So obviously I am trying to do what I can to promote equal access and greater equality in representation from all areas of the country and backgrounds so I suppose it is generally expected that I will give the best possible presentation of the situation, and in general I am an optimist. But I’m also very honest. If someone asks me ‘is there a north/south divide at Oxford and is this a problem?’ my short answer will generally be ‘not really’. Whilst this is true this is naturally a simplified version of the situation and I simplify my answer with the intention not of fooling people, but because I believe it is more important to encourage people not to anticipate and even build these barriers themselves than it is to go into the intricacies of when being in a minority as a northerner amongst southerners can feel challenging.
It’s a funny thing because whilst racism is very much and rightly not tolerated, there is a different attitude towards discrimination, even if only in jest, towards the arbitrarily defined ‘North’. On my first day at Oxford I asked someone if they’d ever been to Newcastle and they said they were from London and Oxford’s the farthest north they’d ever been and they didn’t intend to go any further: ‘I’ve never been so actually my life is just a lot better if I pretend it doesn’t exist’. Now some may disagree with me but I believe that if I said something like that about someone else’s home country, in their presence or otherwise, I would be held in quite ill regard, and rightly so. No one should treat a part of someone’s origin and identity as unworthy of recognition, even if it’s just a geopolitical construct-thing. However people spout all sorts of rubbish about ‘the north’ and generally receive chortles instead of chastisement in response.
So that can suck. Of course, I generally laugh and join in and ask people to dim the lights so it feels more like the mines back home before informing the assembled crowd that I was only joking, that won’t be necessary, Maggie T closed them all down. And then instantly regret saying anything as the onslaught of accusations of being a socialist ensue. I’m yet to get the balance right.
The other issue is that of sometimes feeling a bit alienated. I sometimes want to scream ‘IS ANYBODY HERE NOT FROM SURREY OR LONDON!?’ I mean above all it’s tedious. I don’t have a Geordie accent at all but some people particularly at the beginning of the year claimed that they hadn’t a clue what I was talking about on account of my hard ‘a’s which was astounding, and to be honest showed a lack of imagination on their part. Again, if I had a strong accent on account of being a different nationality I doubt people would have responded in the same way.
So there are the negative things. I’ve really extrapolated them as best I can so I can truly claim I have been entirely honest and hopefully you’ll know that I won’t give a glossed over or idealised picture of being at Oxford. But the point is, other than that it is fine. The worst thing is that I have made loads of friends and because most of them live in southern England (the barrier is, unbelievably, soluble) we can’t visit each other as easily as we would like in the holidays! And most importantly I believe that these little irritations and discrepancies in equal treatment are probably present across all unis throughout the south. Oxford simply gets a higher press which perpetrates the notion that it could be a problem. So, yes, occasionally I wish things were a little different in people’s attitude,s but being a northerner amongst southerners has not created any problems, and particularly not significant ones, for my social or academic life. I reckon the biggest problem is people’s fear of this divide preventing them from applying and thereby perpetrating the minority status of people from the north at Oxford. And anyway, this is not at all the biggest problem for social equality and mobility at Oxford (I’ll come to that another day perhaps!).
If anyone has any questions, please do get in touch, and I hope this clarifies things!