Issue 84- Autumn Winter 2022

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Issue 84 - Autumn-Winter 2022

News & Investigations

The Cheese Grater AW 2022 2

One Pending Street: Communication Failures Worsen Accommodation Delays at UCL East Rebekah Wright, Thais Jones, Samir Ismail and Nandini Agarwal To protect anonymity, some names have been replaced with pseudonyms. On the 22nd of September, many students, leaving home for the first time, prepared to move into UCL’s newest accommodation, One Pool Street (1PS). Many were already anxious, if not confused about moving in, as despite being enrolled on a course taught on the Bloomsbury Campus, they had been housed in Stratford. These anxieties were compounded when only three days before move-in they were informed that 1PS would not be ready to house students for another week. It would be another two weeks before residents were told that it would in-fact be another month, or longer, before they could move in. Students were housed in a range of different temporary residences. Relatively lucky students found themselves housed in 4-star hotels on Tottenham Court Road while others were placed in more than lacklustre UCL accommodation such as John Dodgson House. At first, this seemed a rudimentary problem which would cause limited distress to those involved. However, an in-depth investigation revealed significant issues faced by students, and an apparently worrying array of mismanagement and incompetence from UCL Accommodation in dealing with these issues, appearing to stem from structural issues within UCL itself. The first in a series of miscommunication from UCL was during the initial accommodation application process for new students in the summer. Some students told The Cheese Grater that One

Pool Street was not listed as an available option when selecting their preferences for accommodation criteria, blindsiding them completely when they received news that they would be housed all the way in Stratford. Interestingly, UCL says that rooms are allocated based on the ‘availability’, ‘maximum weekly rent’ that a student can afford, and ‘individual preferences’. As such, students are given a list of options as to their room preference: whether or not they want to be catered, have an ensuite or even live in a studio. A factor not considered is the distance a student is willing and able to commute. It is not uncommon to be assigned a room that was not on one’s preference form. However, assigning students to an accommodation that wasn’t even on the website displays UCL’s ignorance. In an interview with The Cheese Grater, Nick Miao, the Students’ Union’s Accommodation and Housing Officer suggests that since the building was still under construction, “No images were available for use on the website’” leaving the entire residence omitted. However, computer rendered images of 1PS did exist on the Transforming UCL webpage, dated October 1st, 2020. This means that more information could have been provided to students moving in September 2022. Living in Stratford would still be less than ideal, but at least students would know it was an option. The Cheese Grater has seen emails revealing that only three days before their supposed move-in date, students were told that it would be another week until 1PS would be ready; this coming as students had finally reconciled themselves with the disadvantages of living in Stratford. Students only expected to live in these places a week and even those living in 4 star hotels became unhappy after

learning that 1PS would at best be ready by reading week. The original, incredibly vague, reason for delay given was, continued supply chain challenges and technical difficulties’. When these slightly uninformed students did eventually move into their temporary accommodation, whether decaying halls or luxurious hotels, a whole new plethora of issues began to materialise. Who would have thought that a Hilton babe and JD inmate would share a common cause? What is the one thing that both the visiting celebrity and the lowly student yearn for? The answer: a genuine freshers’ experience and sense of community. A typical student, one so lucky to start the year living in the same room they will for the rest of it, spends the first few weeks settling in and getting to know their flatmates. However, this was an opportunity that the 1PS students were robbed of. A student lamented, “[They] were left entirely to [their] own devices,” in trying to carve out a sense of familiarity - they weren’t told how many students would be at their temporary accommodation or who these students were, or who their flatmates at 1PS would be when they did eventually move in. Students dealt with the reality of being alone by asking the accommodation team for their room numbers, and then relying on personal group chats to figure out who their flatmates were, because UCL’s data protection policy meant a lack of official access to said information. The data protection policy makes sense, but students themselves suggested alternative solutions including voluntary sign-ups to help them socialise. The freshers’ experience is not solely a

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a social one. It is when academics can take a back seat so freshers can adjust to their new surroundings and make the space their own. This was a rite of passage that the future residents of 1PS were excluded from. We found that students were receiving weekly emails about how it would only be another week until they could move in. Students were therefore unable to get comfortable in their temporary accommodation, always thinking that soon they would be on the move again. This constant uncertainty meant that students didn’t know if unpacking or doing laundry would be a waste of time, always expecting to be out in just a few days. This kind of uncertainty was “not [an] ideal situation for studying,” noted one resident, it was just an additional source of anxiety, on top of the “many things [they] have to worry about already.” Another resident said that they would rather UCL Accommodation just “told them the truth” about when they were going to move in. We can stipulate that the reason students were not given a fixed move-in date was simply because UCL themselves did not know when 1PS would finally be ready. The comments we’ve received make clear that UCL’s carelessness in communication is symptomatic of their inability to empathise with students and their further refusal to be truthful. Lina, who had been through this ordeal-byemail said, “It was horrible, I just didn’t trust anything they said anymore.” Other than a general feeling of disappointment in UCL’s shortcomings, students in all temporary accommodation have been facing genuine day-to-day problems. Stefan, an international student from Spain housed at Radisson Blu Edwardian Hotel on Tottenham Court Road voiced issues with hotel living: “At the very beginning I had to wash everything by hand.” It is unthinkable that students were only informed about access to laundry facilities after a full two weeks.

Those temporarily housed in hotels as far as Kensington were only given access to the Circuit Laundry facilities at Ramsay Hall, a UCL accommodation minutes from the Bloomsbury campus. The time lost and costs incurred from the 30-minute commute seem a high price to pay for an essential task. It seems natural that students would be reimbursed for this travel, given this is an expense resulting from UCL’s poor planning. However, UCL appears sluggish in dealing with matters involving travel costs and reimbursement in general. Despite the lack of clarity regarding travel expenses, UCL made clear that they intended to reimburse students that are placed in hotels, and do not have access to cooking facilities, for their food. The result of this has been that many students had not had warm food since they moved into temporary accommodation, without ‘access to even a microwave’, save for the weekly 1PS dinners. Unfortunately, actually obtaining the £30 a day allowance to afford a hot meal

proved to be an uphill battle. Originally, UCL planned to retrospectively add this money to the students’ Portico credit, ‘once [they had] moved into [their] permanent accommodation at One Pool Street’, which could then be used to ‘reduce [their] first term invoice’. It is worrying that UCL thought it was appropriate to pay students a lump sum a month later, in the midst of a cost of living crisis, when many students needed this money sooner in order to make ends meet and have a decent quality of life. It was only two weeks later, following feedback from students, that UCL decided to reimburse them ‘prior to [their] move to 1PS, directly into [their] bank account’. Initially, UCL’s willingness to accept student criticism and change accordingly was welcome. The details of the planning and execution of the policy, however, left much to be desired. Almost a month after promising more prompt reimbursement, students were, at the time of move-in, yet to receive this money. This U-turn has effectively been rendered fruitless, since students did not

News & Investigations benefit from reimbursement until the 9th of November, four days after their move-in. Home students would certainly have benefited from an earlier deposit of this money. Unfortunately, for international students, it ‘MUST be a UK bank account’ to be eligible for reimbursement. Those who have been living in hotels are still without a permanent, fixed address and as such are unable to open a U.K bank account. UCL only relented to send money to an international account after being pressured by Stefan. UCL essentially withheld the fact that they are able to send money to international accounts from students, made clear by the fact UCL would only do this when asked. While we understand it takes more time and is costlier to transfer money internationally, UCL’s reluctance to do so is demonstrative of the fact they do not understand or care little about the particular issues faced by international students. International students are already faced with several difficulties including culture shock, a new environment, the tedious process of getting a VISA, and other administrative complexities. They are expected to deal with these challenges, all surrounded by the uncertainty about where they’re going to live. While home students meant to be living at 1PS are faced with the same uncertainty, more localised support means that they are better equipped to deal with it.

