This year Halloween seemed to bring a rash of instances of people putting on ill thought out costumes which exposed their privilege and ignorance (See The Foreclosure law firm who got their employees to dress up as their evicted clients Or This beautiful post on racism and Halloween costumes). Now Leeds University Students’ Union has clearly decided that October is too long to wait to roll this shit out again because their holding a chav party ‘Gold hoop earrings, trackies, your best high tops and muscle vests are the order of the day!’.
There are several reasons why this is pushing all my buttons.
I have a strong belief that education should be accessible to everyone regardless of background. I believe University can be life changing, and though our system is flawed it is one of the greatest tools of social mobility we have. It changed my life (even though I had to put up with boys called Sebastian asking me if my dad beat my mum up and making jokes about working down the pit). It really matters to me and because of this I worked in Widening Access to HE. I also know that the current changes to funding are going to make our Higher Education establishments significantly more exclusive than they already are. That the potential of many bright, working class kids is going to be wasted. And maybe this is the reason why seeing a bunch of privileged students mocking what they perceive poor people to be like, is particularly problematic for me.
I know a reasonable amount of the demographics of Leeds University students, and I believe it is fair to say that as a whole they do not score particularly high on indexes of social exclusion. I know they were recently slated for having an intimidating Student’s Union, described as a playground for rich white kids. I’ve lived in the City and I know about the growing split between town and gown, the growing resentment and frustration with the inconsiderate behaviour of many students.
I think University should be a place where ignorance and assumptions are challenged. Chav is a term which expresses a hatred towards (and a fear of) working class people (check out Owen Jones – Chavs: the demonization of the working class for a much more detailed discussion of this issue than I have the time or the energy for right now). Its use, especially by people who have no knowledge or experience of poverty,should be challenged. My feelings on this term are basically summed up by Liam Cranley (who grew up in a working class community of Greater Manchester) when a middle class person uses the word ‘You’re talking about family, you’re talking about my brother, you’re talking about my mum, you’re talking about my friends’ (Jones, Owen , Chavs: The Demonization of the Working Class, 2011). And yes, to some extent these students are just kids, maybe they are so closeted, so arrogant and so surrounded by people who are just like them, to realise that certain jokes, told by certain people reek like hell. But maybe somebody should be pointing that out, you know, in the spirit of education and that.
Or maybe you still think it’s funny.
But imagine what it’s like to be a working class kid, already struggling to fit in and watching Leeds University Union promote this shit as acceptable and unproblematic. Imagine how it would make you feel about your right to be at that institution at all.
And now tell me again why you think it’s funny.