Sexism storm as all-male panel appears on University Challenge

THE UNIVERSITY has been branded “shameful” after an all-male team appeared on BBC Two’s University Challenge.

Undergraduates Jack Alexander, Josef Crowther, Alasadair Middleton and Adam Koper shocked earlier this month when they beat Corpus Christi College at the University of Cambridge by 170 points to 135.

But their incredible win was overshadowed by a backlash on social media over the fact the four team members were male.

Angry users on Twitter branded the university “shameful”. One wrote: “Shame on you York (my former Uni), no women on #universitychallenge team.”

Another said: “There were definitely women at Uni of York back in the 90s. What’s happened?”

A third tweet added: “#York #universitychallenge Only men. Shameful.”

Students who wish to represent the university on the television show have to take part in a two-stage selection process.

The top applicants in stage one are invited to the finals where they battle it out for one of the places on the show and one reserve place.

YUSU Women’s Officers Emily Inglis and Peggy Lockwood-Lord said the process was disappointing.

“We are sorely disappointed to see yet another line-up of white men supposedly representing our student body,” they told York Vision.

Megan Ollerhead, a fourth year English Literature student, said: “For me that is a reflection on the fact that women and ethnic minorities probably don’t feel nearly as confident in their own intellectual capacity as white men, and even though there are more women on campus than men it is men that grow up with belief in themselves academically, and therefore are a lot more comfortable putting themselves forward for events like that.”

The all-male team will now progress to the second round of the contest which will air by Christmas.

They did lose to senior management in a pre-run contest which was held at the Roger Kirk Centre in January.

Questions on the Tour de France, William Shakespeare, physics and maths denied the team a win over campus’ most senior staff.

George Offer, the YUSU Academic Officer, told York Vision: “Last year’s selection process involved blind marking in the first round to ensure fairness for all applicants.

“The team was picked on their performance in selection rounds, however we will make sure to minimise any barriers for any applicants, at all stages of the process this year.

“I really encourage everyone to get involved over the next few weeks, and wish the team the best of luck in bringing the trophy back to York.”

A university spokesman added: “We would encourage YUSU to select the strongest possible panel, regardless of age, gender, ethnicity or other irrelevant characteristics.

“At the same time, we would encourage all students to take part in the trials – that is the best way to ensure that the team is properly representative.”

16 thoughts on “Sexism storm as all-male panel appears on University Challenge

  1. Fuck me this is dire, the tweets are from a few people who don’t understand that there is a meritocratic process that leads to the selection of the team. No one sensible is accusing the process (a blindly marked test and a mock show) of being inherently sexist or saying that George Offer et al. is sexist. You wouldn’t look at the end result of another meritocratic process such as the 100m at the Olympics and complain that it wasn’t demographically representative of the globe. If females didn’t get on, it is because they were bettered in the process. Meghan Ollerhead has it right when she says that the likely cause for the end result is that less women applied, which is a shame. So if you want the team to be more representative either apply yourself, if female, or get your female friends to apply. Then no matter what the make up of the team, be it 4 white males or 4 black females, we can shut up, congratulate them on having made the team, and cheer them on; and best of all, Vision can stop writing this sensationalist shit.

  2. Surely it would have been worse if a worthy candidate had missed out on the opportunity to represent the university because they felt they had to pick a female on the team due to fears of being sexist?

  3. I am Cameron Strange. I was Derwent rugby captain. I am large. I can indeed confirm that the sweater worn by Alisdair Middleton was a Derwent Rugby sweater.
    That is all.

  4. I am Laurence Walsh. I am Derwent Rugby. I do do PPE.
    Why can’t there be more PPE’ists from Guildford applying for Big 4 Grad schemes on this team? I was appalled that all the contestants (bar Ali Middleton) were not massive lads like me. It was unfair that there was a test and a selection process when I was too busy filling out application forms for city internships. If university challenge is to be truly representative of the University of York in this day and age then at least half the team must be aspiring management consultants from Surrey. Post-hoc that in your pipe and smoke it Bertrand Russell.

  5. Well, where do we start here then?

    Strong as my instincts to defend the team are, I can’t really disagree with the overall thrust of this article. As Megan quite correctly says, female (or indeed, non-cisgender male) and ethnic minority candidates are massively under-represented even in the tryout stages. I would guess there are a variety of factors leading to this – one not mentioned in the article is the unpleasantly misogynistic abuse invariably given to female UC contestants on social media etc. which I would imagine puts quite a few off.

