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Is Oxford still a posh boys’ club?

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Going to Oxford University from an inner city comprehensive school is like living on another planet, one populated by strange people in bow ties with no concept of what it’s like to live in the real world. Before you arrive you hear the stories of the Bullingdon Club, lavish dinners and champagne receptions, but until you actually live here you don’t realize that all the rumours are true, and in the worst possible way.

The first thing that shocks you when arriving is how everyone seems to know each other already. We used to fight our neighboring school at the train station, but these guys have been wining and dining each other since the age of 11 (even if the wine arguably came slightly later). People seem surprised in Freshers’ week that you haven’t met their mate Tarquin from St Paul’s, or you didn’t know about Humphrey from Eton’s gap year excursions in Goa. Although it does help your rep a little that you are able to provide some context to the Chip vs Bugzy beef, due to your days in the playground sending low quality grime instrumentals via Bluetooth on your Sony Ericsson. This public school network is real, and it affects your life as a student from a state school.

Oxford’s famous drinking societies are where this network comes into its element. The most famous of is the Bullingdon, but Keble College have the ‘dissolved’ Steamers, whose misogynistic antics arguably earned the college the chant: “We are Keble, we hate women”. There’s nothing wrong with a couple of lads going out for a meal, but when these lads all went to public schools, and meet in an all-male dining club, it projects an image of exclusivity that the university is keen to distance itself from. Yet this exclusivity is real, and is perpetuated by the students themselves, dishing out invites only to those who went to the top public schools, leaving those who were not fortunate enough to attend searching for where we fit in this posh puzzle.

I have experienced first hand some of the attitudes the members of these societies hold towards people such as myself. From snide comments about dropping my T’s when asking for the ‘water’ at meals, to having my accent laughed at by a member of the Bullingdon on a football pitch, it leaves you having to adjust the way you speak to avoid confrontation. The street-onians may attempt to sound like they’re from Tottenham, but when you’re actually from there it’s suddenly not as cool, and leaves you embarrassed about where you come from. If you’re Northern it’s even worse, with constant references to ‘graaaavy’ and ‘Bistooo’ forcing them too to adjust their mode of speech. I’m personally not keen to come out of here sounding like a 1942 Pathé news reel. Accents are a reflection of where you come from, and if you didn’t come from Kensington & Chelsea it seems like you’re doing something wrong.

Oxford University has made attempts in recent years, to extend access to the university through talks in schools and visits to various colleges. There is, however, a systemic bias towards those who can’t afford to actively participate in social activities. With some black tie dinners costing around £35 a go, and the yearly ball at Keble College costing £89 for college members, and £99 for guests, the social events provided by the university are undeniably expensive and thus exclusive. Everyone around you is all too keen to remind you that this ball cannot be missed, and is cheap considering the comparative £200 price tag on other college balls. When you had to get your ticket for your birthday, but those around you are asking for your guest place so they can bring a friend from another college, it becomes clear that this is not an equal playing field. The role of money in this university is so profound that they won’t even remove the statue of the colonialist Cecil Rhodes for fear of benefactors withdrawing their financial support.

Although this is a dire portrait of the University, there are some signs of hope. The Rhodes Must Fall movement has got people talking once again about the true nature of this university, and this will hopefully lead to positive change for BME students as well as those from state schools. I also do not wish to tar all public school students with the same brush, as many are accepting of state school pupils and make huge efforts to ensure they feel welcome. What is undeniable, however, is that this university will allow you to thrive if you have come from a public school, and leaves those from the state sector often feeling ostracized because of it. I may just be one Jack, swimming against a tide of Randolph’s and Montague’s, but with more and more pressure being applied, hopefully one day this will be a university that is more reflective and accepting of the state of our country today.

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