The JCR and MCR Women’s Officers look back on “Finding our voices”, the first ever event bringing current students and Old Members together for an evening of networking and story-sharing, and reflect on the impact the evening had on them.

As Women’s Officers, one of our aims is to create a sense of community and support within the college. Many students are far from home, and graduate students whose lives and departments are scattered across the city often lack a sense of belonging. We also aim to support Queen’s students through hosting a variety of events. Last year, the MCR Women’s officers received a request from the student body to connect more with the Queen’s Women’s Network (QWN), and to host events that can help with professional development. We also wanted to foster more connections with the JCR, to create a stronger college-wide sense of community.

A year later, on 2 March 2024, our efforts came together in the truly intergenerational “Finding our voices” event as the first collaboration between JCR, MCR, and QWN, marking International Women’s day and celebrating 45 years of co-education at Queen’s.

The event began in the beautiful setting of the Upper Library. The Old Members who had volunteered to share their stories with the students were so warm and as eager to meet us as we were to meet them. Unlike a normal networking event, a sense of equality determined the evening. The story sharers were very kind and generous with their time. These were highly accomplished people who under other circumstances could be intimidating to approach, but in this case the atmosphere was intimate and supportive. The stories and vulnerabilities they shared resonated with students’ own experiences of gendered perspectives along with general difficulties of overcoming challenges. We didn’t have to come with impressively well-formulated questions to earn the right to be heard – we could simply talk and ask whatever came to mind – just being there was enough.

At the formal dinner that followed we continued frank and honest conversations about the ups and downs of studying at Queen’s – both past and present. The seating arrangement of the dinner helped the conversations flow – Old Members sat down first, then students could choose whomever they wished to sit next to. Kate Jones’ (Modern Languages, 1988) keynote speech ended the dinner on an inspiring note for the night.

Faith (JCR, BA History)

“Reflecting on 45 years of women granted admittance to Queen’s alongside Old Members was an incredibly meaningful and thought-provoking experience. As an undergraduate studying History, I have often thought that Oxford still bears vestiges of male exclusivity. The experience of Impostor Syndrome among myself and my friends, for instance, has been a deeply gendered one. This event gave us the opportunity to find community, not only among current members, but with those who have walked before us. It was so heart-warming and inspiring to hear the experiences of women from multiple different fields, and learn about their paths after Queen’s. The event reminded us all that none of us are alone in what can often be a daunting and isolating journey through university. Hearing from the Old Members made us truly feel that we had the support of wiser, well-travelled friends who knew our struggles and could empathise. Kate’s speech after dinner really felt like advice from an older sister, and I appreciated that very much. I hope this isn’t a one-off collaboration between the Queen’s Women’s Network and current students, and that many generations of students at Queen’s will be able to benefit from the care and sincere support shown by Old Members.”

Xinyue (MCR, DPhil Fine Art)

“One of my biggest takeaways from the evening is the extremely unique journey each person embarked on. While we are in education, it is easy to forget that life presents a myriad of opportunities and that this current status does not define who we are. We need not to be restricted by our discipline. We should believe in change instead. Seeing how the network reunited and stayed strong years after its members’ graduation gave me a sense of hope; I know that there will always be a collective out there that is rooting for us, whose spirit we may carry for as long as we wish.

I was incredibly proud of both JCR and MCR members who came and participated, as I was anxious that a dinner for International Women’s Day would be unpopular; instead it became one of the most successful events we have held as Women’s Officers. This, of course, cannot be uncoupled from the support of the Old Members’ Office and the QWN Committee. After dinner, MCR members congratulated us on this event. Although it had often felt like an ideal fantasy in our imaginations and took a long time to organise, it was rewarding to hear sincere words of appreciation. It made me feel like I had done something good. While our time as students is short, and our positions as Women’s Officers even more transient, it was a moment like this that validated our commitment. It has truly been an honour to serve this community. The Old Members have shown us camaraderie, kindness, and a keen faith in life.”

Melody (MCR, DPhil Archaeology)

“It is a privilege for anyone to study at university and especially at Oxford. But during deadlines, mountains of reading, research, writing, anxiety and stress it is easy to forget and to get caught up in piles of work. There are some days when my work is advancing by leaps and bounds, and others when it feels like a Sisyphean labour of pushing a boulder uphill only for it to roll down again. During the difficult times it is easy to fantasise about quitting my PhD. Lately I’ve been feeling anxious and insecure about my own work. But hearing all the stories that night was re-assuring and re-affirming. Every path has its difficulties, one is not better than the other or more ‘right’ than the other – only what is right for you matters. The difficulties along this path may be external or internal. Sometimes, our own weaknesses undermine us. Other times, it is possible to turn these weaknesses into our strengths. At the QWN event I was also reminded how difficult it has been for women historically to gain degrees at the University of Oxford, and at Queen’s College itself.

The Queen’s Women’s Network is an incredible collective body of knowledge – knowledge housed in each individual person through their experiences both within and outside Oxford. How much poorer the College would be without them. The QWN is an amazing resource that we want to share with the student body, and I am grateful that the members were generous with their experiences and knowledge. I take for granted the long road people have walked before me for co-education at Queen’s. It was validating and inspiring to be at the event because I realised, I absolutely cannot give up!”

I hope this isn’t a one-off collaboration between the Queen’s Women’s Network and current students, and that many generations of students at Queen’s will be able to benefit from the care and sincere support shown by Old Members.