Northern students face discrimination at Durham University

Elsa Tarring on the report compiled by a Durham University student on northern students' experiences

Elsa Tarring
1st November 2020
Students at one of England’s most prestigious universities experience abuse from peers and staff based on their background, report reveals

20 year old Durham student Lauren White has compiled a report of northern students’ experiences at the University that details bullying and abuse from students’ peers and tutors. 

White grew up in Gateshead and started studying at the University in 2018. She described the attitude towards her and others as “toxic”. She described how she has been called “feral” and “degenerate” because of her upbringing.

The student began the report a week after she wrote an article for North East magazine Beep, entitled 'Things posh people have said to me'. She said that, while at university, she “was made to feel like [she] was an alien in [her] own corner of the country”. 

“I was approached by a female student who said that she would sleep with me as she had a ‘poverty fetish’”

Following the article, other northern students came to her with similar encounters, which encouraged her to assemble a document entitled 'A Report on Northern Student Experience at Durham University'.

In the study, a former student from Liverpool described her time at Durham as “horrendous”, recalling how she was bullied for being from a working-class background. 

“I was accused of stealing, I was told I would never get a job because of the way I speak, I was told that I was a waste of a worthy student’s place”, explained the student. 

She went on to define the term ‘rolling in the muck’, which was used to refer to students who were “sleeping with a northern working-class person”. She said there were “nights dedicated to [this] where sports teams or societies would go out to try and get with northern working-class people”.

Student Jack Lines reported a similar experience: “On a night out, I was approached by a female student who said that she would sleep with me as she had a ‘poverty fetish’”.

He also detailed being belittled for working to financially support himself, as well as being refused entry to college bars because staff didn’t believe he studied there.

White's pledge includes providing support for students from the area.

A Durham University student from Leeds, who wishes to remain anonymous, noted that some of the findings in the report were “quite familiar”. They told The Courier: “I often feel like I’m judged as less intelligent than others, simply due to my accent”.

They continued: “Sometimes I feel out of place and definitely at first I was apprehensive to participate in seminars”, though they admit to using this to their advantage: “it motivates me to prove them wrong”.

Another student at Durham, also from Leeds, added: “I didn’t realise how obvious the class division was until I got to Durham”.

Some students also felt forced to drop out of university, one of whom said: “I now tell anyone who’ll listen that it’s one of the worst institutions I’ve ever been a part of”. 

Since sending her report to Vice-Chancellor Stuart Corbridge, White has outlined five pledges she wants the university to commit to. These include providing support for students from the area and adding background to the Student Pledge as a characteristic all students should respect.

Corbridge has vowed to look into the findings in more detail and commented that “we believe that everyone has the right to study and work in an environment that is respectful”.

"I shouldn’t have to speak more eloquently to be listened to."

Since the report was published, students from across the UK have come forward with details of discrimination they’ve faced at other higher education institutions.

Nina White, a student from Stockton-on-Tees who studied at the University of Warwick said: “[the experiences] made me feel like I did not belong at my university, that I’d got there by mistake.”

Olivia Allen, from Birmingham and studying at the University of Exeter said: “I shouldn’t have to speak more eloquently to be listened to when I know the worth of what I’m saying regardless of my accent”. 

Allen continued: “If this is happening at university, what will it be like going forward, in the workplace?”

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