Each year, the fourth week of Hilary Term rolls around and with it comes a series of formals, nights out, and, most widely anticipated, a series of awards. These events all occur as part of Oxford colleges’ Halfway Hall celebrations, dedicated to recognising and rewarding the fact that second year students have made it roughly halfway through their degrees at the University of Oxford. The awards given this year by colleges such as Worcester, Balliol and Teddy Hall have ranged from heart-warming expressions of peers’ admiration for one another to more divisive acknowledgements of students’ sexual or drinking behaviour.

The award categories are usually decided either by the second year community or by the college Entz or social reps. They are, typically, then shared with the wider college community and second year students are nominated for categories, such as ‘worst drunk’ or ‘biggest BNOC’. Voting is then opened for the third and final time, and a winner is determined from the selected nominees. This year, however, the voting process for Halfway Hall categories was not without contention, with more than one college having to withdraw or revise a nomination category in response to student backlash.

One such college is Balliol, where the Entz reps were told to remove the category ‘overrated hottie’, but only after voting had begun and the college’s student population had expressed its condemnation of the category. Likewise, Teddy Hall’s Entz reps removed the category ‘biggest sket’ following similar backlash.

Worcester College was also forced to rephrase its Halfway Hall categories. The category of ‘t*ts of the town’ was initially opened for nominations but following complaints from the wider collegiate student population, including first and third year students, a Google form was shared to all second years who voted to remove it. On Saturday 10th February, however, during Worcester’s Halfway Hall formal, the category was still read out and the winner was given a sash. 

These are not the first few instances of controversy over Halfway Hall categories, with Balliol experiencing student outrage in 2022 after the category of ‘most autistic’ was opened for nominations. Not only did the wider college express their outrage, but the ‘winner’ of the category, a student who was on the autistic spectrum, also formally complained, finding the intended ‘joke’ particularly upsetting.

Aside from these overt instances of contention, there has been some more general discontent amongst some sections of the Oxford student population about the general focus of Halfway Hall awards on the topics of drinking and physical attractiveness. Awards such as ‘rear of the year’ and ‘biggest shark’ have drawn a few raised eyebrows from several Oxford students. In particular, some students have expressed their unease with the fact that the awards seemed to celebrate ‘lad culture’, often praising men’s sexuality while ignoring, or even criticising, women’s.

The Oxford Blue reached out to several collegiate gender societies for comments. Gender and Racial Equality at Teddy (GREAT) responded, stating that the popularity of certain categories is “just the tip of the iceberg. They are a palatable version of more private rankings and lists (seemingly only of female students) that are created ‘for laughs’ – at the expense of some people’s comfort in the college environment”.

The experience of Halfway Hall, however, is highly varied from college to college, with some colleges providing rather niche awards. One such college was New, which gave an award to the student ‘most likely to complete the New College seven’, an unofficial challenge whereby students attempt to have sex in seven different locations on the college site. Additionally, Wadham College, with a reputation for attracting a greater percentage of LGBTQ+ students, had two categories dedicated to this fact: ‘meanest gay’ and ‘biggest tw*nk’, although somewhat ironically the former category was given to “one of the only straight men in Wadham”.

While these controversies have been the most overt, they have not detracted from the general enthusiasm and comradery that categorises Halfway Hall celebrations. Students generally reported feeling great excitement about the prospect of getting dressed up; maybe winning awards; and, just simply pausing and taking a moment to step back from the chaotic nature of student life at Oxford to recognise all that each student has achieved in the past year and a half.