Students, fight for your right to offend

Now the campus bores are in a flap over white t-shirt socials.

Barely a week into the new academic year and the first student ban has already reared its ugly head. Exeter University’s Athletic Union has banned sports groups from holding white t-shirt socials, where students write and doodle on each other’s t-shirts as a way of breaking the ice and having a laugh. Why? Because a couple of students were photographed with offensive scribbles on their t-shirts during the snowsports club freshers’ event. One said ‘The Holocaust was a good time’; the other, ‘Don’t talk to me unless you are white’.

You are most likely thinking: well, it’s very distasteful and offensive to have written those things. But isn’t that the point of a white t-shirt social – to be offensive? At white t-shirt socials you don’t write ‘Bill, you are a lovely chap and I hope you have a nice night’. No, you draw genitalia and write offensive jokes to drop Bill in it. If you have been on a white t-shirt social and have not written something that could land you on the front page of the Guardian, then you’re either a liar or you’re doing it wrong.

Now that Exeter’s Athletic Union has taken it upon itself to ban the socials, will other universities follow suit? Now, when societies hold these kinds of events, students who should be able to let go, get drunk and relax with their new mates are going to find themselves walking on eggshells.

This isn’t the first time students have been censored for offensive clothing. At Aberystwyth University, the cricket society was banned because one member wore a shirt with his nickname, ‘casual rape’, written on the back. This censorship needs to stop. Students must be allowed to make mistakes, and, yes, be offensive.

In a similar vein to the popular-with-students card-game ‘Cards Against Humanity’ – in which Holocaust jokes are part of the game – the whole point of a white t-shirt social is to be offensive. Those who enjoy a hand of ‘Cards Against Humanity’, yet are furious about the behaviour at white t-shirt socials, are simply hypocrites. You don’t see unions slapping students down for playing that offensive game, so why punish those who take part in socials where the aim is to have fun through being offensive?

White t-shirt socials during freshers’ week are a chance to mock your new mates with distasteful banter. Do you actually believe your new geography-course friend is a sex offender? Of course you don’t. Do you believe the Holocaust was a joke? No, you don’t. Do you believe only white people should talk to you? Of course you don’t. The intent was obviously not to be abusive but to have a joke. Let’s stop punishing freshers for being freshers.

Ieuan Joy is a writer and student.

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