Alternative freshers’ week: giving the lie to the ‘lad culture’ panic
What do you get if you cross £1 pints, misogyny and a casual attitude to sexual assault? The answer – if you believe what the National Union of Students (NUS) and the government are saying about our universities – is freshers’ week. The annual welcome week for first-year undergraduates is renowned for its drunken debauchery. For many, it epitomises the ‘unsafe’ and ‘tasteless’ nature of life at a UK university. But this bad reputation has been called into question by the rise of the newest uni trend – the ‘alternative freshers’ week’.
In response to a rise in teetotal students, many universities are now offering a week’s worth of booze-free activities, as an alternative to the pub crawls and the club nights. Salsa classes, nightbus tours, theatre trips and ice-skating events are becoming increasingly popular, and are serving to expose the NUS’s hyperbole about how pervasive booze-fuelled ‘lad culture’ really is.
Universities are often depicted as unsafe and dangerous places for women, minorities and homosexuals, who are all viewed as potential victims of abuse or assault. Male students, meanwhile, are painted as untameable, sex-obsessed animals, who are driven into a feeding frenzy at the mere thought of cheap pints, casual sexism and the LAD Bible Facebook page. If people actually believed that this characterisation were true, it would be a miracle if anyone other than knuckle-dragging, misogynistic alcoholics ever applied to a university.
The fact that students’ unions across the land are planning their alternative freshers’ events in the same week the government launches its NUS-inspired inquiry into sexual assault on campus suggests it is time to question British students’ bad rep.
The issue here is that the definition of sexual assault peddled by NUS fearmongers is so watered down that innuendos and sexual jokes are lumped in with genuine cases of criminal behaviour. This serves only to give students an appalling and undeserved reputation, while distracting from the few cases of actual assault which rightfully demand care and attention.
Nevertheless, students face constant, patronising criticism from their students’ unions, which are supposedly there to look out for our interests, with the NUS having published a series of reports suggesting that sexist banter and a ‘pack mentality’ among male students are creating an intimidating environment for women. The rise of the activity-packed alternative freshers’ offerings makes you wonder how they even find the time to grope each other – in between dance lessons and games of ‘raveminton’.
This month, thousands of students will descend upon their campuses for the first time. Thankfully, they won’t be the intimidating lads the NUS believes they are. Ice skating, anyone?
George Harrison is a writer and student.