When talking about their time at university everyone has stories about their course and what they did in their spare time but often the most memorable stories are ones about where they lived. From my own experience of university I have observed that your accommodation shapes everything you do, from who your friends are, to where you eat and how you use your free time.
I am therefore intrigued as to how this might have been different in the 1960s. The sixties were a revolutionary time for the colleges of Royal Holloway and Bedford especially considering the introduction of male students in 1965. With this in mind it would be interesting to see how accommodation differed between the Royal Holloway and Bedford colleges but also between the established female students and the new male students. Was there a particular type of accommodation that was more desirable? What was the cost? What were the rules? The exciting opportunity to interview a past student would reveal how their university accommodation made an impact not only on their lives while at college, but also perhaps on later decisions.
The choice to make the project an oral history assignment means that the memories and stories of a past generation of students can be preserved and potentially used for later projects, in particular I think it would be fascinating to discover whether the impacts of accommodation are paralleled in the lives of today’s students.
For our oral history project this year, we’ve been asked to interview alumni from the 1960s, about their time at Royal Holloway College or Bedford College.
This decade saw a huge change come to the colleges, as in 1965 male students were admitted for the first time, forever altering the dynamic of the colleges. Suddenly there was potential for relationships with the opposite sex and finding a partner on campus, and within that, a potential for a whole lot else. This coincided with a time of sexual liberation and second-wave feminism, and women for the first time were openly embracing their sexuality and becoming able to take control of their bodies through contraceptives, such as the pill, becoming available, as well as an increasing acceptance and visibility of LGBT+ individuals. There was an increasing acceptance of sex outside of traditional heterosexual marriages, and I’m fascinated as to what effect this had on students at the time. Especially students who were at colleges that had been single sex for so long. The male students were confined to halls that kept them a good distance away from the women, but were they all creeping around campus at night and sneaking along corridors? Or was the sexual revolution kept out of college life? What was the reaction of their parents to them being at a now co-ed college during this time of increasing sexual freedoms? Was sex and sexuality openly discussed, or still kept behind locked doors?
Throughout my own time at university I’ve campaigned around these issues and rights, which are hotly contested around the globe to this day, and I can’t wait to hear what opinions were about sex and sexuality in colleges that had just become co-ed during the age that is famed for its sexual freedom.
The 1960’s in Britain, whilst not as radical as the following decade, was a great time of change for women’s equality. The publication of The Feminist Mystique in 1963 and, in 1967 the availability of abortion’s through the NHS are just two examples of how the country was changing.
During the interviews with the Royal Holloway alumni, I wish to explore the issue of feminism. One thing to address would be whether or not students (both male and female) were aware of the social movement happening in the country – or, for the women at least because they were already at predominantly female colleges, the idea of gender equality was already acceptable. It will be interesting to see from those who may have considered themselves a feminist if this went on to impact their future in careers for instance. In terms of the university itself, asking questions to see if there was any sort of politically motivated women’s organisation on campus and what they were involved in would benefit the archive.
In terms of limitations with this topic, it is possible that people would not have considered themselves a ‘feminist’ but believed in rights for women in certain elements so this may need to be teased out. It will also be very important to keep in mind how I ask the questions. The idea of feminism is still relevant today in society so there is a risk of the interviewees answering questions influenced by what they believe now, rather than how they saw things then.
I think this is a very interesting area to explore given Royal Holloway and Bedford’s history of being women’s institutions to see if this had an impact on the way its students thought about gender. The addition of men into a female dominated environment was certainly not that common in the 60’s so perfectly situated to explore this topic from a male point of view too.
As an avid hockey player, having been both President and Ladies’ Captain of the Hockey Club, and having co-founded a Rounder’s Club on campus I have an invested interest in how different sports clubs came into existence at the university. I am interested in interviewing Royal Holloway Alumni on their experiences of extra- curricular activities, with a focus on sport, at university and how this impacted students’ studies.
I know from previous research that there was once a swimming pool in Jane Holloway Hall that was closed due to storm damage and would be interesting to see how much the pool was in use when it was open.
Looking at the 1960s, and when the university became co-educational, this is the perfect time to look into how sports clubs, that use to be exclusive to women, dealt with the introduction of men and whether the clubs became mixed sex or if they remained segregated.
The project would also be extremely useful on a personal level as myself and the current Hockey Club president are looking into creating a history, using the archives, of the club which we have reason to believe is the oldest university Hockey club in the country.
Through conducting oral history interviews with Royal Holloway and Bedford College alumni I hope to uncover the religious life of the colleges when the institutions became co-educational in 1965. During a time fondly remembered as, ‘The Swinging Sixties,’ I want to investigate the uses of the chapel and the chaplain service. I am aware when Royal Holloway College was founded, ‘attending chapel’ was mandatory, written into the students’ schedules. However, I am unsure as to the degree to which the students were engaged in religious activities in the period where higher education was becoming more secularised.
Furthermore, I would like to investigate how the Christian Union operated, having its origins in 1899 according to the archives. I want to explore how active and evangelical the group were on campus and in the surrounding areas. The politics of the Christian Union may be a troublesome theme to pick up in interviews. There may be sensitivity over the running of the union on campus and conflict over teaching and theological stances.
Quite reasonably, those who have volunteered their services for the project may not have been involved in faith groups on campus. If this occurs, my theme will maybe have to be broadened to explore spirituality at the colleges and why religion may not have formed such a part of student life. I am interested to explore relationships between parents and students in regards to religious practice and the extent to which these may have changed upon attending university.
Faith matters can always be contentious and informed by present context. I will have to consider how individuals’ belief systems may have changed since their time at college and frame my questions with these issues in mind.