Lots of Planets Have a North

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!

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One thought on “Lots of Planets Have a North

  1. I really enjoyed this. This is such an important, and too infrequently discussed subject.

    I found it especially difficult to deal with at Oxford because, personally, I was always trying to understand what it was I was experiencing in terms of the north/south divide. Was it even there? Was I just using it to try and justify other insecurities I had? Was I actually widening the gap by focussing on it so much and bringing it up in conversation? It was at once a confusing, and curious position to be in, and one which I hadn’t really anticipated.

    The vast majority of my friends at university were (and are!) from the midlands and below, mainly the south east. This was a significant observation in itself. Instantly, everyone seemed to know someone from another school, or someone who knew someone…it was unavoidable. But these people, my friends and peers, were so lovely, we had a lot in common and never once did they make me unwelcome or different because I was from the north. Not once. Why would they?! Aside from our different home turfs what differences were there really between us?

    So it was difficult from the outset to point to a specific event that had occurred from a southerner to a northerner to make me notably perceive the divide. But I did feel it, it preoccupied me constantly at university, and I was intrigued that I couldn’t put my finger on what it was. I think there is a ‘soft-discriminatory attitude’ towards being from the north in such a southern-dominated environment. A difference in accent, a different cultural experience growing up, whatever it is. These are the things that are so complex and different in anyone and everyone, but are also the things that you carry close, and use to define you. So when people start observing them and the fact that they might be slightly unusual, you can’t help but do the same. And when there are many people from one area as opposed to not-so-many from another, you do naturally feel a little isolated. It was mostly observations from other people that were noticeable. At times I enjoyed being in the minority, and when I felt comfortable enough it became a fun and fascinating subject to discuss. But it was also often tiring, and sometimes even felt inappropriate. It was frustrating to be reminded of these differences so often. They are small in the grander scheme of me and who I am. And the fact that they’re mentioned in the unfortunate and stereotypical way that people perceive the north/south divide to be is worrying in terms of equal opportunities for people who are thinking of going to Oxford.

    But I began to realise it was more the environment then of Oxford that was responsible for how I felt than the people – an environment which had grown out of a very complicated and slightly dodgy educational system that has skewed Oxford intakes slightly towards the south. And I think the only way this divide can be resolved is by tackling issues which lie at the very heart of this system. But this is extremely complex and oh where to begin with it…

    I could bang on about this for hours and haven’t completely worked out how I feel about the north/south divide in terms of Oxford, but I do think its something that needs to be addressed critically. It has the potential to knock the confidence of so many so dramatically when applying for university. On a closing note, though the north/south divide became an inevitable part of my experience at Oxford, I learnt such a huge amount from it and by no means would I say that it put me off studying there. If anything, it gave me a greater pride of where I’m from, and I came away knowing more about myself than I thought I would.

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