The Cheese Grater AW 2022 4 were planning to have really heavy things shipped from their home country by their parents, to One Pool Street. They can’t do this without a fixed address.” She continued, “even though [UCL] had arranged to have things forwarded from One Pool Street to your temporary accommodation, if they send something really heavy it’s difficult to then bring it back to One Pool Street.” This is especially true for those staying in hotels, who won’t have space to store these large items they’ve had shipped over. The lack of forethought on UCL’s behalf concerning the unique challenges faced by international students creates a two-tier system where they are not given the additional support they require. Despite these issues, students have acknowledged the perks of living in a central London four star hotel. Elinor, a student currently housed at a Radisson Blu Hotel, explained, “[they are] kind of bribing us not to complain - but it’s working,” further sharing with us that this was a common feeling among those placed in her hotel. Meanwhile, students placed at the only slightly less luxurious John Dodgson House had different concerns.

Another process that international students are further disadvantaged in, is moving. Home students have the benefit of the UK’s transport infrastructure to move their things across the country. Meanwhile, international students must, at huge personal expense, either bring it with them on a plane or have it shipped.

Catherine, an international postgraduate student, explained the wantful state of John Dodgson House at the time of her arrival. “The flat had clearly not been cleaned from the year before. Everything was stained and mould was growing.” Catherine further explained how she, along with her fellow future 1PS residents were left to discover the shortcomings of the John Dodgson House facilities. “Two out of the five fridges did not work, something we weren’t told. Whenever you asked a staff member where something was, they’d tell you they didn’t know. I guess they expected to move into 1PS too.”

Catherine explained the challenges of living in temporary accommodation as an international student, “some people

This is possibly a result of the fact that John Dodgson House was not meant to house any students for the 2022-23 aca-

demic year due to ‘much needed renovation’. UCL’s apparent lack of preparation compounded students’ anxieties. Catherine juxtaposed “cleanliness [being] very important in [her] culture” with having to go “days without heating or hot water, having cold showers.” She continued, “Eventually it was making me ill mentally, I couldn’t feel safe. I needed to get out.” After receiving no help from UCL Student Support and Wellbeing services, she wrote to the Accommodation team requesting to move, as John Dodgson’s hygiene standards were making it difficult to deal with her “long-standing hygiene-related OCD.” She highlighted that she only accepted the 1PS offer owing to it being “brand new and clean” and “UCL’s failure” was causing her “such distress” and “ruining [her] important first months”. It took 8 days and multiple visits to the reception desk for UCL to offer Catherine an alternative. Concerningly, she only found out about the alternative when she went to reception and was told, “Oh don’t worry about it, you’re moving to the hotel tomorrow, anyways.” Her predicament did not end here. Confusion about when exactly she could move to the hotel, and whether they’d verified her move in, meant she had to spend an extra day at John Dodgson, worsening her mental health. In their comment, a UCL spokesperson stated: “Student wellbeing has been at the heart of our decision-making while contingency measures have been in place and we have worked closely with the Students’ Union and Student Support and Wellbeing teams throughout.” Emma, another student in John Dodgson House, did not have complaints about the accommodation itself but the long process it took her to get there. Emma had applied to be on the Early Arrivals List, a service UCL provides for those who arrive in London before their move-in date.

5 AW 2022 The Cheese Grater Emma had been living at Stapleton House and had previously contacted UCL Accomodation to ensure she could move into 1PS at the end of her stay on the 17th of September. The lack of confirmation from UCL, and the panicked information from other students on WhatsApp groupchats about a “big problem with One Pool Street” led Emma to book a hotel. She ended up having to shell out £500 for three nights to ensure safety, fearing she wouldn’t be able to get in contact with UCL amidst the Queen’s funeral. She only received correspondence from UCL when she resorted to DMing them on Instagram, where they admitted that she had not been added to the Early Arrivals List “due to a system error”. They refused to reimburse her, suggesting she cancel her hotel booking and move into JDH. “Because of this incident I lost £500, if I had known about the situation early, I would have had time to tackle this mess. I was worried about where I’d live that week and my safety in London.” It is worrying that the most efficient communication channel of communication during the lead up to moving in was Instagram. Furthermore, Emma only initially found out that there was an issue through student channels. Another student Henry commented, “I feel students are more organised than UCL”, which speaks volumes about UCL’s failure to provide clear and timely information to students, leaving them to rely on unverified texts on WhatsApp groups. However, when students like George have to wait 10 days to receive a response from askUCL, unofficial information from students feels like the only option. He says, “I feel like we are not being heard... we are paying so much to be here, I think we deserve slightly better treatment.” Worse still, some even resorted to websites like The Student Room and Reddit in their effort to figure out what was going on. This leaves students in a precarious position where

News & Investigations they have to take for granted what others are writing in an unmonitored chat room. Comments on these sites revealed students’ lack of trust in UCL, with one commenting “we won’t get an official answer [from UCL] or anything”, while another stated that this hectic process led them to defer their place at UCL entirely. This panic and confusion is a consequence of a pattern of poor communication exhibited by UCL in the weeks prior and during the first term. For students, a total lack of response or emails was not the worst of UCL communication. Several students reported missing important emails, or receiving emails much later than other students. One email even arrived clumsily unformatted, addressed to “Dear {NameFirst]”. An anonymous SU source told The Cheese Grater that a Sabbatical Officer described UCL’s communications system and database as “broken” in an internal meeting. At some point the question of why everyone is saying there’s a comms problem needs to be acknowledged. Why is it so difficult for the UCL bureaucracy to work together to send the right email to the right people at the right time? Investigation into the cause of these issues revealed that UCL’s internal communications were as bad, if not worse than their correspondence with students. A UCL staff member insisted to Nick that UCL has always been clear. When asked about the process times and details of the change in the food-reimbursement policy from Portico credit to cash in hand, this official insisted that UCL had been “very clear on this” and confusingly told a Union source that the change was only offered to scholarship students who could not access Portico credit. After being pressed, they confirmed with a colleague that actually, UCL had changed their policy. While it is understandable that an official might forget the details of a policy with the constant changes, how can we

