On polo, meeting royalty, and classism - A response to The Tab
Illustration: Rebecca Leigh
A couple of weeks ago, The Tab published an article called ‘I’ve met royalty and play polo, but that doesn’t mean I come from a wealthy family’. The article addresses the supposed ‘stigmatisaion around private schools and the students that c[o]me from them’ and advocates for understanding beyond harmful stereotypes – of posh people, that is. I don’t mean for this article to be an attack on this piece in The Tab or on its author; who knows, the whole thing could be a joke. But the point-of-view expressed in the article is one that I’ve heard time and time again, and it needs to be addressed. Edinburgh Uni has a major class problem, but private school students are not its victims.
I’ve heard it before and I’m sure I will hear it again: students from private schools or with posh accents lamenting that they are judged at first glance, that their personal struggles and complex identities are washed over, that they are seen as nothing more than ‘posh cunts.’ And I get it. Full disclosure: I went to private school. I come from a privileged background and have taken financial comfort for granted. I have been judged when I explain what school I went to or what area I grew up in. But here’s the difference: I understand that whatever discomfort I might have felt in one particular moment is insignificant compared to the much broader and more insurmountable obstacles which working class students face at university and beyond. The ‘stigma’ which posh people at Edinburgh face is a byproduct, not a symptom in itself. It’s a small push against decades of dominance of the wealthy over the working class, and against one of the worst universities in the UK in terms of social inclusion and diversity.
University of Edinburgh scored the sixth worst on the Sunday Times’ Good University Guide’s measure of social inclusion, which compiles statistics about students who are ethnic minorities, from state schools, working class backgrounds, and deprived areas. 18.7% of the student population come from working class backgrounds and 4.1% are from deprived areas. In contrast, 33.6% of students went to private school, according to the Higher Education Statistics Agency. Beyond statistics, there is a cultural attitude of classism embedded within the university community. Working class students encounter classist attitudes, however subtle, on a regular basis—it’s hearing someone in Pollock last year claim that Scottish girls were poor and ugly. It’s loving the working class ‘aesthetic’ but paying hundreds of pounds for designer trackies. It’s Why Not’s ‘chav-themed’ club night in 2016. The culture of Edinburgh Uni reeks of privilege and entitlement —you only need to queue for Juju to know what I mean.
The irony in messages like September’s Tab article is that the same treatment which ‘posh’ students demand is exactly what privileged students deny students from working class backgrounds. ‘There’s just so much more to people than we initially see,’ the author writes, ‘and when we limit ourselves to seeing the label that society has branded them with, then we limit ourselves to people we’re prepared to make an effort to get to know.’ I’m not denying that private school students receive a certain amount of shit on a regular basis—but such ‘abuse’ cannot be characterized as such among a culture and power structure which holds up our success, wealth, and comfort at the expense of other students. And by centering our experiences, we are perpetuating the structures of classism and devaluing voices which are already looked over. In simple terms: it’s about more than someone making fun of the way you say ‘bath.’ It’s about a society in which even language is classed, and which will care more about your minute of discomfort than structural inequality and everyday apathy.