“There once was a Warden of Wadham
Who approved of the folkways of Sodom,
For a man might, he said,
Have a very poor head
But be a fine Fellow at bottom”
The Georgian era poem tells about the former warden of Wadham College, Robert Thistlethwayte, who was rumoured to be a homosexual in conservative England in the 18th century. Gradually after the case, the Wadham College started attract liberal-minded students in Oxford and eventually developed into a politically active left-wing college.
Wadham was also one of the five first colleges in Oxford to accept female students, and was actually even founded by a woman, Dorothy Wadham, in 1610.
Today Wadham College is a lively and picturesque community of about 600 students. Grateful of their openness, I was able to join the guest dinner in the wonderful Jacobian hall that closely resembled the one in Harry Potter films.
The college has everything a student needs: breakfast, lunch, dinner, accommodation, teaching, common rooms, library, garden and even a chapel. Wadham, unlike several other colleges, is also free from silly rules such as curfews, and is open to public.
After having spent some time in the college I think I have got a picture about what makes Oxford so special. The university, or even individual colleges, is a miniature world with lots of interesting and talented people from various backgrounds and nationalities. When the students have little possibilities to lead any life outside the university, they are prone to be very involved with the student life.
A notable sign that something was different than in Finland was the extensive number of people dressed in black or white tie in the streets of nightly Oxford. Some colleges and private halls are still very conservative: St. Benet’s Hall still only accepts male members. The relations between students and university personnel are often very formal and hierarchical.
To give some examples of imaginative student activities in Wadham, students organise annual “Queerweek” featuring several kinds of LGBT-rights related activities. For this event, they also fly the Rainbow Flag on the roof of the College. In addition, every year the students of Wadham host the Oxford Radical Forum with three days of radical left-wing lectures and workshops. Not everyone in Oxford is old-fashioned and traditionalist.