    Generally, however, I think the reasons why so many teams on UC are all-male or male-dominated are rooted in what we are taught growing up. Often the type of skills rewarded on UC (the obsessive trivia-learning tendency and also the confidence/arrogance to make interruptions) are regarded as being very much ‘male’ skills, and are more valued in men accordingly. As such, this leads to female candidates who would doubtless be extremely good on University Challenge being reluctant to try out. In turn, of course, they then see all-male UC teams on TV a lot, reinforcing their belief that quizzes are a ‘male thing’, which is a real shame.

    As for the article itself – well, I’m not convinced that three tweets out of many really constitutes a backlash in all honesty, but well I guess you want people to read the article, so I won’t hold it against you. And I would appreciate it if you got the right team – York beat Corpus Christi CAMBRIDGE, not Oxford. It probably seems trivial, but it doesn’t say much for the fact-checking.

    Hopefully many people will try out at the (presumably upcoming) UC trials and the University will send along a more diverse (in subject choice as well as gender/ethnicity/class) and representative team this year! The application process is honestly entirely fair, it’s a wider societal issue as to why the teams are invariably the make-up they are in my view.



  6. I am the mentioned Ali Middleton. I am a top lad. I once ran unsuccessfully for Derwent Rugby Captain.

    We had a Welshman, isn’t that enough? If there were female applicants who were good enough on the day, they’d have got in the team. It’s a shame if more women don’t feel like applying, but that’s hardly something to hold against the university. Maybe people would prefer it if the BBC/ITV enforced quotas on the teams.
    All in all, I agree with Paddy.

  7. “We are sorely disappointed to see yet another line-up of white men supposedly representing our student body,”


  8. Oh my goodness. What a load of cods-wallop. Even I can understand that they were chosen by merit. Please can you write something of substance in the future. This isnt even feminism, this is purely man-hate sexist bulldang.

  9. I’m sorry, but this is not acceptable.

    While it’s really disappointing that women weren’t represented on the panel, it was a meritocratic, blind-marked process.

    Factors such as gender and ethnicity should take no part in a process to select the best applicants. If the best applicants are all women, or all black, or all white, or all straight, or all gay, or whatever else, it should not matter. People should be selected because they are the best person for the role, and for no other reason whatsoever.

  10. Right had just about enough of all this! So the only option is to take a hard-line approach by banning all white males from applying, unless they have a mohawk hairstyle.

  11. What’s this about the team’s win being a ‘shock’? York have a pretty good track record on University Challenge – it probably would have been a bigger surprise if they had lost their first round match. I worry for the Vision writers’ collective health if they find everything so shocking.

    In seriousness though, it’s incredibly lazy to blame YUSU or the university for the – very much real – lack of representation of women on UC. As this very article points out in between the attempts at manufacturing outrage, the selection process at York is completely by merit and the problem lies in the demographics of those choosing to apply for a place on the team. Maybe there is more that YUSU could do to ensure a more representative bunch of people apply, though I highly doubt that there is a simple answer, and this article and the three people who complained on Twitter certainly are not suggesting anything helpful.

  12. “We are sorely disappointed to see yet another line-up of white men supposedly representing our student body,” they told York Vision.”

    Maybe – MAYBE – the cleverest people who applied happened to be white men? It certainly seems to be the case as they managed to win the round. Stop trying to see racism and sexism in everything. Seriously, it’s extremely tedious.

  13. As I and others have said above, we really encourage all and every students to get involved with trails for next years team, and right on cue, the trails for next years team are happening on the 12th November

    No matter who you are, your background, age, year of study, mode of study, degree course or anything, as long as you are student at the Uni of York, please do apply, or simply get in touch if you aren’t sure whether you can or should.

    All info can be found here:

  14. The 2015 team is also four white men. To have one all-white, all-male team may be regarded as a misfortune; to have to looks like carelessness.

    The selection process was, as far as I could tell, entirely based on merit. The first round was written and the second was on the buzzer. The problem was with the number of women (and, probably, other groups, too) who entered. I didn’t count the social science first round, but it seemed to be majority male and overwhelmingly white. For the second round, I think around one quarter of the finalists were women.

    I don’t think anyone is suggesting, per some of the comments above, that there should be quotas and so on. Rather, we should look at getting more people to enter in the first place. Ultimately, the point of entering University Challenge is to represent your university and to win the competition. Increasing the number of apply to take part – increasing our pool of talent – can only be a good thing, before we consider any of the other issues around it.

    I don’t know what the solution is but I do hope that, as a union and as a university, we look at it and see what can be done to encourage more women to enter in the first place. It seems to me to be part of a broader problem at the university and across society (and I will add that some of the comments above are handy evidence of that) that we should all want to deal with, frankly, as a moral issue.

    I’m the team captain for the University Challenge 2015 team and should probably make it clear that I’m writing in a personal capacity.

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