expect students to keep up when the staff cannot themselves? Nevertheless, this official said that all information had been accurately distributed in the emails, yet admitted there was no way to ensure that students actually read them. As demonstrated by student experiences, communication is a recurring issue at 1PS, and UCL Accommodation in general. When Nick Miao raised the issue of students facing long waiting periods after auto-responses from askUCL, he was told, “there are other contact channels [...] we all know what automated help desks are like.” However, the convoluted structure of comms and management at UCL East, UCL Accommodation and the Students’ Union mean that students are unaware of these ‘other contact channels’. Them being redirected every time they have a query increases response times and adds to stress. Nick fruitlessly suggested setting up a public FAQ or a helpline specifically for 1PS students, just to signpost these helpful contact channels. His proposal for the helpline was shot down, reason being they didn’t believe it was the “best use of resources”. There was also scepticism surrounding the online FAQs, which The Cheese Grater learned was due to “UCL being touchy about the One Pool Street fiasco going public”, since there has been no official coverage about the delays. The official UCL line is that they are doing the best they can to mitigate the situation. On the recurring issue of poor communication, Nick informed The Cheese Grater that he was told by UCL staff, “we are not withholding information [...] it would not be in our interests to give anyone information that is not accurate.” They disturbingly added, “I really hope people appreciate we didn’t have to give people free accommodation.” It seems that they do not feel ultimately responsible for the delays of 1PS and believe providing a few weeks of free rent is a valid substitute to their pastoral responsibilities.

News & Investigations To this effect, a UCL spokesperson said: “For students who have now moved into One Pool Street, we provided alternative accommodation in hotels or halls, for the first half of this term. These students were not charged any rent for this period and we put in place a number of measures to ensure they had additional support and opportunities to socialise and get to know each other.” The mastermind behind this symphony of UCL Accommodation shortfalls is in fact, no one. The role of Director of Accommodation at UCL has been vacant since before the start of term and it is not expected to be filled for another few weeks. Without someone at the top of the UCL hierarchy accountable for these issues, the astonishing amount of problems become easier to explain. Especially since this left no one to coherently coordinate between the several overlapping but separate departments; UCL Accommodation, UCL East, One Pool Street, UCL Communications and Marketing, John Dodgson House, askUCL and the Students’ Union. Underlying these issues is the more than lacklustre response of the Students’ Union. A student representative revealed to The Cheese Grater that UCL had previously been holding emergency meetings addressing 1PS. These Critical Incident meetings are protocol for crisis response, graded “Gold”, “Silver” and “Bronze” by the urgency of the issue. Different grades allow different levels of representatives access to them. Nick was not invited to these meetings as his position as a student officer didn’t grant him access, and information from these meetings was meant to “trickle down” to him through the Sabbatical Officers. He commented, “I expected this from UCL, but what amazes me is that not even the Union bothered telling me about what is probably the biggest accommodation scandal this university has

The Cheese Grater Autumn AW 6 seen since the rent strikes a few years ago. How am I meant to do my job when half the time I’m rummaging around UCL red tape trying to find out what is going on?” A Sabbatical Officer, almost gatekeeping information, told Nick that he should contact them first instead of going directly to UCL Accommodation. The Welfare & Community Officer, Umair Mehmood, understandably did not go to these meetings at the beginning citing personal reasons. Instead, Deniz Akinci, the Union Affairs Officer, went to represent the Students’ Union. However, now weeks into the term and weeks after taking office, Umair still does not go to meetings about 1PS, stating in an interview, “I didn’t take over from him, just because it’s easier for UCL to talk to one person than to multiple people.”

pressuring UCL to communicate effectively and offer support to students with their substantial resources. UCL’s perceived constant inadequacy in anticipating, and then responding to consequent issues faced by students has resulted in widespread confusion and disarray. Some students have been left feeling vulnerable with limited access to support. While students undoubtedly appreciate their temporary accommodation, they have now settled into those, and are dreading moving out to Stratford in the middle of term. It has become clear that UCL need to confront their internal entanglements to mount a sufficient response. The Students’ Union declined to comment.

This is an insufficient excuse for two big reasons. First of all, it is much more within the remit of the Welfare Officer to be attending meetings about decisions that directly impact the welfare of students. Secondly, the idea that UCL are somehow incapable of communicating with more than one Sabbatical Officer is staggering, and realistically, this response is nothing more than an excuse.

UCL further commented:

The Students’ Union lack of involvement and comment on the 1PS delays mean that students have not been receiving the proper and due support they are entitled to from the body that is supposed to be focused on representing them. Nick revealed to us the reason behind this. “With UCL being so touchy about the whole situation going public, the SU has been using this as leverage to gain a lot of concessions.”

It has been exciting to welcome our first students to brand new accommodation in One Pool Street, a vibrant studying, living and working environment in the first of our buildings to open.

The unfortunate insinuations of this are that the SU sees the displaced students of 1PS as nothing more than a political pawn. Instead of playing politics with UCL, they could have been publicly

“Our new UCL East campus is a major building project that has been underway for eight years. Due to supply chain challenges, there were some late-stage technical issues, which led to a slight delay in One Pool Street being handed over.

We have apologised to all students who were affected. If any student is currently facing issues that we are unaware of, we would ask them to contact the One Pool Street Accommodation Office urgently so that they can be resolved.” Additional reporting by Danya Taha and Joe Houghton

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Chun Buckets Everywhere: How Initiation Ceremonies Ruin the Freshers Experience Neil Majithia and Elettra Plati Four years ago, the UCL Students’ Union acted on its ban of initiations and disaffiliated Men’s Rugby after the society was found guilty of breaching regulations surrounding peer pressure - having forced freshers to drink heavily and sign NDAs so their initiation ceremonies were never made known. The Union cut all ties with the team, removing them from all competitions and banning their use of UCL facilities. This aimed to set a precedent of the Union’s zero-tolerance approach towards initiations, which are banned in the Clubs and Societies Regulations. However, as that precedent faded out of memory, socials resembling initiations made a comeback. The Cheese Grater has received multiple tips about high profile societies pressuring newcomers to drink heavily and participate in ceremonies including stuffing Weetabix and ketchup into their mouths, or licking the tube floor, or worse. These socials are not called initiations by the societies. Instead, they are referred to by euphemisms like “New Recruit Night” or a “Freshers’ Social”. Many of the drinking games are only played at the first social, and only played by people new to the society, and with forfeits much worse than standard drinking games entail. The only difference between these events and initiations is the name. Despite this, the Students’ Union should be able to see through the facade. The euphemisms and code names are easy to spot and it’s hard to believe that the Union is blind to them. The Union must not wait for complaints before acting - it should actively prevent initiations, to keep freshers safe on one of their first socials at university. In an interview, an ex-member of

