Perhaps the most poignant part of my rustication last Spring was the day I received confirmation of it. It came neatly, in email form, attaching the conditions of my suspension. When I first read my suspension letter it felt an awful lot like being exiled from the university. Maybe this is to be expected (I am not really a student anymore) but reading it back I can’t help but laugh at the rather bleak phrasing. Perhaps the best line in there is the one that forbids me back on college grounds “in order to protect the workplace of students”, as if my presence on the premises would be pathogenic. Though, when signed in as a “personal guest” and accompanied at all times, I may enter the JCR and dining hall. However the library remains off limits – I would need permission from the college Dean to use that space again. I have wondered quite a lot why the library is a particular no-go zone for my college. Do they see me as a disruptor now I am rusticated? Well, I have drawn doodles in a few of the books…
The way my college handled rustication wasn’t bad overall and I am inclined to say it’s just one of those things. My academic tutors were the most supportive, especially in helping me get to the end of Hilary so I wouldn’t have to retake that term. But given how sensitive rustication often is, and how vulnerable students considering it often are, it is odd how the university seems quite fine with abandoning you. On my way to work, I watch the tips of my college float by and am a little saddened to know that I am very much unwanted. If I wanted to reach out, a personal tutor is “happy” to “provide occasional assistance”. I guess as long as I am not a hassle I am still granted permission to occasionally email. I do think I am lucky to not miss my college too much, so the exclusion from it feels quite natural. The terms and conditions of me suspending my studies is almost just confirmation that I never really fit into the environment anyway.
What worries me most now is that I will always be an outsider to Oxford University, meaning that I might never return to my degree. Coming back next April is conditional on approval that I will be “medically fit” to study. I think I am “fit” enough to read books and write essays, but to return to this pressure-cooker environment, still in recovery, might be a bad idea for me. I would be very surprised if within the next six months I could say I no longer have mental illness – it is something I am managing rather than getting rid of. Of course my conditions don’t prohibit me from studying here, but I am just very aware that it has the potential to put me in an unsafe state. It would be relatively easy to appear “fit” for study, but that phrase will play on my conscience no matter what. If sticking out my degree here has already proved unmanageable once, it is at least risky to attempt the whole thing again.
But beyond these worries exist spaces in Oxford which don’t hold the same weight as my college. My go-to has always been my friend’s room in Keble. I treasure walking through the courtyards there, warm lamps illuminating the red coloured brick, a timeless, cosy feeling. Her room carries the scent of cotton and is decorated in pastels and anime postcards and a checked blanket (that I might have claimed as my own). We are both happy with simple evenings: matching pyjama bottoms, herbal tea and books. What I am most grateful for is how this space hasn’t changed since rusticating, but remained a little haven of safety. This space continues to keep me grounded and is what I am most thankful for in Oxford.
I will also have to shout out the Bodleian Libraries, which my Bod card still has access to! I haven’t been in a little while: since term started I have found the atmosphere a bit too reminiscent of my own previous stress. But moving to Cowley in August gave me a chance to appreciate the libraries in a more relaxed context. I was able to sit at the top of the Rad Cam for the first time, taking in the domed ceiling and picturesque views. It was not the time for me to begin any kind of revision, so I just read my book for as long as my attention span allowed. It is quite lucky that I can still go here despite my year out: it gives me a little of Oxford to hold onto. On some days going here makes me think that one day I could do this again, I could try and make this work.
The final place that has a definite sense of welcome is the University Parks. The trees feel like part of their own closed system, peacefully exchanging breaths with each other. When I finally choose a bench, I meditate by counting the number of grey squirrels running amongst the pines. They must feel an even stronger sense of welcome and safety here – I wonder if they perceive it as home. One of them is so confident in running that she springs right up to me, pausing by my feet and making mischievous eye contact. I realise she is not dwelling on her sense of home but probably just being a squirrel. The parks are a very good reminder of how most of the time things are just being: people are running, chatting, playing. I hope one day I can join in and stop thinking for a while, but right now it is enough to just appreciate. Though if I do ever decide to be it will definitely happen via ultimate frisbee, that looks fucking fun.
Apologies for where this article has ended up, I am going to do my best to pull it back into comprehension. Ultimately, my rustication letter signalled a lot about what makes me unfit for university, but it also left a bit of Oxford untainted. What remains now is fully mine and also fully safe. If I wanted to I could let the terms of my rustication push me away from Oxford forever, but ultimately wherever I end up is not that important. I myself am not that important, and thus I may as well stay here and “protect the workplace of other students”.