St Hilda’s appointed Class Liberation Officer for working class students

Daily Mail readers are angry but nobody else really cares

Earlier this week, St Hilda’s college appointed a ‘Class Liberation Officer’ within a JCR meeting. The role of this officer was created to “represent the interests of students from working class backgrounds” and act in a similar way to the POC (People of Colour) and RE Officer, LGBTQ+ Officer, Women’s Officer and Disabilities Officer to represent students who self-identify as being part of this group.

The idea of class is vague at best – is it how much money your parents earn? Where you grew up? Which school you went to? – and yet so ingrained into the public perception of what Oxford, as a leading university, really is. To ensure that the need for such a representative was chosen by those who were going to be most affected, a vote was only cast by those who self-identified as being from a working-class background, others present counting as abstentions.

Although a definition of ‘working-class’ for the purpose of the vote was discussed – those who were ‘socio-economically disadvantaged’ – there was no strict policing of who could and couldn’t vote. The vote, conducted blind, was counted as 12 in favour, 1 against, with 21 abstentions, thus allowing the post to be passed.

One goal of the rep appears to be the targeting of microaggressions, a relatively new concept for many people outside the social justice sphere. A microaggression is defined as a subtle, usually unconscious comment which reinforces existing stereotypes. These could be well meaning – someone saying “You have a posh accent for someone from a state school” probably isn’t intended to cause offence, and yet it suggests builds upon the pre-existing stereotype so rampant in society. Many people take offence to the fact that they are seen as being prejudiced against their intention (the common “I’m not a racist/sexist/homophobe” argument), but there has been a definite trend towards increasing awareness of such habits within the University and beyond.

Public opinion is divided

All this seems part of relatively normal Oxford life – we’re used to having our issues represented, and it’s unlikely a rep will be seen as a threat to social stability in Oxford. Not so for the readers of the Daily Mail, in response to the story published on the 20th this month.  The term ‘snowflake’ seems to be thrown around a lot, as well as ‘PC gone mad’, ‘undendurably pathetic’, and, of course, ‘grow up’. It makes you wonder why people nationally are so invested in the goings on of students, not just at Oxford but nationally – are the workings of one college’s welfare system really a sign of the times – and if so, is it necessarily a bad thing?

Most people here seem fine with it

Student response seems to be positive. One student, Piers, proposes it to be a helpful addition: “I think having a liberation officer is a great idea because the working class is under-represented in Oxford and so to have a student officer looking out for their interests can only be a positive development”.

Otherwise, there has been little scandal in Oxford – many students outside the college simply aren’t aware of the developments taking place in St Hilda’s. What could be interesting in the long term is to see whether other colleges follow suit, and if so how long it will take: whether the need for a class equality officer becomes a widespread concern in all colleges, or whether St Hilda’s is to be the only one taking the plunge.