Women’s Lacrosse shared her own initiation experience from last year, which she described as “pretty hellish”. Despite not being called an initiation, she notes that “it was very obvious from the activities that we were doing and who was leading them, that it was an initiation”. Amongst the activities she had to partake, this student recalls that the initiation opened with a chugging relay, and then continued with a series of drinking games, always led by seniors or committee members. “After [the chugging relay] we had a bigger relay, and the lacrosse tradition is getting ginned. So senior members gin you if you break the rules, and they have rules in place”. How much the initiates were drinking was therefore up to senior or committee members. If you break the rules, the student explains, “they make you put your head back and pour the gin, and they decide how much they pour”. Meanwhile, the leaders of the society “didn’t have to participate in anything”, enjoying a power trip on a night out at the expense of freshers. get ginned verb have gin poured down one’s throat by a senior until all selfrespect is lost

After the relays, the senior members “put dry Weetabix in [the freshers’] mouths”, and then condiments like barbeque sauce, ketchup and mayo. Freshers were forced to eat this, and then they got ginned again. The amount of gin required for this social alone likely contributed to the £3.5k loss the Lacrosse club made last year. Freshers were then duct taped together and forced to compete in more chal-

lenges, and get ginned even further. At this point, members of the public came up to the group and “asked if everything was okay, and whether everyone was consenting to this.” Evidently the initiation seemed more like a hostage situation than a university social. Throughout this exhausting night, the interviewee said senior members of the society “weren’t trying to talk” to the freshers at all, despite the idea of the first social being an introduction of new recruits to their teammates. This represents the true nature of these initiations: the senior members of the society taking advantage of the freshers for their own benefit. The power dynamic of initiations results in extreme peer pressure for the participants, who feel like they have no other choice but to do what they are told for the mere purpose of fitting in. At Lacrosse, members felt pressured into not leaving the event and completing all of the challenges.

News & Investigations One interviewee said “there weren’t opportunities to leave”, possibly owing to the freshers literally being taped together. This initiation took place late at night in a park near Loop, making it unsafe for a drunk fresher to get home by themselves after refusing to get ginned one more time. A RUMS Hockey member had an equally exhausting time on their first social, which is totally not an initiation. They revealed that “new recruits were told to drink and run a lap around the forest.” Further, they said that even when people did resist drinking games they would often relent “just to shut [senior members] up”. Worse still, even though they conceded that senior members ultimately could not force you to drink, they emphasised that “older years won’t form a connection with you as much, in a way they’ll like you less than if you did the games.” It is horrific that students feel that to truly be part of the community they must participate in these immature, dangerous drinking games. Even after making it through the outdoor games, it did not get better. The RUMS hockey member stated that the environment in Mully’s was nothing short of grim: “[It] turns into an absolute den. Chun buckets everywhere.” While one could admire the planning that sports societies make to ensure the floor of Mully’s remains chunder-free, we should question whether the Students’ Union should be associating themselves with events where it is necessary to prepare for so many new students getting dangerously drunk. chun buckets noun strategically placed vessels to aim one’s projectile vomit into

Regardless of the venue, it is hard to expect a fresher to say no to challenges when they’re in an environment heavy with peer pressure. Further, while many

The Cheese Grater AW 2022 8 committee members will say that these initiations help foster a sense of a community and bonding, we’ve heard otherwise. When discussing the relationship between RUMS Rowing committee and regular members an interviewee described, “the vibe is quite authoritative.” This manifests in multiple ways. “If you’re being told to drink, it’s quite hard to refuse, I’ve never seen it before. No one has the balls to do that”. While RUMS Rowing seniors do participate in drinking games, they have the advantage of actually knowing the rules. For unassuming freshers, it is not the same: “Freshers don’t know the rules [of these games], so they get made to drink more often.” Drinking initiations in RUMS are especially secretive. This is because the General Medical Council will examine any irresponsibility a potential doctor has been involved in in their past, and not approve their qualification if deemed too disreputable. This creates a fear of speaking out in fear of jeopardising their future careers. Thus, RUMS Rowing act with a deliberate secrecy to ensure their malfeasances are not public. When questioned about an alleged drinking game called puffing, an interviewee responded, “Oh yeah, I can’t disclose this information [...] they don’t want people to know about it, I’m not confident enough to expose their secrets.” After being asked how they knew this information was meant to be secret, they elucidated, “So when seniors in the club talk about these questionable things they use [code] names, and when you try to ask they’ll seem like they don’t want to give you details or they’ll tell you straight out people aren’t supposed to know about it.” In this instance there should be no doubt that the committee is complicit in these actions, creating an atmosphere where students do not feel comfortable expressing their uneasiness.

puffing verb drinking until one throws up into the bin bags tied round one’s neck

You would expect the role of the committee is to break up any atmosphere like that, and stop harmful situations from developing. The Lacrosse president assured us that they do this by looking out for those who might be having a bad time and reminding them they don’t have to do anything. However, in terms of actual intervention, the president said “it’s hard to limit what people challenge other people to do,” and “people are adults at university, and I’m not going to stop someone from choosing to drink.” Not all committees find this task so difficult. The Women’s Cricket president encouragingly stated, “we are alert to [peer pressure to drink] and we can sort help and intervene.” Further, “[They’re] also organising active bystander training for the committee to be compulsory and encouraging other club members to come along with that as well.” The difference between some societies is staggering; while some rely on one sober committee member to safeguard freshers at initiation nights, others proactively ensure that the entire committee is trained to diffuse any arising complications. This negligence is why the challenges and ceremonies get so bad, and why freshers are so mistreated. A lack of active intervention means no repercussions for senior non-committee members when they duct tape freshers together, or pour choice condiments down their throats. It is not only the first socials of term that societies hold these initiations, but also the tours that many sports societies take. One RUMS Rowing member told us that “all the freshers are only allowed to bring a bumbag with all their belongings in it,” stating further “there are a couple things on tour I think that could be cast as an initiation.” Being robbed of any reasonable storage space where you

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only have space for your phone and a charger is too far. It forces you to rely upon the kindness of your seniors- the same seniors who speak in codenames so that they can keep themselves safe, for belongings like clothes, amenities, and all essentials when travelling.

the club. Therefore, they have a hesitant willingness to take part in the ceremonies in fear of being a “fun sponge” and its consequences. This dynamic contributes to an unwelcoming environment for new students that stains the reputation of UCL.

night, where they had dinner together before heading to the pub. Because this society made a concerted effort to distance themselves from a heavy drinking culture, the focus of the social was getting to know the new members over a meal rather than pressuring them to drink.

The freshers-committee dynamic involves the superiority complexes of committee members and the vulnerability of freshers.

Intervention is necessary because the Students’ Union has a duty to take responsibility for the safety and wellbeing of first year students. The 18-19 year olds fresh out of secondary school won’t have a high alcohol tolerance, and can end up seriously ill from drinking as much as they’re made to at initiations. Furthermore, being new in an unfamiliar place makes them extremely susceptible to peer pressure, and without intervention, that is taken advantage of.

Their socials throughout the year reflect the welcoming atmosphere Women’s Cricket creates at that first curry night, and this shows even in drinking socials. The president said they always have two sober people at socials, and at the sight of somebody being pressured they can “sort help and intervene”. She has also organised active bystander training for the entire committee.

