid-16th century and discovered beneath garden soil at a college site in Oxford, was still in rigor mortis when she entered her grave, having died while sleeping or in bed.

Excavators were surprised to find the grave of the woman, who had coins from the period near her head, in an unusual placement outside of consecrated or church land at the St Cross College development. The listed medieval wall of a palace, the remains of 18th and 19th century buildings, wells and gardens and a Quaker’s House have also been unearthed.

“The discovery has been accompanied by much speculation in the local press as to the mystery behind who she was and why she had been buried in a garden during the 17th century,” says Carl Champness, of Oxford Archaeology. Read more.