Durham University student and ex Linacre Institute, on the attitudes towards students from northern, working-class towns, and changing the culture within the University
Over the last year I have spent at Durham, aspects of my experience outside of my college community have been far from inclusive – the classism and general feelings of inferiority were one of the first things that struck me when I moved here. There were several incidents I can recall from my first year where I have personally been degraded due to my Yorkshire hometown, my accent, and/or my state-school education: from being overlooked in tutorials to the occasional one-liners from a crowd of privately-educated ‘friends of friends’. For the most part, I never found it particularly malicious until I realised how many other people had experienced similar, and far worse, situations.
It is important to realise that the ‘state school vs privately educated’ divide is not just a stereotype: it is the reality for many students like myself from northern working-class towns, who have worked so hard to reach places that some people are simply handed due to their previous education. It is difficult to be part of any minority that doesn’t fit the traditional demographic of a well-established institution such as Durham, where your presence is often questioned rather than celebrated. There is a clear lack of representation and respect for state-educated students and, whilst there have been some improvements, there are still hundreds of years’ worth of traditional values to call into question.
Here at Durham, we’ve recently set up the DCDU committee – aiming to Dismantle the Culture at Durham University, including issues surrounding racism, misogyny, homophobia, and classism. My role as part of the founding executive committee is social media coordinator, and the college coordinator for Josephine Butler, responsible for sharing our work and connecting the university-wide committee to my college. We’ve already made incredible progress in improving the university’s response to cases of sexual misconduct and misogyny, and classism is a huge issue that we are working tirelessly to minimise within our community.