First year students join sports societies in part for the sport, but in part to find friends in an environment that is entirely new to them. An ex-member of Men’s Hockey noted that during his initiation, freshers would go as far as licking the floor of the tube if they spilled their drink, having been pressured to do so by senior society members. If they didn’t, they were “disrespecting the committee” and forced to do 10 press-ups and take a shot of gin. They were also made to get into the bag holders on the tube ceiling, or forced to drink again. This all took place in a 1:30 p.m. to 2 a.m. alcoholic binge that new members were pressured into taking part in. Later in the evening, the society played drinking games but conveniently didn’t explain the rules to freshers. If they then broke the rules that they had no knowledge of, they were “punished” by being made to chug 5 pints of beer. A RUMS Cricket interviewee said they “would do anything so that older years like them more.” For committee and senior members, this becomes something to exploit and have a laugh about. “It was demeaning through ageism, but of course it was. In the first two weeks the older members make an example of you being a fresher. It was definitely a sort of hazing.” Freshers are made to believe that giving into the pressures of initiations is the only way for them to make friends, get into a team and appear “likeable” to the rest of

Initiations also create a barrier of entry for people who choose not to drink. At Lacrosse, the ex-member said, “there wasn’t an option to not drink … you just wouldn’t come to socials if you didn’t.” RUMS Rowing is similar, “if you’re not a drinker or you’re not ok with drinking culture, there’s not really much to do at a RUMS Rowing social.” They expanded, “There are some people who attend, who don’t drink, who just drink like pints of water, but I feel like you need to have a confident relationship with alcohol to be in that environment.” Initiations add to the alcohol-centric culture at sports societies, which excludes anyone who doesn’t drink. In reality, the concept of an initiation boils down to new people being introduced to the society, and this can be achieved without the exploitation of freshers that characterises initiation culture as we know it. Positive stories of initiations have also been shared with us, and are a viable alternative to the undesirable ceremonies that currently take place. For example, In Women’s Cricket, the first social was a team-building curry

This has borne fruit - the society is a close knit family, and they didn’t need initiations and heavy drinking to build that community. “People say there isn’t that barrier you’d expect with women’s cricket where you’d have to drink loads, or do a weird initiation ritual. It’s really beneficial to move away from,” says the president. Squash society has a similar account. By diversifying away from sports night and having unrelated socials and different experiences, the society has made it clear that you can be a part of the society without having to take part in drinking or initiation culture. The president explained, “With team based sports, freshers will probably feel more pressure to do stuff to be a part of the team, but here you don’t have to do that at all.” Despite this, both the Women’s Cricket and Squash presidents thought it was easy to stop initiations and rebuild cultures at all sports societies, and doing so would be the best for all parties. Seniors taking advantage of freshers at initiations is still a recurring issue. Students either do not know about or are too afraid to use reporting channels, meaning the SU is often unaware of these incidents. sshould be welcoming to all, not

Voices Consequently, minimal intervention gives offenders freedom to carry out these unchecked initiations. Action needs to be taken to ensure that all students, regardless of whether they drink, are safe and have fun during sports societies’ socials. Afterall, sports should be welcoming to all, not just those who want to lick the tube floor. The Cheese Grater contacted the Students’ Union for comment on allegations about initiation ceremonies and the evident lack of intervention and regulation. A spokesperson said: “This type of behaviour has no place in our club and society

The Cheese Grater AW 2022 10 culture and the reports described in this article are very concerning.

+ Support tool. Sports club members can make reports directly to BUCS.

We have not received any complaints or anonymous reports from committees, club or society members, or other students regarding this type of behaviour so far this academic year. However, each report in this article will be immediately investigated and those found to have breached our regulations will face disciplinary action.

Extensive training is given to club and society committees ahead of each new academic year. This training sets out the expectations of committees to build an inclusive culture in their groups and the rules and regulations related to unacceptable behaviour, including any behaviour that could be considered an initiation.”

If you have experienced, or witnessed, this type of behaviour, please come forward. We encourage students to make anonymous reports of this type of behaviour, either directly to the Union or via UCL’s Report

Additional reporting by Marius Bommier and Zhenya Robinson

Umair Mehmood: The Underdog Story How QR Codes Led to Welfare Wednesdays Vivianne Zhang Wei Lack of awareness about the Students’ Union elections is a persistent problem at UCL, but one candidate in the latest Leadership Race was difficult not to be aware of. If you were on campus at all during the 2022 election season, chances are you either were or saw others get canvassed by his supporters. Perhaps you even scanned the QR code on one of their phones and voted for him, despite having had no more than a minute to think about your decision, not to mention a chance to research the other candidates. “I hadn’t had a proper read of either his or any of his competitors’ manifestos. I just voted because they were looking over my shoulder to make sure I did it,” a student told The Cheese Grater. “Two of them approached me in the Student Centre, and after they finished their pitch, they kind of just stared at me waiting for me to vote. I didn’t really feel like I had a choice,” said another. The candidate was Muhammad Umair Mehmood and the position he was running for was Welfare & Community Of-

ficer – one of the six Sabbatical Officer roles at UCL. Also known as the Sabbs, these are the most influential individuals of the Students’ Union, which employs them full-time for a salary of over £25,000 a year. Umair’s campaign strategy was certainly effective by many metrics. Most obviously by the fact that he won, but also by the unusually high voter turnout it generated. A total of almost 4400 votes were cast in the election for Umair’s position, almost half of them for him, while the other five sabbatical elections only saw an average of around 2000 votes. When The Cheese Grater met Umair for an interview, he spoke proudly of his campaign: “I had a very impressive campaign with twenty of my friends campaigning for me throughout the campus. And then I had the highest number of votes in the entire elections.” With voter turnout in these elections being notoriously poor, this might not strike you as bad news. Surely, more students voting equals good? But not if they were pressured into doing so – and whilst we don’t know exactly how many of Umair’s voters had felt this way, we know for a fact that there are ones who did.

