Words: Cara Leahy (she/her)
Before I moved to Glasgow three years ago, I didn’t realise how out of my depth I would be.
Before I came to university, I had never met anyone that had been to private school, had
generational wealth, or was not paying their rent out of their Student Finance maintenance loan.
These three things seemed impossible for me to ever conceive. Having grown up in a working-class family in Northern Ireland, and having been surrounded by similar people my whole life, the idea that not everyone would be struggling felt impossible to me. I naively thought everyone struggled financially at university – this is not the case. Financial security is tenuous at best for any student, but working class students struggle within the university system more than their middle-class counterparts, as they do not have the privilege of accessing financial support from family members.
A unique trend that I have noticed from my three years at Glasgow has been the appropriation of “working class culture” (I use quotation marks because the idea that the working class have their own unique culture feels vaguely classist in itself) despite having a general distaste for the working class. The title of this piece, ‘They Look Like They Live in a Council House’ is a quote pulled from The Tab Glasgow’s Instagram account, in a post captioned, ‘[S]ometimes we really do live up to our stereotype…’. This statement highlights the distaste that many middle-class students still feel towards their working class peers. If we unpack this statement, we can surmise that the speaker is making a classist assumption about someone based on an aesthetic that they, and their peers, seek to appropriate.
The appropriation of working-class culture is not a new trend; nor will it go away soon. Middle-class students take the parts they like, such as music (Brit Pop and Drum & Bass), fashion (puffer coats, tracksuits, trainers), slang, and move into previously working class areas to cosplay the struggling student and to seem more “normal”, only to abandon these traits once a “real job” is secured. The titular statement implies that the person in question fits the brief of a working-class stereotype i.e., the likeable parts of the culture.
The University of Glasgow, and its students, have a reputation of being classist: we are fondly known as “West End Wankers” to students from other universities living in Glasgow. The idea of the “West End Wanker” feels like a self-fulfilling prophecy for many of the students within the University, and it is a reputation that precedes us. Usually, when people find out that I attend this uni, I am met with distaste, only for me to reassure them that ‘I’m not like that, though’. The title, “West End Wanker”, is fondly received within the student body. This, to me, is alarming. For a majority of the students, the title is harmless fun, but for a minority, it represents something much more sinister.
As a young working-class woman, and a student at the University of Glasgow, I have many mixed feelings. On one hand, I acknowledge that I am Grammar School-educated and that I attend a Russell Group University. However, I am also working class and do not have access to the same opportunities as my middle-class peers. Moreover, despite my education, I have never been affronted with this much blatant classism before. For me, university was always a privilege and a necessity. I, like many other students, am completing my degree out of sheer need. I, to put it simply, cannot afford to not obtain one. The realisation that this is not the reality for some of my peers will never fail to shock me. My school peers all do degrees out of necessity and I have never, until attending Glasgow Uni, met someone doing a degree for the sake of doing one. To be frank, I wish I had the privilege to do this. I am jealous that I cannot do this. I find uni to be very challenging and emotionally draining. However, I will not get a “good” job without being here. To hear other students ridicule working-class students based on their appearance makes this experience harder.
The knowledge that I am so vastly unlike my peers is isolating and frustrating, particularly when Glasgow Uni prides itself on being inclusive. It is not the University’s fault that many working-class students feel isolated, however, there is a clear culture of elitism that permeates the University’s student body; and it is not a good look.