CUSU launches Class Act

Image credit: CUSU Class Act via Facebook

CUSU Class Act was launched a week ago, with the application process for committee members, including roles such as a Working Class Rep, Low Income Rep, and more, now underway. TCS talked to Éireann Attridge, current CUSU Access Officer, whose manifesto at her time of election included launching the campaign, which has now come to fruition towards the end of her term.

Class Act is a project targeted at providing support for "working class, state-comp educated, low-income, first generation and care leaver students during their time at the University of Cambridge", according to its Facebook page. More specifically, it aims to act as "a network for students with similar experiences to support each other and discuss issues of class, educational background and socio-economic privilege which often feel taboo at Cambridge.”

The campaign can be seen as an extension of student-run welfare measures already in place in the university, Attridge tells me. The Cambridge Working Class Students and Cambridge Social Diversity student societies put in place a number of measures which Class Act will in future.

Mentoring schemes, for example, in which a student who has been in the university for two or three years is paired up with a few new students, to share his or her advice, will be organised.

She points me to the two-week bridging programme in place at SOAS in London, in which students from groups, such as working class families, go to the university two weeks earlier for various welfare and informative programmes, as a scheme for Class Act to look into.

Attridge's goal here is to make these schemes concrete and established, to allow for greater certainty that it will last, which she hopes to do by mandating it as an official CUSU scheme, and electing a full committee responsible for its implementation.

The committee and the measures they implement will act, essentially, as a source of social and emotional support for those in the groups it aims to help, of which there has been a pressing need for. The Big Cambridge Survey 2017 results, for instance, revealed that 23 percent of BME students said that their social background “had a negative impact on their Cambridge experience”, compared to 17 percent of white students. 

A significant part of what Class Act seeks to achieve will be dedicated to reducing the impact of differences in the social backgrounds of students coming to Cambridge. Attridge speaks of situations in which "if you’re the first person who’s come to university, no one’s there to teach you [how it works]."

She talks about an experience shared by many Cambridge students, where we are thrown headfirst into the university system from the very first meeting with our Director of Studies (DoS), and expected to know how it works. For those who find the experience particularly alien, Class Act would "act as a support network, both emotionally and socially, but also in terms of education and careers.”

With nominations for committee positions in progress, she seems hopeful about the applications thus far.  "People have concrete plans, and are keen to make what they want of it, and because it’s so new, shape it themselves.”

This energy is important for the project, which will derive its strength not from any pre-conceived tasks for committee members to take on, but from their visions themselves. Attridge says, “I would say because it’s new, it essentially can achieve a lot, because students are leading the way."

When asked about the scale of changes she expects Class Act to make, Attridge tells me she believes it will be “quite large in the future, [though] not straight away", given the great amount of planning and adaptation still required at this stage.

I ask Attridge about her experience as CUSU Access Officer, and how urgent she feels a project like CUSU Class Act is. Whilst being wary of sharing the vast number experiences she has heard about from students of the university, for fear of not doing them justice or not anonymising them appropriately, she speaks about certain themes she has noticed in the accounts she hears of.

One such theme, for instance, comes from students in their final year. "A lot of people will [say], ‘oh, I need to get a job, but I’ve never done an internship, nor have I been taught how to network.'" Plus, "there are loads of careers that people don’t know about. How do you know what a solicitor is, if no one in your family is one, or if you don’t have that kind of network?"

For Attridge, the issues which Class Act aims to resolve are personal too. She tells me of her experience in a lecture, in which the lecturer said a sentence akin to, "Middle class families read to their children, just like your parents would have." The crux of the issue is that these statements leave huge assumptions unquestioned, such as that everyone in the room grew up with two parents, or was from a middle class family. Anyone who does not fit into those groups can feel unimaginably alienated, particularly when these occurrences repeat themselves, compounding any feelings of isolation. 

The experience can be generalised: "In sociology, we talk a lot about the working class, and what low-income families are like, but it’s done from such a removed, insensitive way, as if no one who’s in this group could ever [be in] it."

Applications for committee positions can be found on the Class Act Facebook page, which also includes a sign-up page for its mailing list, through which you can find out how to vote in committee elections, and be notified of future events. 

blog comments powered by Disqus

Related Stories

In this section

Across the site

Best of the Rest