Working-class students don’t need ‘buddies’

Oxford University is currently ranked as the best university in the world, imbued with the best academic minds in the world, and it has a legacy of academic excellence longer than the lifetimes of most countries. All of which begs the question: how did its students’ union came up with the patronising idea of the working-class student buddy system?

Oxford University Students’ Union (OUSU) has launched its ‘Class Act’ campaign, which involves pairing undergraduates from working-class areas with a ‘buddy’ to help them integrate.

There has been a worrying trend recently, where well-off worshippers of identity politics have tried to drag working-class students kicking and screaming into the identity-politics bubble. At Bristol last year, working-class students were told by a students’ union official that they couldn’t dress-up as chavs because it would be offensive to working-class students. Try to get your head around that one – I still am.

Seriously, is this how they plan on closing the class divide – by treating us like socially inept morons who are incapable of making friends and can only interact with our own kind? It’s so insulting. Yes, Oxford has some eclectic traditions, but these will be new experiences for all students, working-class or not.

All this programme does is reduce working-class students to their working-class identity. Moreover, it suggests OUSU doesn’t see us as individuals, but as some poor pleb-like collective that must be pitied and have its hands held around campus.

In my first year at Aberystwyth, I had to make friends with a range of people: working-class, middle-class, English, Welsh, international. It didn’t matter to me what their background was, all that mattered was that they were my mates. I find it worrying that OUSU seems to think our ability to make friends is based on our backgrounds.

So, to working-class students going to Oxford: congratulations on making it there, it’s by far one of the hardest universities to get into and you have earned it through your own hard work. But, if some out-of-touch students’ union fruitcake tries to get you to sign up to this patronising programme, I honestly hope you tell them to do one. Start Oxford life as the individual that got you in in the first place, not as the pitied collective created to make some middle-class twits feel better about themselves.

The buddy system may seem a harmless voluntary programme today, but it is only the start of the erosion of our individual identities as we are dragged into the mess of identity politics. If OUSU wants to close the class divide, it should start by treating working-class students as normal human beings.

Ieuan Joy is a writer and student.

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