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I didn’t know what “elite university” meant in reality. I wasn’t aware of the backgrounds people here would have, and even if I was I don’t think I would have thought it could affect me.
But people don’t get that I struggle with the reading each week, not because I don’t understand the content, but because I haven’t been taught how to cope with something that extensive; outside reading wasn’t a thing in my state school and college. I also wish there would be more recognition from staff that not everyone has parents who have a degree, are professionals, or at least who brought their children up with information about “the world” – specifically politics and economics. It’s presumed that you have a grasp of everything that’s gone on since the 2008 recession, and that you know how things like the economy work. I don’t, and I feel overwhelmed daily.
Navigating middle class institutions for working-class students is kind of like a game where you only really had half the rules explained to you- the rest you have to work out for yourself.
Some of us learnt the hard way that mimicking can only get you so far. The presence of a social mobility officer isn’t just about having someone who can steer you in the right direction. It’s about having someone who has stumbled over the same hurdles you have and can help you see the finish line. It means working class students don’t have to experience the humiliation of trying to get someone who was moulded for an institution like this to understand what it feels like not to belong. To feel like an anomaly. To get them to understand the exhaustion of having to be the human face or spokesperson for the working class in discussions around poverty and inequality, of having to constantly unpack prejudices wherever you go. Having a social mobility officer simply means we don’t have to explain all these things because they not only understand but they’ve felt this way too.
It is tiring to explain why you can’t go away for reading week, or why you can’t go on another night out.
When I went to discuss my dissertation, I was told I had to book a flight to Buenos Aires, which seems unimaginable when my last holiday was a package deal to Spain during middle school. I’m now working 20 hours a week to afford a trip to Berlin. The most difficult thing about being working class however, is that I have no choice in being political. At the end of a studying in the library, most people get to put any discussions of class back on the shelf. To me, that book, article, argument or statistic is my life. But, during a debate over coffee, my opinion is invalid because it is based on my experiences and not on academic research. Because class is so politicised, when I want advice I’m often met with a debate about policies, the Alt Right, Jeremy Corbyn or Brexit. It took me a long time to open up about my background on campus, feeling like I couldn’t participate because I didn’t have the same skills as my wealthier classmates. But now, I feel like my university experience is morphed by the need to defend my background against people who have only seen class in textbooks. Sometimes, I want to shut the library book and leave class behind. Sometimes, I want to choose when I am political and when I am just me, but that choice is a luxury.
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