When we point this out to Umair, he denies that his supporters were putting any kind of pressure on students to vote for him. “Yes, they had these QR codes, but they took you to the Leadership Race voting page, not to any specific page where you could only vote for me. It showed all the candidates, all the manifestos, and then at the end, my friends would just say that if you align with the interests of our friend, please vote for him as your first preference, and that’s it,” he says. However, a student we spoke to had described quite a different experience. “I was accosted by someone I know on the way to a timed online exam. The QR code took me to the voting page, and they pointed to Umair’s manifesto and said, ‘This is the one, please vote for him.’ I said I’d do it after my exam, and was then told, ‘Do it now, it’ll only take a second’,” she told The Cheese Grater and showed us the Instagram messages she had received an hour or so after the interaction. The first message contained a link to the voting page, and the next one read: “pls send me a screenshot when done”. Umair admits that complaints about his campaign had been made to the Stu-


11 AW 2022 The Cheese Grater dents’ Union at the time, but points out there was no proof of him violating any policies. “The complaint did come to the SU and the SU did call me. But because at the time there was no evidence, they just told me to be cautious, saying if you are doing it, don’t do it. But I was not doing it, so I just continued on with my normal campaign,” he says. After looking into the Students’ Union’s campaigning byelaws, The Cheese Grater suspects Umair had been let off easy. Besides forbidding the intimidation of voters in general, the byelaws specifically state that “[c]andidates and supporters must not utilise devices or digital technology to intimidate or coerce potential voters.” If a candidate is reported for breaking this byelaw during their campaign, punishment can range from an oral warning to disqualification. When we ask Umair whether he was aware of the rule, he says that he was and had even asked the Students’ Union for clarification. And it seems like he had managed to find a loophole. “The Union said it’s perfectly fine to just show the QR code. In previous years, people would go around and ask people to log into their iPad and then vote on the spot. That was wrong and nobody from my team did that,” he says. But this response from the Students’

Union is dubious, as is the legitimacy of Umair’s office. The wording of the byelaw not make a distinction between whether you use the device to intimidate voters by asking them to log in and vote, or by asking them to scan a QR code and then vote. And for good reason, since what you use the electronic devices for doesn’t change the fact that allowing them in the election campaigns gives an unfair advantage to candidates who can afford or have access to them. “In this age, if you’re studying at this university, I don’t really think there would be anyone who may not have a phone or an electronic device,” Umair responds when we point this out to him. In his view, he had won fair and square. Students had been convinced by his supporters’ pitches, and when presented with a choice, decided to vote for him because they truly believed him to be the best candidate. There is neither a way to prove nor disprove this, but comparing his manifesto to those of his competitors does give us some indication. Umair’s manifesto certainly makes some relevant points. He pledges to, among other things, ‘make [the] guaranteed accommodation scheme more clear to freshers, structuring it by budget and location’ and gather ‘quarterly feedback from students on the performance of

Sabbs and Union itself ’. However, several sentences leave us with more questions than answers. What does it mean to ‘emphasise a sense of welfare and community in the recruitment of new staff members’? And what exactly is this ‘range of schemes designed to ease the transition for new students and support existing students’ that he is ‘keen to introduce’? And finally, why does he feel it is relevant, and appropriate, to bring weight loss into it all? “My transformation journey began when I lost 60 kgs in school; it hasn’t stopped since,” he begins his summary of why students should vote for him. It is not clear what he was trying to say, but it’s probably not a comment that belongs in an aspiring Welfare Officer’s campaign. It is by no means the worst manifesto we have seen, but there were other candidates for the position who were clearer about the specific actions they would take – such as rejoining Stonewall or implementing a no-detriment policy for students affected by war back home. Also unlike most of the other candidates, Umair made no mention in his manifesto of plans to improve or change the Student Wellbeing Services. Strange, given, first of all, the widespread dissatisfaction with them currently – but also the strong emphasis on “wellbeing” in the Welfare & Community Officer’s

Voices role description, which is to “[l]ead on all issues relating to welfare, wellbeing and housing for Members ensuring that the Union promotes their mental, physical and social wellbeing”. Maybe it was for these reasons that The Cheese Grater’s former Investigations Editor Alfie Pannell had commented from the hustings: “Ultimately, Muhammad Umair’s victory was a genuine surprise to me”. However, speaking to Umair, we do get the sense that he has learned a thing or two since writing that manifesto: “I started off with a lot of priorities. You kind of come into the job very excited and you’re like ‘I will do this, I will do that’, and you don’t acknowledge the time these things will need,” he says. “Decisions have to go through a lot of different people to get approved. I didn’t know if, within a year, I would be able to do all of the things that I set out when I started off running for the elections, so I came down to like five main priorities. And number one was the welfare and well-being of the students.” The Sabbs’ profiles on the Students’ Union website all feature a list of their main priorities and projects, as well as updates on their progress. It is worth noting that the Sabbs take office in mid-July, which means they have been working full-time for close to four months now. Assuming a full-time employee works 35 hours a week, that amounts to over 500 hours of work. Curious about what progress Umair has made in the 500 hours since he took office, we had a look at his profile ahead of the interview – only to see that all the priorities he had listed still said ‘not started’. For comparison, both the Union Affairs Officer and the Activities & Engagement Officer had reported progress on three out of five. But when we speak, he assures us that he has been working. On two things in particular: starting discussions about his ‘STS’ (Sleep and Toilet Strategy) and preparing to start an initiative called ‘Wel-

The Cheese Grater AW 2022 12 fare Wednesdays’. The toilet aspect of the STS is clear and focused. Umair wants to get UCL to install bidet showers in our toilet facilities – something which KCL’s Welfare & Community Officer successfully campaigned for earlier this year. “If you’ve been to the Middle East or the South Asian countries or anywhere near Arab countries, a lot of people use these bidet showers in the toilets,” Umair explains. “And it’s a big issue. I’ve talked to students who do not use the toilet facilities between coming to the university and going back home in the evening, and don’t eat much or drink much, because they don’t want to use the toilet.” His aim, for now, is to get approval for a pilot project in the Union spaces. Umair says that the sleeping aspect of the STS, which is about creating “sleeping areas” or “napping areas” around campus, also is a response to student demand. We do ask him, though, if he has considered that this demand might be a sign that students are overworking. Should that not be the real welfare concern here? “Yeah, so that’s the argument we’re having with the Student Support and Wellbeing people. You’re right that that is an issue,” he agrees. “But then again, there are a lot of students who are pulling out all-nighters and it’s more dangerous for them to not sleep the entire night. I’ve had interaction with different students and they’re like, even if you don’t give us the sleeping places, we’re gonna be staying here pulling out all-nighters before the deadlines,” he says. And he is right that some students will sleep on campus regardless, but the risk with providing sleeping areas as the sole response to this problem is that it may only encourage them to do it more. Perhaps what those students really need is for UCL to review whether the workload on their courses is reasonable. Umair clarifies that the sleeping strategy is very much still in progress and that the Union is yet to come up with a “proper strategy”. But he ensures us that

Welfare Wednesdays, on the other hand, can be expected to start “soon”. This initiative will essentially involve Umair inviting students to chat to him about, you guessed it, their welfare, on Wednesdays. He is aware though that, without any professional training, he won’t actually be able to give them advice. “Obviously I could not help them psychologically, but I would be able to signpost them to the right services,” he says. “I’ll try to e-mail those people myself as well, so that they could get the right help as soon as possible”. While it sounds like a really well-intentioned initiative, we do wonder if – considering there are over 40,000 students at UCL, and only one of him – he is biting off more than he can chew. But Umair says it won’t be a problem, as he doesn’t expect many people to show up anyway: “So previously there hasn’t been a large turn out to these new things. So at the moment we’re expecting that even if like 8 to 10 people turn up, that would be really nice for us as a start. As we increase, I would be trying to get more of my colleagues involved in this initiative.” But if the turnout to these sessions ever reaches the point where several Sabbatical Officers need to spend their Wednesdays signposting students to wellbeing services and chasing counsellors up by email, shouldn’t we be asking ourselves why that is? Could it perhaps be a sign that it is not clear to students what help is available to them? Or that UCL is too slow at providing them with help when they reach out for it? Several experiences shared by students with The Cheese Grater illustrate the persistently appalling state of UCL’s wellbeing services. In May 2022, we reported on how UCL’s Security and Crime Prevention team, Rape Crisis Adviser, and Support and Wellbeing Services had all failed to provide adequate support for a first year student who sought help after being raped by a resident in her halls. In March 2021, we spoke to a number of students who described feeling neglected by the wellbeing services while studying

