David Cameron said a while back that "we are all in this together". He was talking about austerity. And he was lying.
Despite his attempts to be like that teacher you had at school who was "down with the kids", it is very clear that the "we" who are "in this" does not include people like Mr. Cameron. But that doesn't mean that the rest of us can't come together. We don't need you anyway, Dave.
The logic of capitalism, and its manifestations in the modern phenomenon of the neoliberal university, thrives on competition. The more that "the market" finds its way into our lives and our educations; the more we are forced to compete with each other. It's every student for themselves in this brave new world of £9000 fees and corporatisation of what was once the public university.
The problem is that competition and the "survival of the fittest" attitude serves only to perpetuate the structures of oppression that govern our world at the moment. The ones that mean that rich, white, able-bodied, heterosexual cis men do well in life and the further you deviate from this "norm", the less well you do. This is, of course, an oversimplification. I'm not saying that people born into all levels of privilege can't have a difficult time. I'm saying they are less likely to, because this world is made for people like them.
In the modern university then, or at least in Cambridge (I'll stick to what I know), what we have are a group of students who are all paying extortionate fees, all told to see their education as a financial investment in their future, and all encouraged to see their fellow students as competition. What are we competing for? For the best grades, for the money and prestige colleges limit only to people who have obtained a first, for that unpaid internship after we graduate, for that oversubscribed and underpaid job post that we've been promised by the system? Who knows.
One form of resistance, then, is collaboration. If we reject the terms of this system and work together to create our own alternatives, we are doing something powerful. Another phrase that rings in our ears since the arrival of our unelected coalition government is that "there is no alternative". In the same vain, the tutors and bursars of Cambridge repeatedly tell us that "there is no alternative" to the university as it stands: this is how things have to be. But in coming together as students, in opening up spaces and discussions outside the terms that they have set, we are simultaneously saying that the system is broken - and breaking us - and that there is an alternative.
It will soon be the holidays here. Our terms are famously short and we are all told how "lucky" we are to have such long vacations. But for many students, the holidays will pose a series of difficulties. Those not able to keep their room in college over the holidays - due to college regulations or financial restrictions - will be asked to leave at a specific time on a specific day and to empty their rooms of all their possessions. Of course, not everyone will be able to go home in this way: not everyone has a safe and supportive home to return to, not everyone's family has a car to come and pick them, not everyone's parents can take the time to come to Cambridge for the day and take them home.
In assuming that everyone has access to these things, our colleges are effectively discriminating against those who do not.
But "there is no alternative", we are told. Colleges need our rooms for conference guests to help raise money that eventually - by some circuitous route - finds its way back to students. Well, Cambridge, there is an alternative: "Whose University?" has created a collaborative space-sharing project for the holidays. We are collectivising those few spaces that students do have access to and making them available to those who need them most.
We have created a series of these solidarity networks - based around space-sharing, subject solidarity and welfare support - because if the university won't do it for us, we will do it for ourselves. We are all in this together and by refusing to allow the system to divide and conquer us, we our reclaiming this university for the people it is currently excluding - those who aren't so fortunate as Cambridge assumes its students to be.
In standing together, in creating an alternative to the system as it stands, we are reclaiming this university as ours.