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Meet the new JCR Co-Presidents

"It’s great to know that we have the power to make change happen – and to really make a difference"

Restructuring the room ballot system, keeping prices low, and deciding on a name for the summer event: these are just some of the aims for the new JCR Co-Presidents, as Louise Hanzlik learns.

Choosing the name of this year’s JCR-hosted summer event could cause a rift between the new Co-Presidents. “I think it should just be called the June Event”; “It should be the June Garden Party”; “It’s not really a garden party though, is it?”; “Well, it is taking place in a garden...”

I am chatting to Tim d’Aboville and Candela Louzao Carabel, who started their new roles in January as Co-Presidents of the Junior Combination Room (JCR), the student-elected committee that represents undergraduates at St John’s. The JCR Committee was officially established at St John’s in the late 1930s, and today its members attend meetings with senior academics and College leaders, as well as organising events and welfare initiatives.Despite not agreeing on the event name, it is plain to see that Tim and Candela get on remarkably well. The second-year undergraduates are both international students – Tim lived in America until he was eight and then moved to France, and Candela is from Spain. They have been good friends since starting their studies at St John’s after they met at a student night and realised they had a few things in common, one of them being that they were both from continental Europe.

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Tim is reading History and Politics, and Candela is studying Engineering. “I love maths and physics, so I thought, why not engineering! It is a really broad subject, so there will be lots of opportunities in the future."

Tim, who boxes with the University Boxing Team and also plays football, asked Candela to run with him as Co-President in the elections back in September. “He was actually trying to persuade me as long ago as June!” says Candela. Previously the JCR Facilities Officer, Tim considered running for President alone – at school he was the class rep and head of various societies – but he decided it would work well if he and Candela ran as a duo. “She is well organised and focused, and I liked the idea of being Co-President with another international student.”

Candela is from A Coruña, a port city in northwest Spain, and likes cheerleading and water-skiing – although she ruefully acknowledges the latter is not really ‘a thing’ in Cambridge. She took some persuading to stand, but she is glad that she did. “I did my A-Levels in the UK, but I hadn’t done much public speaking in English before, so that was the biggest challenge for me.” Like Tim, she was a student rep at her high school. She decided to run alongside him as “we complement each other well. He is more laid back than me – but he’s not disorganised!”

The pair won the election with a margin of 19 votes – 177 votes were cast for them. This is the third year that the JCR has had Co- Presidents – Fionn Dillon Kelly and Ben Jones were the first ever Co-Presidents in 2018, followed last year by Anusha Ashok and Oliver Barnard.

Tim and Candela’s first task was to put together the new JCR committee, and meet with senior academics and College officers. They then planned their first JCR ‘ent’ (student social event), Pirates in the Fisher Foyer, followed by their first welfare event featuring universally popular chocolate fountains. “The welfare team organised it, but as Co-Presidents we have to be involved; we discuss whether events are feasible, oversee them, help out, and put plans into action.”

Although Tim and Candela joke around with one another, they are focused. One of their aims is to reform the room ballot system. “Currently, it is a scholars’ ballot, where those who do best academically in College are given priority in choosing their accommodation,” says Tim. “We don’t necessarily want to change that, but we do want to work towards improving the appeal of the rooms outside of College which are often left to those at the bottom of the ballot. We would like to see all freshers living in Cripps in the future.”

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The Co-Presidents would also like there to be more integration between undergraduates and graduates. “We plan to host several joint events this year where we can work closely with each other and bring everyone together,” says Candela.

Keeping costs low in College is also high on their agenda. The pair would like to ensure prices in the Buttery and accommodation costs stay as low as possible, and they would like to reduce the price of ‘super halls’, the themed formal dinners which take place every term. Tim and Candela are also interested in introducing a Virtual Open Day, to allow those who cannot visit St John’s in person to experience the College – which they believe would be particularly beneficial for international students. “The first time we both saw St John’s was at our interview; we couldn’t attend the actual open day,” says Tim. “I actually chose St John’s based on its proximity to the History faculty and the football fields – and because it looked nice in photos!”

As well as dealing with the day-to-day challenges of being Co-Presidents of the JCR, leading a large (20-people-plus) committee is a challenge in itself. “We want the team to thrive and flourish, and we want to have a good working relationship with everyone, but we also have to ensure we keep control – if anything goes wrong, the buck stops with us,” says Tim. “We have a huge responsibility, but we are ready for it.”“We received a lot of advice from Anusha and Ollie,” Candela tells me. “They told us that being Co-Presidents can be tough, but there are two of us to help each other out, and to deal with unexpected issues which crop up. But the life experience it gives you is really rewarding.“It’s great to know that we have the power to make change happen – and to really make a difference.”

The Co-Presidents are looking forward to organising their big summer event, which takes place in June, during May Week. “We are in the process of setting up the sub-committee for the event. It’s less formal than the May Ball, and it’s a really nice, popular, relaxing evening. There is a lot of work to do, but it will be a fun night.

“We just need to agree on the name!”

This article was featured in the Lent 2020 edition of Eagle Eye.

Published 25/02/2020

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