13 AW 2022 The Cheese Grater abroad. In March 2020, we were told by a deaf first year student that the Student Support and Wellbeing team had sent away him and his family only eight minutes into their first meeting, without offering any help. Much of what our Student’s Union does can feel performative – like stickerplasters on the real problems. But at the same time, can we really criticise our representatives for not doing more when, once the Leadership Race comes around, we can’t even be bothered to do our research and vote? The 2022 Leadership Race was the biggest ever at UCL, but the percentage turnout of 21 percent is still low by any democratic standard. For just the sabbatical elections, we are looking at an even lower turnout of around six per cent. Campaign tactics like Umair’s feel wrong because they take advantage of

Voices our evident apathy, but if only we were more passionate about the elections, they would not work this well. The Cheese Grater asked some students why they think we are so disengaged. “It’s just all a bit distant. I know I will probably never meet these people and that they will have no impact on my life, so what’s the point in voting? I think most don’t bother unless they have a friend running for a position,” one student said, expressing a sense of alienation. Another student suggested that a lot of people simply don’t understand how the Student’s Union works. “I know there’s an Activities Officer, for example, but I have no idea what they do. Like, what are they responsible for? How much influence do they have?”. If this is the sentiment across the student body, then clearly, whatever the Stu-

dents’ Union is currently doing to spread awareness about itself and its purpose is not working. Figuring out why should be its top priority, or else, we’ll be perpetually stuck in a vicious circle of poor student engagement and a useless Students’ Union – where unengaged students end up voting in unsuited candidates, and those candidates’ subsequent failure to implement any real change leaves students all the more disillusioned. It is concerning, therefore, that when we ask Umair about his thoughts on the low voter turnout, he doesn’t seem too bothered by it: “I don’t understand. Maybe they’re busy with their workload, but we actively try to engage them. Emails have been sent out. I think it’s about your interest. If you’re interested, you vote. If you’re not, you abstain from it,” he says. “I think the Union does everything in its power.”

Ode to Sports Night Seth Robinson It’s Wednesday night - I sway slightly in the queue, Spearmint extra - Sauvignon just passed from mouth to loo, “ID?” One grunts, “Just here” I say politely, Soft fingertips brush me with a stamp - I think he likes me. Ding! Crammed tight in lift with rugby soc, “Oi Edwin! Reckon I can fill a pint glass with my cock?” There’s Tarquin and Montgomery, both top geezers, Yet if brains were chocolate, hard pressed to fill a Malteser. Doors open, Phineas welcomes me in, Its miasma hits like a seeping bin. Tonight’s cocktail blends expired Old Spice and B.O, It’s Sports Night - they’re cool right? They must shower, no? The bar beckons me, but not the usual single gin, I’m far too sober- tequila, white spirit, anything!   Now realising that may have been a blunder,   My lips balloon as I swallow down a chunder. Yet, not due to drink and stomach meeting, But from Sports Night’s propensity for face-eating, A horny postgrad golfer spins a bottle with a fresher Cause nothing says a “Good time!” like tasteful peer pressure. The drink kicks in, my rosy cheeks gleam I stumble over to the rowing team, From this point forth my memory’s foggy, Something about a biscuit? And why was it soggy? But they rejected me from their big-boy frat As I don’t meet the requirement of being a twat, A downer rather placed on my night, When one asks, “Who called the woodland sprite?”

No, that’s it! I’ve had enough, Of caviar Etonites acting tough, Ok! We get it! You can chug a beer! (You’d also flatten me, that much is clear) So, on reflection of tonight’s trip to the circus, With steroid monkeys who’ll read this and likely hurt us, I should have paid the price and gone to the Court, Or sat fat in my flat, playing Wii Sports.


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Truss is a (Shit) Show Izzie Moull OMFGG guys! She’s gone! I can’t believe she left so soon tho! Like I know Liz wasn’t the most popular but you could just see how much potential she had! I mean we all knew she could be no replacement for Boris but he had run his course. The bookies clearly favoured a ‘Rishi’ era when she took over, but Truss was such a bop tho! Like that cheese clip we got as a teaser when her casting was announced?? Sensational. The start of this season was so good tooooo. The Queen dying and all the big set pieces were incredible!! It’s such a shame that the rest felt so rushed when they did that so well! Like we normally get more time to develop the issues and themes of each new PM’s era but with Truss’ it was like they wanted to speed run it from the beginning? I still can’t believe her run was so short. Even Theresa got longer in the role and she wasn’t nearly as interesting! It did kinda feel weird to me the way they decided to pack so much into her run, but then leave all those plot threads untied by the time she went. It wasn’t even stuff you’d expect? Like the ‘pandemic’ plot point was never mentioned despite be-

ing like the setting for Boris’ run. Don’t get me wrong, I thought the ‘imminent and total collapse of the British economy’ plot was super interesting and definitely could have been sustained for the typical 3 series run we normally get from a PM (even if those are becoming increasingly rare) but it just didn’t hit quite as well as Covid did in terms of ‘imminent disaster’ factor. Tbh the whole way Liz left seems kinda odd to me too. Like I found out in a lecture that she was leaving and everyone was just in shock?! And I know a running gag in the show is the U-turns but a Uturn that big seemed really OOC. Like we got it with Kwasi and it was like the epitome of comedic timing done right. But Liz’s? It’s clear the writers wanted to wrap her run up but they seemed to do it quite poorly. Maybe Truss just didn’t want to do it anymore? Like to me at least it seemed that with all that economic talk and ministers resigning they were seriously building up to some big end of era finale like we got at the end of Boris’ run. But maybe they got their funding cut and had to get rid of stuff to bring it to a close earlier than they expected. I think that’s why we weren’t shown the fighting in the commons on screen. It was like they didn’t have enough time or

money to put the sets together and get all the extras back for it. I really did enjoy the speculation about who would be next though! Like with a regeneration you’re never really sure. We were all so certain that it would be Rishi last time and were kinda shocked when we found out about Liz. So obviously I considered a Rishi run this time but I was still kinda surprised when I found out! And who was expecting that Boris could return? Even if it never came to be lol. It’s insane how mainstream the show is becoming too! There was a guy in my lecture wearing a ‘Ready for Rishi’ t-shirt! And there were posters up around my halls about Liz when she left! Plus, I actually found out Rishi would be the next incarnation through reading people’s laptops following the liveblogging of it in classes! Like it’s crazy how big our community has grown! As the talk on campus about it seems to have died off a bit now I’m realising I’m kinda scared about the new series? Like if this one was so chaotic I really doubt the next one could be much better? But I guess we’ll have to wait and see. RIP Truss. You deserved better :(

