Oxford University has an idea for poor kids who struggle: Befriend other poor kids who struggle

Laugh it off.
Laugh it off.
Image: Reuters/Hannah McKay
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Everything’s better with a friend, as they say—even extreme stress and discomfort over one’s inferior socioeconomic status. Especially that.

Oxford, the oldest university in the English-speaking world, has long held a reputation for being somewhat posh, wealthy, and/or elitist. The school is trying to shake that image nowadays by recruiting students from disadvantaged backgrounds, such as minorities and those from lower-income, working-class families; yet its admirable new plans don’t include any guarantee that those students actually feel at home when they arrive on campus. Some parties at Oxford have come up with a solution: inviting first-year students to sign up for a “buddy” so that they can discuss “class-related worries” together.

Per an announcement this week from Oxford’s new “Class Act campaign,” set up by the student union earlier this year:

Are you feeling a bit nervous about what Oxford will be like? Concerned about sub fusc*, black tie events and generally not feeling ‘posh enough’? Everyone gets anxious about starting at Oxford, but the university can seem even more daunting for working class students. So, similar to the college parent system, why not also have a Class Act buddy to chat to about any of your class-related worries and they will (hopefully!) put your mind at ease. Just fill out the form below and we will set you up.

“Oxford puts lots of excellent work into helping students we will represent get to Oxford, but this support isn’t continued once students get here, and talking about issues of class, socioeconomic, and educational privilege is often stigmatized,” a spokesman for the university told The Telegraph, adding that the school stands fully behind the student-led initiative.

Still, putting aside the unintentionally comical image of “buddies” going around campus griping about not being “posh enough,” the initiative shows just how troubling the current college landscape is. It skirts around the actual root of the problem: pervasive, long-running class disparity in higher education.

In Britain and beyond, university enrollments highlight some of the biggest gaps between the rich and the poor. Students from lower-income backgrounds don’t just feel out of place stepping onto elite campuses; they have a hard time getting into these schools in the first place, compared to wealthier kids who get access to private coaching, intellectual encouragement, application help, and more. And many kids—viewing universities as stuffy secret clubs, inaccessible to them—have no desire to attend in the first place. Talking more openly about class issues on campus is a step, but a very tiny one.

* Formal attire that Oxford students are expected to wear for exams.