There’s two types of middle class at uni – no one wants to be the posh kid
The intricacies of defining Cambridge’s all-encompassing ‘middle class’
Cambridge is undeniably posh. Gowns, formals, free wine all over the place, bizarre medieval rituals and the presence of the entirety of the North London grammar school community all combine to make this place fancy as fuck. Returning home to see friends and family is always met with the "you're too good for us now you're at Cambridge" jokes, as they push me for deets on whether or not I've managed to pull any aristocrats.
The question of which school people went to was a classic topic in freshers' week, and it was during this time that I was blessed with meeting my first ever Etonian. When I asked him if his bastion of privilege of a school was as scary as it's made out to be, he said "it's just very middle class."
I was shooketh.
To me, being middle class is living in a semi in the suburbs, your parents are teachers or mid-rank office workers, and you fly abroad for a fortnight nearly every year. In my eyes if you can afford to go to a £30k/year school, host to 19 Prime Ministers, you're not middle class.
This encounter seemed to reveal how warped Cambridge's views on what constitutes the middle class are. I'm horrendously middle class. I live in a detached suburban house with a mega garden and some of the best catchment areas for schools outside of London. I've visited Tuscany and we even have a Christmas Ocado delivery. However, since coming to Cambridge I've had people commend me for getting in, purely because I sound vaguely northern, I'm one of three comprehensive school educated people on my staircase and I get the maximum bursary and student loan.
The wealth and life experiences of other people I have seen here, some of whom are richer than I could have ever imagined or would have encountered before university, at first made me doubt my own very real privilege. I found myself almost bragging about going to state school, even though it got voted the best in the North just last year. I hyped up my provincialism even though I live somewhere so wealthy I had Nick Clegg – the epitome of the metropolitan elite – as my MP until very recently.
And it suddenly clicked why. In a university that serves as a pillar of the British establishment, everyone professes to be nothing more than middle class. It's not just the case that people seek to downplay their poshness – nobody wants to be seen as the rich kid. Some people just lack an awareness of how fortunate their socio-economic backgrounds really are, because of what they have grown up around or been exposed to.
It's absolutely essential to stay grounded and remember that other people's privilege doesn't negate your own. People from the regions like myself need to remember that just because we pronounce "bath" properly (…), have grandparents that were involved in heavy industry or enjoy a cheeky bit of gravy with our cheesy chips, doesn't mean that we've had to fight against class based institutional structures in the same way someone from a council estate would.
And people from London, if you own a second home, have been skiing since before you could walk and sound like the mum from Miranda, it's unlikely that you're as middle class as you say you are. That's not inherently a bad thing (PSA this article is not a dig I love everyone).
However, awareness is key and nearly everybody in this university needs to remember that Humphrey next door owning a yacht in the Seychelles isn't grounds for viewing yourself as the new Billy Elliot.