Does the University need to do more to tackle class discrimination on and off campus?
Students at St Hilda’s College, Oxford have won a battle to win protection from discrimination against their working-class status. The students reported that they had received unsavoury comments regarding their Primark clothing.
The college has now voted to appoint a ‘class liberation officer’ in order to prevent students from low-income backgrounds being referred to as ‘chavs’. One student stated: “Insults such as ‘chav’, chav-themed social nights and questions such as ‘why are you wearing Primark?’ can make poor students feel upset and worthless.”
Students at Manchester have faced similar criticism as the scruffy-look ‘Fallowfield Style’ has been deemed offensive to poorer students, and even the homeless. First year English student Louise grew up in a working class family in London and feels that richer students in Fallowfield ‘dressing down’ can be seen as insulting. She told The Mancunion: “My family have always struggled with money. We were lucky if we could pay the bills at the end of every month. Seeing students purposely dress down to try and look ‘edgy’ or ‘cool’ seems a bit disrespectful to people who actually can’t afford expensive clothes.”
Indeed, other students have expressed anger towards the fact that the Fallowfield dress code of baggy trousers and loose jumpers could be viewed as patronising to the homeless community in Manchester. Second year History student, George, said: “When you see students dressing in old, scruffy sports gear and then you find out that they went to a private school in London it seems a bit like they’re taking advantage of their wealth. Poverty and homelessness is a huge problem in Manchester so why are some students trying to pretend that they’re poorer than they are? It all just seems a bit thoughtless.”
However, the Students’ Union are taking action to tackle class appropriation. Just this year, the student Senate voted to appoint a part-time Working-Class Officer to ensure that those studying at Manchester who came from a less well-off background are having their grievances represented. This comes at an especially important time when earlier this year that government announced that they would be cutting maintenance grants, a key source of income for students from poorer backgrounds.
In fact, despite some working class students stating their annoyance at Fallowfield’s fashion sense; others feel it is being given unnecessary attention over other, more important issues. Biochemistry student Harriet reinforced this idea when she commented: “I grew up in a working class part of Birmingham and have seen that there are much bigger problems than some rich kids wearing old Adidas trackies. I do think the university should be doing more to make sure that people like me have enough support on our courses and private lives to have as good a time as students with richer parents.”