Students: Scum of the Earth

There is quite frankly nothing worse after spending a gloriously sunny day holed up in a pit of din, slavishly attacking that voluminous work load than being labelled “lazy”. “Arrogant, well-off” and “drinking too much” perhaps on the odd occasion, but lazy? These supposed hoards of students frolicking around the city wreaking havoc on unsuspecting bin bags and “chundering” all over the heritage site must be obscured from my view by the blind panic induced by imminent deadlines.

Please excuse my naivety if I choose to believe that any self respecting student intelligent enough to earn a place at this University might find a more entertaining way of occupying themselves. Perhaps this innate fear of the student hooligan is why there never appear to be any traffic cones in Durham… God forbid we should use them as ammunition in our crusade to plunge the city into cultural degeneracy.

To be fair, the offending article published in The Durham Times does acknowledge that this is only a “popular stereotype”. However, it is swiftly reasserted that “many people in the city think that the majority of students are like that”. Locals apparently really do believe that students in Durham “spend too much time drinking and partying and too little time studying”. To add insult to injury, there are apparently all “the other problems (students) bring to the city, like the distorted housing market etc. etc.” What the “etc. etc.” displaces remains ambiguous, so I decided to investigate the precarious balance of Durham’s resident-alien relations, hoping that the recent tuition fee debacle may have earned us some extra Brownie points in public opinion polls.

I found very quickly that student-local relationship has been monitored for quite some time already by major organisations such as the DIME, and the ESRC’ s significantly more long-winded affair, The Impact of Higher Education Institutions on Regional Economies; A Joint Research Initiative. It is generally conceded amongst these organisations that University towns like Durham proportions are integral; any numerical changes in the student population is significant in altering the demographic spectrum of the area. In other words, the student being typically young, well-educated and originally from outside of the city has a certain lifestyle that attracts certain retailers, entertainment facilities etc. So far then, nothing ground-breaking.

It is also universally believed that the impact of students on local communities is, on the whole, a positive one socio-economically, primarily because University Cities thrive with innovation, investment and cultural enrichment. Infrastructure, local business and entertainment are just some of the industries to benefit from a large student presence. However, the student population is also believed to affect both the housing and labour markets, and it is here where the major misconceptions reside.

Perhaps the most startling misconception in University towns is that students displace many locals out of their jobs. A rise in the student population has proved correlative to a rise in the number of casualised jobs in the labour market according to these research organisations. It is thought that students who are flexible in the hours they are available to work are usually prepared to take shifts that are unpopular with the local workforce which has led to the belief that students are stealing the jobs of locals.

There is no evidence to suggest that this is the case, however, in the face of the recession it remains to be seen whether this may prove to be a strain on the student-permanent resident relationship. The most legitimate issue raised has been found to be primarily domestic, the practical up keep of properties such as garden maintenance and rubbish collection proving the most popular complaint. And so we’re back to the subject of bin bags…

So what about Durham? Chris Hutchinson, the City Liaison Officer is primarily interested in preventing the anti social behaviour that plagues the “student stereotype”. He claims that anti social behaviour is “by no means endemic amongst Durham University students”, although he acknowledges that to city residents it may not appear that way. Of the 12,000 students in Durham city, he argues, over 80% participate in sports, and for those competing for the University there are significant penalties for misbehaviour.

Further to this, college bars are all signed up to the Pub Watch initiative and there are currently two initiatives in place to manage the self regulation of student behaviour with Hill College Presidents and the exchange of information with the Police so that the offending individual can be identified and penalised accordingly.

But where do we draw the line at penalising? Whilst the police advise students to travel in groups of several people at night for their own safety, it is precisely the movement of these groups that is alleged to distress local residents. It would appear that the label “lazy” is merely the tip of the iceberg of accusations.

Hutchinson realises that “There is a perception that a significant drinking culture exists within the Durham student body which seriously disrupts the peace of the City but, from a police perspective, this is only partially true.” Infact, Durham City Police considers Durham to be a very safe place and believes that students are more likely to fall victim to crime or injury as a result of alcohol misuse on the part of the accused rather than the other way around.

My frustration far from abated, it was not eased after reading the University’s “helpful advice” leaflet aimed at easing relations between students and their non-student neighbour. The first side of the leaflet is addressed to the local resident, and is comprised of the numerous officials who will gladly accept complaints (City Councillors, Police, Patrolmen etc.) and the various means by which they can do so, telephone, fax, e-mail etc. The Emergency hotline is always manned by a Community Liaison Patrolman every hour, every day of the year. I was half expecting to see “messenger pigeon” listed among these methods of contact as emergency precaution, for if we should experience a technological apocalypse at least aggrieved residents will be able to complain about their good for nothing student neighbours…

It is worth mentioning that the “student” side of the leaflet serves only to remind us that bad behaviour is a disciplinary offence since we would be bringing the University into disrepute. There is no hotline for students to call if they should have an unsavoury encounter with their neighbour, nor is there any contact detail offering to provide advice or protection for the student in the same way it is provided for the resident. Not a solitary messenger pigeon in sight. Even our own University is suspicious of us. It would appear that we have been defeated by the stereotype, condemned to be tarnished with the same brush no matter how many community outreach schemes we pioneer. I am now bracing myself for the day of the great revelation where students are exposed as the instigators of the recession…

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