Reese Jones calls for UCLU to appoint a working class representative for students at UCL.
Working class students at UCL are neglected.
There is no infrastructure to meet the particular needs of working class students. There is no UCLU officer to voice working class concerns and experiences. There are no societies to celebrate and share a common identity with. As UCL’s director of estates put it, it is a “fact of life” that UCL is not accessible to poorer students and this sentiment is proven in UCL’s disregard of the working class. It has and continues to be a hostile environment for us. And frankly, this is dangerous.
As a working class student at UCL you are constantly anxious about how different and subordinate you are to your middle-class peers. In a desperate plea to fit in you silence yourself, internalise classism and perform an identity that is ultimately damaging. You are always fearful people will find out you are working class.
The process begins before university. Society demonises working class communities. Either you are a chav, leeching off the government and skiving from social responsibility; or you are a striver, working your arse off to be middle class. Middle class is right; working class is wrong. There is a moral, cultural and social hierarchy and the middle is on top.
Simply put: if you are a working class person, you are the wrong type of person. You need to change, and you need to do it fast. You need to work hard and get your attitude straight, talk in the right way use the right language, have the right aims. Stop eating dinner around the TV—you are a shit parent—manual work is so easy—you are trash, scum, stupid. Don’t think that way, don’t be that way, don’t dress that way. You learn from a young age that if you want to be of worth, if you want to be someone that is successful and moral, a good person, a correct person – be middle class.
Media, anti-immigration groups and government policy want you to believe that the white working class are being robbed of resources by immigrants and ethnic minorities. The truth is, these groups share more in common with each other than they do with the middle class – economically, culturally, socially and experientially.
White working class communities are denied any pride, autonomy and self-ownership. The truth is, white working class people have their own identity, own culture, own social structure, own history, own language and own style that comes from and is created by tight-knit oppressed communities living outside the system. But this truth isn’t recognised. Any hardship you experience is either because ethnic minorities are taking your “British” jobs or you are repulsive, you are the scroungers, the undeserving, the lower worth less class.
A few strivers will somehow make it to the “top” institutions. How you got to UCL you have no clue. Imposter syndrome is synonymous with your university experience. In an attempt to engage with institutions that you are historically, socially and culturally excluded from, you embark on a conscious journey to change yourself.
You change your clothes, your accent, the language you use, the values and ideas you have. You tell people a hazy truth about where you are from, where you’ve been and who you are. A new identity. A new you. A costume you perform every day, hiding and hoping no one will catch you out.
Sometimes your accent slips and you get a sting of anxiety when someone questions where you’re from. Maybe you don’t laugh when your more affluent friends talk about “peasants” or “pikeys”. And Halloween chav costumes make you feel a little weird. Even worse are middle class kids “playing” with class identity because appropriating racial identities is now frowned upon. They become edgier with the working class aesthetics and language. But, middle class youth do this without any real idea or experience of what it is to be working class – the chavvy attire without the hardships and discrimination. You feel misunderstood, or maybe you just don’t understand them. The social, cultural and linguistic landscape is different. There is disconnect; the pervasive sense of being the only working class kid in the room.
You see this in your halls, you see this in the alumni, you see this in your seminar, in your tutor’s office. The lack of representation both in student population and in the institutions is alienating. It stops you from participating in seminars. You are aware of sounding stupid, like a fraud – “how did this person even get admission?”. Maybe what you are saying is lost in translation. You can’t pronounce Michael Foucault and you don’t know what “construal” means. Or maybe you aren’t fitting the part of the intellectual because you don’t pronounce every consonant and your vowels drag. There is no one here to validate or relate to what you are feeling, to give you any real solutions. To tell you how it is and should be.
This isn’t only dangerous for the well-being of working class students. The class chasm is deep, wide and ancient – and this has only become more pronounced in post-Brexit Britain. The political and media narratives that the white working class are losing out to ethnic minorities continues to benefit those in power and protect those who systemically and personally gain from inheriting class privilege.
The white working class are discriminated against on many fronts excluding ethnicity. White privilege mixed with the disproportionate suffering of lower standards of life, health, education and job opportunities is confusing and dangerous for these communities. By framing the issue as a white working class vs ethnic minority issue is racist, and furthermore, aims to continue the oppression of both communities.
This redirection of working class anger has led to a hotbed of far-right politics and racial crime rising. A continued lack of proper recognition and support robs the working class of any pride or voice. The working class are a community with a shared language, aesthetic, morality, culture and social structure that proudly defines them beyond their lower wages and in a lot of ways beyond racial lines. The working class share more in common with their minority ethnic counterparts than with the middle classes. But society does not want to recognise this. They want to believe that working class people are backward and make the choice (to not be middle class) to suffer life this way. They want you to believe that their enemy is ethnic minority population.
The belief that all ethnic minorities share the same class and discrimination is an oversimplification of many working class and ethnic minorities’ experiences. There is class divide within the immigration and ethnic minority population and to deny such a thing is to ignore the complexity of our class and racial system.
UCLU needs to wake up and recognise this problem. It needs to be truly intersectional. It needs to acknowledge the working class minority in UCL, starting with a UCLU representative.
Featured Image: UCL