Student Culture and The Scapegoat Narrative.

A writer discusses the notorious societal depiction of student culture.

Sam Norman
23rd March 2022
The negative stereotypes of student culture. Image credit: BBC
In the past few years, the media has employed numerous negative stereotypes to defame and point the figure at students for any societal problems. Anti-social behaviour, lockdowns, vaccines, ‘woke-ism,’ are all issues students have been served the responsibility for in just the past two years alone, but it brings to the surface the question, what made students the easy scapegoat?

The Guardian reported in 2020 that Universities fined students more than £170,000 for breaching coronavirus safety rules in the first weeks of the academic year. This extraordinary figure was blasted through all media at the height of the pandemic, giving many irritated citizens in lockdown a target for their discontent. Coupled with the stereotype that all students do is drink, the perfect scapegoat narrative was set up for lockdown continuing, if the students just stop drinking and partying for once, then everything will go back to normal?

Ironically, it was around these very same times the government themselves were organising their own private parties. When looking at specific incidents in which students were fined, of which of course some were validly given – like too many people across the UK – it is unfair to generalize every case. Given the fact the Guardian refers the £170,000 specifically to the first few weeks of the academic term, many students would have just left their families for the first time.

Whilst this is no excuse to break isolation rules, it must be noted that 18-year-olds across the country would have been suffering from crippling loneliness during this time, with classes called off, and interaction kept to a minimum. This doesn’t call for an extravagant party, but can they be blamed for being so desperate for social interaction?

Can they be blamed for being so desperate for social interaction?

What was reported on only a fraction of the amount of time student slander received, was the ill-treatment students were subject to from accommodation services. Most infamous was the Manchester fence case, where students were imprisoned in their accommodation by a huge fence around the perimeter, with many living there also claiming security guards questioned any movement. This inexcusable treatment did not receive nearly the magnitude of judgement many other student cases too, with the BBC titling their own article “Manchester University students pull down campus fences.” Many skimming the headlines could just subject that to student vigilante behaviour, rather than the actual corrupt operations of the University. 

A time in the pandemic I recall and remember is a conversation, where two people agreed it was a surprise that students were furlough money throughout lockdown. Whilst this shocked me at the time, it isn’t an unpopular belief, with many very quick to forget it is students who are often the bedrock of hospitality, retail and the supermarket industries. Without the core crew, who are often made up of students, many places would collapse, and it is those students who were witness to the height of risk during the pandemic when they were taken off furlough and placed back into work.

For me, I was employed at McDonald’s at the time, a place where the crew and some managers are majority student. Returning from furlough, it was clear to see it was students putting themselves in the vulnerable position so those at higher risk of infection could continue to shield. This wasn’t the first sacrifice of the pandemic with what is often referred to as ‘the best years of our lives put on a hold, so students could protect those around us. 

As the rise of vaccines came, so did the reopening of schools and Universities. However, vaccines were prioritised for the elderly and vulnerable, a fair decision, but what is ironic is this coincided with media and the government saying younger people were the most hesitant for a vaccine. Is it possible this hesitance came from the only possibility of getting a vaccine at the time was to lie about age?

As education reopened and students were sent back to a high-risk environment without the opportunity of a vaccine, they were once again vilified and used as a scapegoat. The biggest irony of this scapegoat is that the media are losing track of their own narratives. In June 2021, The Sun claimed “Wokeism has infected our universities and schools,” regurgitating their familiar tripe that students are left-wing robots, serving only a woke purpose. This starkly contrasts the media narrative of students not wanting the vaccine, however, as there is meant to be a direct correlation between the vaccines and masks, and the ‘woke theory.’

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