Could class liberation officers tackle discrimination at university?

Indignities abound at  Russell Group universities for those of us with the misfortune of having been born into a family with no inherited wealth, those of us whose background is decidedly C2DE in the NRS Social Grade – the crude system used by government apparatchiks and ruthless marketers to classify the population socioeconomically.

We face the exhausting task of navigating a culture that is often alien, picking ourselves up after each faux pas. To receive scorn for pronouncing Latin ‘like Spanish’, to not know that the answer to ‘what type of tea would you like?’ is not ‘white, one sugar’, but ‘Earl Grey or Jasmine’. This is our reality. That is when our voices themselves are not the problem. What are often referred to as ‘regional’ accents – in contradistinction to the pan-regional Received Pronunciation – are mocked, imitated derisively and otherwise devalued.  These accents are, of course, no hard-and-fast signifier of lower socioeconomic status, but the fact is that the further up the ladder you climb, the fewer variations on a theme, the more clipped vowels you hear. However hazardous this cultural minefield, however irksome the passing comments, these instances are not examples of so-called microaggressions, and the disparities in class and distribution of cultural capital that lay behind them are not going to go away with some stern injunctions and a silent clap of the hands.

Unfortunately SOAS, King’s College London, Manchester and Oxford’s St Hilda’s are of the opposite opinion. The latter is the most recent among these universities’ student unions to create a ‘class liberation officer’ position whose purpose is to educate the student body on issues faced by those from a ‘working class’ background and provide welfare to and equalise opportunities for the latter. The Cherwell even quoted the co-proposer of the motion to establish the position as saying that freshers would be taught how to ‘be an ally’ to working-class students.

To say this with enough piercing clarity that it will penetrate even the most cognitively-dissonant of identitarian skulls requires the adoption of a vulgar political idiom.

Let us be very clear: class society and its abhorrent, fatal effects will not disappear by tinkering with the cultural superstructure. So long as the distribution of wealth remains unequal, and the means of producing that wealth is concentrated in a few private hands, there will be class. The malignant effects of this cancerous social system and its economic foundation have long been detailed quantitatively and qualitatively for all to see in an inexpensive book of popular science called The Spirit Level. If working class students need allies, it is in the struggle against class society – not against the discrimination caused by that class society.

Universities are middle-class institutions: this fact is unequivocal. The ideology disseminated through the courses, through the institutional structures, through the student unions and imbibed by all students, no matter their social class of origin, is a middle-class ideology which serves no other purpose than the middle classes’ continued self-assurance and socioeconomic dominance. In appointing class liberation officers, these student unions are doing nothing more than demonstrating their adherence to and assisting in this continued hegemony. They are easing the route into their ranks, eagerly facilitating the absorption of these new recruits into the society whose very existence owes itself to the blood, sweat and tears of generations of working class families. No amount of softly-softly behaviour-policing by the self-righteous bourgeoisie will right this historical wrong. Only the abolition of economic exploitation and destruction of class society can do that.

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