In order for universities to become attractive places for working-class people who might not see the benefit, institutions need to truly engage with our actual realities and connected needs.
Bravo Oxford University. Last week the Student’s Union announced their new ‘Class Act’ scheme – where two working-class students will be buddied up, allowing them a space to explore their anxieties such as “black tie and subfusc” on entering such an excruciatingly elitist environment. Well fusc that.
I’m a Cambridge graduate, whose place at Queens’ College was certainly aided by the box my attendance at a state-comp and my low income household would allow the admissions office to tick. As a working-class thorn, among legions of Etonian roses, my years at university were some of the most formative – and most dishonest — of my life. Surprising, even for myself, because I was outrageously queer and unapologetically loud throughout my time at university; but when it came to class I learned very quickly how to paint a flawless middle class mask just to be taken even semi-seriously.
I was unknowingly desperate to be seen as worthy, cultured, interesting, engaged — something these incredibly impressive people would never see in my background. Lest we forget, this is the place where some abhorrent hooligan torched a £20 note in front of a homeless person and was allowed re-entry to his studies after writing a letter of apology.
People say that university is all about “life lessons”, but for working-class people those lessons are oftentimes forced upon us. A Cambridge classmate of mine told me that in her first week an Etonian on her corridor assumed she was a maid, and tried to hand her his dirty sheets. It was the first time she’d ever really thought about class: forced to by someone else.
It sounds unfathomable that someone might have such little social awareness, but as a working-class kid heading to university you quickly feel the sting of people patronising you, erasing you, or fetishising you. These small campuses and extra-curricular societies bloom into a microcosm of the adult world, where you feel your class like you never felt it back home because everybody was like you.