Plea from Platform 3 Hi,

I’m a first-year geography student from Ipswich, who has found himself in a bit of a pickle. My accommodation plans for this academic year have been completely derailed by rather unexpected parking difficulties. I arrived on campus last week, and as I was getting settled, two security guards approached me to rudely explain that my plan to live in a caravan in the main quad was “completely out of the question” as it would cause “too much visual pollution for the privately educated.” Unconvinced by my arguments of fiscal responsibility and my credentials from the School of Hard Knocks, they took down my laundry line and confiscated my caravan. Since I’m now caravan-less and have spent half of my maintenance loan on bribing Mick Lynch to let me on a train to London, I was forced to take shelter in Euston station. I’m making a good living by selling stolen UCL merch to KCL students, so I should be back on my feet very soon. Despite the coziness of underground, I’d like to find a proper place to live so If anyone reading this knows of a bed going spare or how I can get my caravan back, please come to my makeshift den on platform 3. Anonymously, Barry MacCockiner.

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Packed Lunches: A Story of Possession Mathilde Turner Halloween: the one night a year when it’s acceptable, and even encouraged, to want to be someone else. This year, I planned to be a space cowboy. It seemed ideal: all the confidence of the patriarchy with none of the dull footwear! On the night, however, I couldn’t quite commit; no matter how hard I tried to get into the mindset of Buffalunar Bill, I kept being

very day, I would unwittingly initiate a process of transmutation more ghoulish than anything I could have ever foreseen. Packed lunches are a staple of the hopeful student’s penny saving techniques. The idea is: eat and repeat. One week after Halloween, I am on my 7th day of sweetcorn and pea pasta. As the dew trickles from the lid of my Tupperware, I’m not sure it’s worth it. The act of boiling it is

icate mushy pearls, squishing alongside the sweetcorn which mocks a discombobulated grin in my Tupperware. The corn pops wetly in my mouth, sweetness turning sour by day 6. The joining element, the base of it all, is Napolina’s own rigatoni. They provide a rollercoaster of texture. The first day, firm, soon cedes to the second, clammy, passing through to moist, pasty and finally culminating in the unforgettable sticky. As I chew and I chew and I chew, I realise it makes no difference. This gluey mass will not descend into the tracts of my intestines. Instead, it moulds itself to the roof of my mouth, a palatial refurbishment I am keen to reject. The more I chew, the more I am besieged, until I am more pasta than person, pushing peas against my sweetcorn teeth with my pasty tongue. I need no longer envy the Jordan Belfort impersonators; finally, I too understand what it means to get lost in the sauce. I have become a gluten glutton. The saying rings true: you are what you eat.

dragged back to reality by every Patrick Bateman handing me a business card. In the face of such convincing character acting, it was difficult to compete. Thus, Halloweek came to an end having offered little of its usual identity-erasing respite. “Alas,” thought I, as November 1st dawned over me and my companions in the 68 towards West Norwood, “I shall have to remain fixedly human for another year.” Accepting the immutability dictated by flesh, I took off my Stetson with resignation. Little did I know, that

a remote memory. Each morning my dissociation deepens as I open the only pan I own to scoop out my daily portion, like a jaded Oliver Twist or a cage-raised hen. To describe my alimentary consumption over the past week as character building is an understatement. I feel like I’ve had a crash course in divorce, intimacy giving way to disdain as I munch upon the mulch I once loved. I could recognise these peas by touch alone, by smell; I would know them in death, at the end of the world. These del-


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Decor 101 Soyoon Koo Flat-hunting is a nightmarish ordeal for anybody with even a shred of sanity. We search, we scour, we scramble for our dream flat: a place habitable by human beings, with only a moderate amount of dignity sacrificed. You know how it is… for a place as close as possible to campus or [living priorities], you sacrifice comforts like cleanliness or reliable heating or security- trivial stuff, really, if you think about it. But there’s good news! Since the flat that you, after [increments of time that indicate peak levels of stress], have managed to secure for this new academic year is most likely a bit of a fixer-upper (oh, you know, not everyone needs working windows), you now get the fun, fun task of decorating your place however you like (will you stay within budget though? Who can say) in an attempt to fill the void in your new flat as well as your soul. Who cares that your kitchen hasn’t been remodelled in a decade, when your walls can be covered in posters that reflect your dazzling personality and your oh-so eclectic taste in music and movies? (Pulp Fiction? Never heard of it) Who cares about your walls having no shelving space whatsoever, leaving you to cram your belongings into cupboards

or have them strewn gracefully on your floor, when you can now have glowing fairy lights anywhere you please (if you lived in student accom before, you definitely followed the rules and didn’t hang any of those up, did you?)? Who cares about your bathroom tiles being a suspicious colour when YOU HAVE PLANTS? With a little ingenuity and research, you too can make a home out of a house or, well, give me a second… *looks up synonym for shithole on Word Hippo* … an Augean stable. Though I could go on and on about the specifics, here are some fundamental solutions to common problems: No space? Just start stacking things on top of each other. Make a game of it: it’s Tetris and Jenga with extra risk. Live on the edge.

works. Obviously. Look at you, you Good Samaritan. Almost projectile vomited from the thriving mould in your shower? Think of it as aesthetic. People pay good money for shabby chic. I mean, it even comes in assorted colours! Bold blue, slime green, festering black — there’s something for everyone. Spotted a rat? Good news, you made a friend. Had a run-in with a family of cockroaches? Congratulations, they’re your family now. How could you ever feel lonely amongst such company? Spending too much money on useless shit and don’t know how to stop? Same, dude. *Doorbell rings* Ooo, that must be the new egg separator that I ordered. Can’t wait to separate them eggs.

No decor experience because you’re not a Queer Eye guy? Easy, my go-to is stocking up on books (no need to break the bank with Waterstones, cheaper options exist) because then, even if you’re broke, you seem smart. After all, aren’t you here to, like, learn things?

If all else fails, remember you have all year to get a better place for next year.

Electricity out? Don’t even bother getting it fixed, one more night of sitting in the dark is one more tree saved somewhere else. That’s how saving the environment

Night night. Don’t let the bedbugs bite. Spoiler alert: They will, and you can’t stop them.

Also, it’s crucial to befriend someone with a nicer place than yours so that you can just be their resident parasite. That’s all for now. I’m heading to bed, I’m tired.

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UCL Cheese Grater Magazine Society President—Jamie Dorrington Editors-in-Chief—Nandini Agarwal and Mel Benedichuk Investigations Editor—Samir Ismail Humour Editor—Red Preston Graphics Editor—Lily Peng © Students’ Union UCL, 25 Gordon Street, London WC1H 0AY. Views expressed herein are not necessarily those of SU UCL or the editors.