Interview: Elle Glenny on the creation of a Working-Class Liberation Officer

The Student talks to Elle Glenny, a 6th year part-time postgraduate student for MSc Environment and Development. Elle is the Taught Postgraduate Representative, and is proposing a new Liberation Officer position representing working-class students, as part of the Edinburgh University Students’ Association

Why does the University of Edinburgh need a Working-Class Liberation Officer? 

I think a working-class liberation officer could help to make a minority on campus feel comfortable with their own identity, and to increase awareness of the persisting historical and institutional classism which working-class students face at Edinburgh.

According to the Higher Education Statistics Agency, only 18.7 per cent of our students came from working-class backgrounds in 2016. Despite the University’s Widening Participation programme, working-class students constitute a minority in the university community, and they face structural oppression and discrimination.

While the University is making efforts to address the financial inequalities faced by many working-class students, issues of social and cultural capital are not being addressed. Of course, I have doubts about what such a liberation officer could do against a long-institutionalised classist legacy, and I’m concerned that the University might use the creation of that office as an excuse to neglect its own responsibilities in the efforts for working-class students.

To work against that, I’m proposing a threefold approach. This would include, first, offering economic, social and cultural capital to students, including increased funding, sessions on career planning and job interviews, specific placements; second, holding the University accountable to their widening participation policies; and third, building up a wider movement within the National Union of Students.

What struggles do working-class students face?

I think those who make it into Edinburgh, and who don’t decline their offer because they don’t feel like they would fit in from the start, can find it much more difficult to enjoy their time at university, because of a lack of economic, social and cultural capital, and support. Working-class students are more likely to quit their studies, and they are often excluded from extracurricular activities or study trips, even if they are passionate and creative individuals, because of a lack of money or self-confidence.

I remember sitting in a tutorial in first year, together with people who had been educated at Eton, and feeling stupid. For six years, I have felt that I needed to constantly fight my ground. This has only increased since I’ve started my postgraduate degree, because there is even less funding available. I think that’s because postgraduate study is considered a luxury, but no one should have to fight for their right to education. Another problem is the fetishisation of working-class culture by the middle-class, for example during ‘chavvy’ club-nights.

Overall, a working-class liberation campaign shouldn’t simply make certain students ‘fit in’ at Edinburgh, but it should make the University a more inclusive space.

Has such a role been created at other UK universities?

Yes. Currently, working-class liberation officers are active at six universities in the country: London School of Economics and Political Science (LSE), School of Oriental and African Studies, London (SOAS), King’s College London, St. Hilda’s College at Oxford, and the Universities of York and Manchester. Especially Manchester’s student union is often mentioned as an institution similar to Edinburgh in terms of size, demographics and functioning, which hopefully means that there is a realistic possibility that we will be able to create this office here.

Why does this role not exist already, in your view?

These days, it can be difficult to have discussions about class issues. They are often not openly addressed, or even denied. I think that stems from the fact that the Tory and New Labour rhetoric has tried to make people in this country think that we are all middle-class.

How many students would the working-class liberation officer represent?

That would depend on who would be included in the working-class student community. I’d support that belonging to that community should be based on self-identification, even though I’m aware of the risks that come with that. But that’s how they do it for the other liberation groups on campus, and seems to be the best way forward.

At which stage of the process are we at the moment?

I’ve submitted an ideas form of the Students’ Association to the Executive Board on 3 February. If the board approves, the motion will potentially be taken to Student Council. Obviously, I really hope that staff and students will support this, and that the first working-class liberation officer could be elected during the next academic year. I think if this was successful, that would be my proudest moment as a member of the university community.


Image: Baz via Flickr

6 replies on “Interview: Elle Glenny on the creation of a Working-Class Liberation Officer”

Sounds like Elle Glenny is a very insecure person who feels inferior to her peers because she is self-conscious of her background and is also bitter because she couldn’t go on fun trips. I wonder if her mental health issues justify the University spending money on trips for students, or censoring events she doesn’t like.

I completely agree with concerned student. How dare you use mental health as a weapon to intimidate and belittle members of our community. Your backwards thinking is not only opposed to progressing mental health awareness, but also signifies a complete lack of understanding of the issues faced by vast amounts of students on campus. Your comments are spiteful and add nothing to the debate trying to establish some personal vendetta.

It took you long to resort to insults. Just checked my privilege. I’m working class and got here because of my own merits. I don0t feel stupid and I’m not oppressed because my family is poor or because people dress like chavs hahaha. The university shouldn’t pay to boost someone’s fucked up self-esteem. You can get the counseling you need from the NHS.

If you have been at Edinburgh university and still can’t understand the idea of structural inequality, Im lost with you. We do not live in a meritocracy, over 1/3rd of Edinburgh university in private schools compared to only 7% of the population in the UK. This is a shocking figure which means any voice that isnt upper class in Edinburgh is hugely underrepresented. If you dont want to change that- whats wrong with you? There are many other things for you to get upset about which would be more worthwhile. Next you’ll be saying we should all be like the USA.

The University is going to take in the best prepared students. If some students can’t develop their potential fully that’s a problem that happens way earlier, but the University is not discriminating against you by assessing your abilities. And being underrepresented in terms of pure numbers doesn’t mean we automatically face any kind of injustice. I’ve never had a negative experience or witnessed one… I don’t need my voice to be louder because I have nothing to complain about, really… People need to grow thicker skin and, as you say, focus on issues that are actually real…

You are so so ignorant. Yes this is an issue. Yes this is something we need to change. I feel really sorry for your blindness and I really hope one day you realise the difficulties of other people and stop thinking about yourself. Troll

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