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The special snowflake of university: the disadvantaged student

In light of a recent controversy at the University of Birmingham, where an undergraduate student wrote to the Guild of Students to complain about the theme of 'chav' for the renowned university sports' night, it's clear there is a class discrepancy at particularly Russell Group universities.

The student claimed that the decision to theme the evening as 'chav night' had the "potential to make students from a lower-income background, myself included, feel unwelcome and like they don't belong at this university". The complaint continued with: "the mere thought of a group of privileged, middle-class kids, who have never had to worry about financial instability in their lives, never even mind even acknowledging their privilege, dress(ing) up as their less-privileged counterparts for fun is, frankly, sickening".Chavs-night

The response to this controversy has been overwhelming. Many students championed what the girl was saying, but there's been a select few who have condemned the girl's complaint. Having shared her complaint the Fab n Fresh Facebook page, one student responded saying: "people are offended by anything today, do you not have anything better to do with your time?!". Another student said, "as a chav myself I would like to say that this is not offensive and is something to be embraced. I think you need to acquire a sense of humour and realise these cultural walls you are only enforcing can be torn down by mutual laughter".

Whether the dress code was intended to cause offence or not, it's clear that there are class tensions between students at universities. Research shows that private school pupils are still two and a half times more likely to secure a place at a Russell Group university than those at a state school. And as a working-class student as a Russell Group university, I've found myself in the minority, compared to pretty much every other student I've met having parents funding their degree, giving them massive allowances and having private school study from Year 7 onwards.

It seems, as well, that Russell Group universities believe they're not getting many students from lower-income backgrounds because 'disadvantaged' young people have no ambition or spark. For example, the University of Birmingham has set up its own free school, where they are attempting to prepare students from 'poor backgrounds' for rigorous academic life. And this, in my opinion, is what is insulting. The university puts so much time and effort into getting 'disadvantaged' students involved as if those from lower incomes wouldn't aspire for an academic degree without a soft, caring nudge from a Russell Group institution. Don't get me wrong, a free school being opened is great; help students that want to learn learn, by all means. It's just that it appears that the university is doing all of this for their own gain: open a free school, get some 'disadvantaged' students interested, and then hopefully they'll come to the university and offset the class balance. The concept of a free school also suggests that students from lower-income and more disadvantaged backgrounds are special snowflakes: they need to be nudged carefully by top universities in order to realise the untapped potential they have inside. Of course a student from a lower background wouldn't aspire for anything beyond a lower-income life; of course they think life stops after, maybe, a job at a supermarket, or a life of waitressing. Which is utterly ridiculous. Maybe it's about time Russell Groups stopped mothering us 'poorer' students and started realising that the reason a lot of disadvantaged young people don't apply for said institutions is because we don't want to become a product of your snobbery. We're perfectly capable deciding our own career paths, thanks.

I will aspire towards the best that I can be, regardless of my parent's income, my familial background and where I live. And so will any other so-called 'disadvantaged' student. You can achieve anything you want to with enough hard work and determination. And you don't need a Russell Group university's encouragement in order to realise that. We're cleverer than you think.

Featured image: Yuangeng Zhang / Shutterstock.com

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