Ladies, how demeaning was your Freshers’ Week?
I would like to say I retained any dignity and respect I had going into the week… But I don’t really remember much. What I can say is that I […]
I would like to say I retained any dignity and respect I had going into the week… But I don’t really remember much. What I can say is that I wouldn’t have chosen the words ‘demeaning’, ‘intimidating’ and ‘sexist’ to describe my first week at Newcastle.
Last week, Laura Bates wrote an article in The Independent on how Freshers’ Week, rather than allowing new students to settle into University life comfortably and contented, often instead manages to threaten and embarrass female Freshers.
She rightly highlighted the disgusting practice of ‘slut-dropping’ – as young women walk home from a night out, young males offer them a lift home, before driving the ‘slut’ in the opposite direction, dropping her off and filming her as they speed away.
She also gave a voice to what was clearly a large number of complaints from young women who felt uncomfortable with the events of Freshers’ Week at their Universities.
However, having worked as a volunteer member of Freshers’ Crew last month at Newcastle University, I have to disagree with several of her arguments. What struck me was the effort made by organisers to ensure alternative activities were available – giving students the freedom to decline events and still participate.
Yet, there were still complaints. In my experience of the week, the vast majority of new students wanted to participate in exactly the sort of events Laura Bates abhors – where they let loose, get drunk, dress ridiculously and act promiscuously.
Of course many students do not want some or all of these things – it’s simply a case of judging what different students want from their first week and making an effort to provide for them all.
Obviously this is a hugely difficult task for organisers, and at times there is a cross over.
During Halls pick-ups (encouraging Freshers to leave flat parties for the night out) we tried to be as lively and enthusiastic as possible so as to add to – not dampen – the group’s party.
This was too much for one student who complained that he/she felt intimidated by Crew members – yet Crew deliberately did not encourage nor take part in any drinking games. On the other hand, for several Freshers I spoke to, they were glad that Crew were there to get them involved in parties. I received thanks for making the first few hours with new flatmates a lot less difficult and uncomfortable.
What is intimidating for one is encouraging for another.
The sexualisation of Freshers’ Week can be compared to the difficulties concerning alcohol – new students finally feel uninhibited. Universities must be careful not to restrict, yet not to promote.
The fact is, a lot of students enjoy these events. If alternatives are not actively supported by organisers, this can be at the expense of others.
All universities will undoubtedly struggle with this problem, but simply banning any event that encourages skimpy dressing, or carries sexual undertones, is definitely not the answer.