Welcome to the second edition of the SJC Women's Network eNewsletter

Welcome to the second edition of the SJC Women's Network eNewsletter. The Women’s Network Steering Group meets four times a year, and 20 May 2020 saw our first fully virtual meeting.

One of the things that I love most about our Network is that we bring together all parts of the College community: alumnae, JCR & MCR members, Fellows and non-academic staff. Together we are the women of St John's, and it is our role to celebrate, inspire and empower the diversity of all the women of St John's. Listening to stories from the 13 Steering Group members scattered across the UK, Germany, Ireland and South Africa brought very moving insights into how COVID-19 is affecting women in very different ways. We fell into two broad categories: those overwhelmed with extra demands, discovering ‘work-life balance’ in all its inequity; and those shocked into much emptier lives as plans and routines dissolved. 

Some women found themselves juggling roles of nanny, teacher, worker and student; others were suddenly busy reorganising home life around strange working patterns. Contrast this with women stranded without work and facing confusion about when they could make future plans; women at home with children facing an unfamiliar pattern of solitude and looking to the Women’s Network for the intellectual stimulation and solidarity that had disappeared from other parts of their lives; and students at all stages of their careers experiencing massive disruption. This sudden change in all our lives collided with the #BlackLivesMatter protests around the world, sparked by the shocking public murder of George Floyd in the US. This shone a light on institutional racism everywhere, and caused many of us to pause and educate ourselves more intensely.

This newsletter is full of personal stories - and there are so many more #BLM and COVID-19 tales to tell. Some members of St John’s have been at the heart of the British response: sitting in COBRA meetings, reporting nightly on the BBC, battling for hardest hit BAME communities in their constituencies, turning up day after day on wards and in laboratories, caring for people and advancing world class research. Whether our experiences are deeply personal or trying to advance wider change, all of us are finding ways to adjust to the impact of the pandemic on our own lives and those of our loved ones. We would love to hear from all of you around our network - please do write or record your experiences and send them to women@sjc.ox.ac.uk so that we can share them in future newsletters.

One of the bizarre levellers of this pandemic is that we have all had both similar and very different experiences. Women have taken the impact of COVID-19 in quite particular ways, as the stories from members of the Steering Group show. 

Best wishes,


Robin Gorna (1984, Theology)

Chair of the SJC Women's Network


Robin (1984, Theology) tells her own story as a writer and activist, now living with lingering COVID-19. 

Issy Stephens (2017, Chemistry, JCR Liaison Officer to the Women’s Network) reflects on the disruption caused to her final year studies, the many things that she and her contemporaries have missed out on, and her hopes that the pandemic can be a catalyst for positive change. 

Ruby-Anne Birin (2017, Archaeological Science, DPhil; incoming Women’s Network Secretary) shares how her South African family is making the most of lock-down: hosting cooking, baking and chocolate-making classes on Facebook every Sunday, inviting everyone to join – making not only chocolate or cookies, but also making community.  

Ava Mitchell (2018, Human Sciences; JCR Women’s Officer) reflects on the challenges of leaving College at short notice, working and studying from her childhood bedroom, and the opportunities of wider lockdown reading to reflect on race, inequalities and prejudice, brought to light following the brutal murder of George Floyd.

With an unexpected additional year in Oxford and a bit of time on her hands, Dr Hannah Nazri (2015, Obstetrics and Gynaecology, DPhil; Women’s Leadership Programme Co-ordinator) started reading more widely, writing and sharing her thoughts via a newly launched website focused on womanhood and facing day-to-day extremism.

Former Fellow for Women, Dr Katherine Southwood, shared with the Network some of the inspirations of her lockdown, which had played havoc with her long-anticipated, precious sabbatical, yet brought new and unexpected joys alongside the challenges of becoming an unexpected stay-at-home mother. 

Chair of the SJC Women’s Network, Robin Gorna, reflects on the first ever fully virtual meeting of the Network’s Steering Group – an innovation which provided a glimpse into the varied and complicated ways in which women have been impacted by COVID-19.

Aislin Sheldon (2017, Clinical Neurosciences, DPhil; Women’s Leadership Programme Co-ordinator) reflects on the challenges of conducting her DPhil work remotely, her investigations into current politics, including the #BlackLivesMatter movement, and the beauty and serenity of the College gardens.

Mary Rawlinson's Will.jpgAs the #BlackLivesMatter campaign took root around the world, the Women's Network took the opportunity to consider some of the many meanings for our College’s history and current life. Read more

MCR Women’s Officers Rebecca Buxton (2016, DPhil International Development) and Gabriella Kountourides (2018, DPhil Anthropology) have been running a virtual book club with other members of the MCR during lockdown with great success; here they reveal the pleasure and comfort this initiative has brought them and others - and the inspiration to the wider Women’s Network to do the same. Read more

Andrew and Angelika JPEG.jpgTwo members of our Steering Group, Angelika Love (2011, Experimental Psychology; Secretary to the Steering Group) and Andrew Tiernan (2000, English), share their top tips following two years of mentoring. Read more

Dr Hannah Nazri (2015, DPhil Obstetrics and Gynaecology) & Aislin Sheldon (2017, DPhil Clinical Neuroscience) look back at the Women’s Leadership Programme, an annual initiative which creates opportunities for  current graduate women to learn from inspiring alumnae and each other. 

Read more

Women's Networking October 14th 2016 - Janine GibsonWe are delighted to announce a forthcoming online event with alumnae Robin GornaIzzy Fewster Jones and Jessica Kindler which aims to demystify networking and share ideas and lived experiences. Register now

Professor Katherine SouthwoodProfessor Katherine Southwood will be exploring how the Hebrew Bible can inform on people’s experience of sickness and isolation. We invite you to come with an open mind to explore how our predecessors dealt with the grief, frustration and (fleeting) hope many of us feel during this challenging time. Register now

5231.jpgWe will be hosting an online chocolate truffle making experience. During this 45-minute class, you will be briefly introduced into the history and types of chocolate before diving into making chocolate truffles. Register now

(Virtual) Drinks and Inspiration

In 2019, the Women’s Network hosted a number of events bringing the women of St John’s together, in particular for an Annual Dinner and with the launch of a Speakers’ Series, intended as an annual showcase of some of the excellent work being done at College for informal discussions over drinks in London. We are keen to highlight the work of alumnae and academics to expand our understanding of gender issues and share their passion and research with former students. The first talk in the series featured St John’s Junior Research Fellow Dr Liz Fouksman, who gave a fascinating account of her research into the moral, social and cultural attitudes to work and labour.

Our plans for the second event in the series, as well as the Annual Dinner, have been disrupted by the pandemic, but we are keen to use this as an opportunity to shift the speakers’ series online, and to connect with a wider group of researchers and audiences. We plan to organise events in the autumn and if you are working on an issue or researching topics that you think will be of interest to the Women’s Network, and would be interested in sharing your work, please do get in touch by emailing women@sjc.ox.ac.uk.

* The SJC Women's Network is here to bring together SJC women across the world and across generations, to promote equality of opportunity and women's deeper and wider participation in all aspects of life. The Network defines a woman as anyone who identifies wholly or partially as a woman and/or as transfeminine.


Check for updates on the Women's Network Facebook Page

Click here