We recently reached the end of Eighth Week, so I thought members of the Somerville community might welcome an update on the term we have just had.

Before sharing all the latest news, however, I must address the one topic that none of us can ignore at present. The invasion of Ukraine is a horrific breach of international law and a humanitarian tragedy. I would like to reassure you that Somerville College and the university as a whole are doing all we can to meet this crisis head-on. Our established status as a College of Sanctuary has given us a strong starting point in these talks, and it has been inspiring to see the groundswell of support from all parts of our college as well as the university. In time, we hope to welcome academics, students and others through our sanctuary partners and local support networks, facilitate the conservation of research from Russia and Ukraine, and accommodate as many Ukrainian scholars and families as we possibly can. I know that many of you will want to help with the latter undertaking. If you’re based in Oxford and wish to host an academic, please let me know. We will write again as our plans progress – but you may rest assured that Somerville will do its part.

In other news, it has been an extremely busy and positive Hilary. For our students, the return of Bops brought colour, life and a respectable degree of misrule to offset all the work they have been doing. Our actors and writers stormed the dramatic barricades for the second year running, winning best overall production in Drama Cuppers. Our musicians hosted several fabulous events, including a concert from the Aseda Gospel Choir led by Somerville music student Danielle Welbeck, a night of Hindustani Classical Music and a fundraising concert for Ukraine, which was organised with phenomenal speed at the end of term by Mar Kimura, President of the Somerville Music Society.

The academic highlights are many, but one of the most striking was law student Kristy Chang (2020, BA Law) and her team winning the national title in the Jessup Moot. Another highpoint was the research internship undertaken by Aivin Gast (2018, Classical Archaeology and Ancient History) at the Leiden Observatory, which saw him helping to discover the largest known radio galaxy in the universe. He has dubbed it Alcyoneus after one of the giants who engaged in cosmic battle with the Olympians – a suitably classical epithet.

In sport, the Torpids were hotly contested, with the Men’s First Boat bumped up into Division 2, the Women’s Second Boat bumping Queens 1, and the women’s first boat rowing over in the last 2 days. In fencing, our student Caroline Murphy Racette captained the Oxford women at the Varsity Match to a 134-96 victory, with decisive victories in sabre and foil. Finally, Somerville is proud that Maya Mellor (2018, Medicine) has been selected for the Oxford 2022 Rugby Varsity Squad in this the 150th anniversary of the annual varsity match and the 8th year of the Women’s team being represented at Twickenham. If you would like to attend the match this Saturday 2nd April and cheer Maya and her teammates on, tickets are available at www.thevarsitymatches.com.

Back in February, we were delighted to see our former Principal Alice Prochaska elected Chair of Book Aid International (Charity Today). Later in the same month we were thrilled to learn that Heygo, the virtual travel company co-founded by Somervillians John Tertan (2012, Law) and Liam Garrison (2012, Chemistry), has raised $20m of Series A investment to help them develop their ambitious ‘Twitch for Travel’ platform.

Closer to home, we saw our Fellow Librarian Anne Manuel contribute a chapter to Ten Oxford Walks/Ten Oxford Authors with a chapter on Vera Brittain. This offering was joined by two new books on the Somerville quartet of philosophers (Elizabeth Anscombe, Philippa Foot, Iris Murdoch and Mary Midgley). Benjamin Lipscomb, author of The Women Are Up To Something, will join the Somerville London Group for a talk at the Oxford and Cambridge Club in June. Sadly, another event featuring Clare Mac Cumhaill and Rachael Wiseman to discuss their book, Metaphysical Beasts, has been postponed for personal reasons.

In early March, we welcomed many of you back to College for a packed weekend incorporating our Foundation Day, Medics’ Day and Spring Meeting. On the Friday, we heard from Professor Brenda Stevenson, the inaugural Hillary Rodham Clinton Chair in Women’s History, as she brought to life the real and imagined stories of captive Black women in the antebellum South.

The following morning was devoted to a series of talks from our Somerville medics, while in the afternoon we welcomed two of the absolute lynchpins of the UK’s vaccine response, Dame June Raine, Chair of the MHRA (1971, Physiological Sciences), and Dame Kate Bingham, Chair of the Vaccine Taskforce. In retracing the key stages of developing and approving the vaccines, these two extraordinary women made it clear just how fundamental Oxford was to the national and global success of the vaccines.

Following this celebration of women in science and public life, we proceeded to mark International Women’s Day with a collaboration between our current JCR Women’s Officer, Rosie Seymour, and our Honorary Fellow, Dame Elan Closs Stephens. They had a rousing conversation in which they pretty much set the world to rights – it’s worth your time and you can read it here.

Of course, the rights and freedoms of women are always in our thoughts here at Somerville – which is why I was so pleased to get my hands on a copy of the new book by our current Vice-Principal and Tutorial Fellow in Politics, Professor Lois McNay. A survey of third and fourth generation Critical Theorists, The Gender of Critical Theory presents a significant new interpretation of Critical Theory by bringing it into conversation with feminist theory (particularly the work of black and decolonial feminist theorists, feminist epistemologists, and sociologists).

On a slightly less cerebral note, fans of the Regency drama Bridgerton will be delighted to hear that it’s returning to our screens, starring Calam Lynch (2013, Classics). There is even a Bridgerton-themed cocktail menu from the artisanal gin brand Pomp and Whimsy established by Nicola Nice (1995, Human Sciences), should you be interested.

Finally, for those who matriculated from 2010-12, you may wish to learn more about the deeply moving fundraising initiative being organised by Rachel Boakes (2012, English) to support Brainstrust, a charity raising crucial funds for brain tumour research.

As the new term approaches, our thoughts turn inevitably towards exams and ensuring that our students are adequately prepared for the trials they bring. Before then, however, students will have the pleasure of the Somerville-Jesus ball to anticipate, as well as all the general pleasure of a Trinity term at Somerville. I myself will be visiting US members of the Somerville community in New York, Boston and Washington DC in early April. Whether in the States or here in the UK, therefore, I hope to see you soon.

Warmest best wishes

Jan Royall, Principal

Further reading?

Spotlight on Somerville 4: Defending Ukraine’s Universities, Protecting the Pound and More

Learn More
28 September 2022
Spotlight on Somerville 4: Defending Ukraine’s Universities, Protecting the Pound and More

Joyce Reynolds

Learn More
23 September 2022
Joyce Reynolds

The Long Read: An Interview with Professor Iyiola Solanke

Learn More
22 September 2022
The Long Read: An Interview with Professor Iyiola Solanke