Since the rapture of Freshers is now over and we’re into the second week of teaching, I’m going to start this letter with a little pop quiz. Raise your hand if you can tell me where in the world you would find these two sentences uttered mere seconds apart from one another:
“Your dad works for my dad.” / “Ohhhh, Jeremy Cooorbyn.”
The answer is, of course, the Varsity finale. Every year, students from the University of Leeds descend upon Headingley Stadium to watch their team get slapped around a rugby pitch for 80 minutes, with classist and obnoxious insults being their only form of response. I am fantastically proud that my university managed to record their first ever Varsity win last week, but reflecting on the words of my fellow students has served to thoroughly dampen that pride. I think it’s about time we stopped singing about employability prospects at an event which primarily celebrates the sporting achievements of exceptional students, regardless of which home county they did or did not grow up in.
Obviously, we don’t want Varsity to descend into a boring and uninspiring chant-less space. Let’s be honest, the only thing duller than a silent Varsity crowd would be a conversation with my predecessor, Reece Parker, about how the Fantasy Football team he spent the entire summer creating while “getting massive” in the gym is the greatest managerial masterclass since Istanbul 2005 – despite ‘Madley & Me’ (don’t worry, I don’t get it either) currently lying 5th in the Gryphon Fantasy League. But, where Varsity is concerned, what should be friendly competitive banter has turned into snide, malicious and now normalised classist comments.
“We pay your benefits, we pay your benefits”, is the sound you’ll find accompanying Beckett’s 27th converted try. Well, not to be nitpicky, but since we’re all students and therefore don’t pay tax, we don’t pay anyone’s benefits. And since half of our mummies and daddies do their banking with some off-shore Gibraltan bank account, I’m pretty sure they don’t either. What this rhetoric does is confuse inherited wealth with intelligence. Not only does this construct a fictional stigma around Leeds Beckett, it also makes working-class people studying at this university feel like imposters who have only found themselves here via some catastrophic mistake. I know my Dad certainly works for someone else’s Dad, who in turn probably works for another person’s Dad. So, if my Dad isn’t paying employees out of his own pocket, do I belong here?
I always find it amazing that on a campus where students are constantly championing the rights of those less fortunate than themselves, the second these same students get the opportunity to hurl classist insults at each other from the safety of a deindividualized crowd, they grab at the chance with both hands. A lot of it is just mindless chanting, of course. Not everyone who reminds Beckett students that what’s coming over the hill is, in fact, unemployment, is a wanker. But either way, there should be no place for classist chants at Varsity. We should stick to calling each other wankers, plain and simple, rather than making distinctions. Whether you’re a poor wanker or a middle-class wanker or a wanker who can afford to pay for personalised license plates on their five Range Rovers, you’re still a wanker.
In my third year of uni, when our rugby team beat Beckett in a thrilling finale, the vitriol of the chants was matched by uni of students throwing drinks and bottles down at those Beckett fans who had left the stadium early. Some may say it’s all just a good bit of competitive fun. But when classist ideologies turn into genuine indifference to other people’s safety, things have clearly gone too far. Abuse geared towards making someone feel unwelcome, unwanted, unfit or unloved in their city of study is a key factor in the development of mental health issues. I don’t want to bang on about mental health for the second week in a row, but since I’m writing this Editor’s Letter on World Mental Health Day, I feel it’s a relevant point to make. Be considerate of how throwaway jokes and group mentalities can cause more harm than you may have intended.
For once, this doesn’t remind me of Love Island, but of the social movement, Talk More. All around Hyde Park and Leeds, you can find carefully crafted graffiti images encouraging us to “talk more”. The message is open to interpretation, but it seems to me that it’s reminding us to discuss our anxieties rather than repress them. These artworks have made my daily walks to uni a blessing over the past year and, as such, I’ve chosen to share them with you on page 10. Was this a conscious reference to the 10th of October, or did I simply forget about an entire page of content this week until the last minute? I’ll let you decide.