A number of Durham students are being branded as ‘disgraceful’ after planning a social called ‘Thatcher’s Government Vs The M-I-N-E-rs’. The Trevelyan College rugby team, responsible for the event, has now been suspended indefinitely following the backlash.

The Facebook event (pictured below) called for students to come dressed as either Thatcher’s government or miners, who were instructed to to wear “flat caps, filth and a general disregard for personal safety”. The event even called for “a few working-class-beating-bobbies.”

Durham University called the event “wholly unacceptable”, and the event has now been cancelled by the rugby society who planned the social. “We are speaking to those students and we are considering what further action to take in due course,” the pro-vice chancellor Owen Adams said this afternoon, before announcing the team would be suspended indefinitely.

But what does this say about Durham University as a whole? For a start, the condemnation by the university is not enough. Durham University is one of the best universities in the country, often retaining its place within the top five in university leader boards, and topping the table in several subjects. Durham University is also the second most elitist university in the country, only behind Cambridge for its intake of privately educated students.

“This event clearly shows the negative consequences of cutting funding for lower income households has had on the student body.”

This elitism is not only accepted by the university, but is actively promoted – the university recently cut all its scholarships for students from lower socio-economic households. This event clearly shows the negative consequences cutting this funding for lower income households has had on the student body. They are wrongly promoting that intelligence is synonymous to family income. If this event shows anything, it is that this is wholly untrue.

Durham University needs to recognise the role it has played in promoting the elitism that echoes around the whole institution. Indeed, the university appears to act against the interests of students, specifically students from lower income families, so consistently it has to be viewed maliciously. At the beginning of term, protests were held by students against the rising accommodation fees – one college now charges above the maximum student loan for accommodation (students have to live in college for their first year of education, unless they live at home). This is even more revealing when the university did not respond to the widely attended protest.

“A statement from the vice-chancellor condemning this event does not come close to addressing the problem deeply rooted in the university institution.”

Durham University has previously been blamed in the press for having a persistent problem with sexual violence, and, according to student Kate McIntosh, an endemic ‘lad culture’ that extends into the class room. She persuasively writes, “how many times have you heard someone explain away incompetence or elitism with a casual ‘that’s Durham for you?” The university needs to recognise that this problem is systemic. A statement from the vice-chancellor condemning this event does not come close to addressing the problem deeply rooted in the university institution.

It should be noted that not all students at this university are associated with this behaviour, many condemning these actions with anger. Durham University Labour Club have stated, “it is no wonder that many students from lower income families do not feel at home at this university. This event… exemplified the abhorrent classism shown by many students at this University. Their description of the miners displays complete disregard for the historical event that affected the lives of many people in the larger Durham community, and belittles the difficult experiences of the miners during this period. This is an incredible insult to the Durham community by people who do not understand the complexity and consequences of the miners’ strike on mining communities.”

“Durham University Labour Club want to extend our apologies on behalf of the student body. We also want to state that many of our members are disgusted by this event, and we explicitly disassociate ourselves with the students responsible for this disgusting behaviour.”

It is saddening to think that there are bright and capable students feeling trapped and lost in an institution that promised them a world class education, just because of their birth place or accent. They chose Durham because of the intellectually challenging atmosphere it promotes. They did not think this challenge would be secondary to belittlement by an impenetrable institution, and ignorance by imperiously privately-educated students. Students that hold little respect for the larger Durham community.

Durham is, first and foremost, a mining community. The famous Durham Miners’ Gala, where Jeremy Corbyn’s speech drew record crowds this year, takes place when the students go home for the summer. Trevelyan rugby students, whether implicitly or vindictively, failed to show compassion to a community where the emotions from the strikes still resonate today. Whatever further punishment comes their way, they should recognise it is because they were thoughtless and self-preserving.
University life can create a bubble in which the outside world seems rather distant. Durham University need to ask why this is even more perverse at their institution. To end the disparity between rich and poor students, and between the University and the wider Durham community, they must put an end to the unique social elitism that permits this behaviour.

Image via Durham University website

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