Editorial – Oxbridge Bashing

30 December 2012

Cambridge and Oxford have been subject to another wave of sensationalist media reporting on the “elitist” Oxbridge culture. During the critical admissions interview period, national papers churned out caricatured profiles of Oxbridge students as “arsey sloanes” and “rich kids” with “floppy posh hair and bright red trousers”.

Olivia Williams’ recent article in The Independent, which highlighted the media’s misrepresentation of Oxbridge, was immediately rebutted by Tom Mendelsohn’s defence of these stereotypes in the same paper. Meanwhile, a prank by three Cambridge undergraduates which allegedly involved intimidating interviewees by pretending to be Eton students was circulated by several national newspapers. These are but a few recent examples of the media’s general obsession with Oxbridge’s “elitism”. The Daily Mail never fails to expose the “debauchery” of Cambridge students on Varsity, during Caeserian Sunday or after May Balls, with this year’s article “Toff their heads” dehumanising our students to “scions”. The Guardian has even dedicated an entire online section to “Oxbridge and Elitism”. These recycled topics and derogatory phrases have long lost any originality and become meaningless jargon.

This newspaper believes that this red-trouser bashing, Pitt Club/Bullingdon Club focused style of reporting should stop. The reasons are simple: a long way off from representing the typical Oxbridge experience and exposing a true, enlightening insight into its culture, this type of caricaturing unfairly begrimes the reputation of our students and significantly misinforms the public. By painting a distorted image of Oxbridge, the media is responsible for shaping erroneous expectations of Oxbridge for the public. The results are nothing but damaging: there is a risk of increasingly deterring qualified, prospective students from applying to study, while encouraging those who do apply to endorse the exact sort of behaviour being condemned because they expect it to be the norm.

This is the kind of “self-fulfilling prophecy” that Williams referred to – but the damage runs deeper still. The negative reporting surrounding Oxbridge clouds our University’s £2.7 million worth of efforts every year to ensure that students from less privileged backgrounds are not discouraged from applying. Simultaneously, the credibility of the majority of hard-working, ambitious students is unfairly undermined.

It is saddening that there is little representative truth in media coverage of Oxbridge culture. Yes, exclusive clubs and societies do exist, and yes, red trousers are worn by some. But these societies are not representative of the student body. The majority of positive student activities are ignored, while the drunken misdemeanours of a few are obsessed over. It is no fault of our students’ that the media chooses to cover activities of Cambridge’s drinking societies only, and ignore those by other student-led societies, such as charities. This paper believes it is unjust that such particular focus by the press should define the reputation of an entire student body.

The amount of attention Oxbridge receives by the national press is almost flattering. So long as the prime focus is on the “elitist” element of student life only, however, this paper would like to say thanks, but no thanks.

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Oxbridge: the media, the myth

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Photo Credit – Jimmy Appleton