Rise of the Champagne Student
With the Which? University survey 2016 placing Sussex in the top four most politically active universities in the country alongside SOAS, Oxford and LSE; previous hurrahs such as the protests against the deportation of Luqman Onikosi last year; and the Sussex Five debacle of 2013 – it’s fair to suggest that a large proportion of Sussex students are politically active, or at least become more so within their first year of study. More importantly, it’s also fair to say that there is a strong lean to the left amongst Sussex students, with the Anarchist, Labour, and Marxist societies attracting continual popular interest in recent years.
A left-wing attitude is almost ingrained in the culture of Sussex, and moreover, the culture of Brighton. Having held its Green seat under Caroline Lucas since 2010, and with Labour occupying it from 1997 prior to this, it’s hard to avoid a general concern over issues of social equality amongst individuals associated with both the university and the town. But what happens when this concern for social justice and democracy filters into a scene of privilege? With the dramatic increase of university fees in 2012, and the scrap of grants in the last year, it is hard to deny that universities remain ‘bastions of middle class culture’ as The Telegraph noted in 2014, even with widening participation schemes. This is not to suggest that only middle class students are concerned with left wing politics, or even that this demographic of students are not allowed to be interested in social progression, but rather, it is to question what this increased interest in left wing politics suggests about young people today.
I first noticed an example of this in my second year when I caught a student I had known to be very invested in left wing politics at Sussex going into Brown’s armed with his Mother and her authentic Chanel handbag. Upon further research I also found that he had previously attended one of Britain’s most elite private schools. “With the dramatic increase of university fees in 2012, and the scrap of grants in the last year, it is hard to deny that universities remain ‘bastions of middle class culture’” Suddenly that student’s political activism and concern for social justice seemed terribly bogus to me.
With his whole demeanour so purposefully focused against denying his obvious privilege- grown out hair, ripped tracksuits and badges with catchy socialist slogans, I wondered what he was trying to prove. Has an interest in left-wing politics become a trend? Is it simply part of a refusal to accept privilege? A method of escapism even? Of course this particular student is not representative of all politically active students at Sussex, and it is also unfair to assume that a student’s political orientation is solely dictated by their social background. However, it also seems impossible to ignore a growing trend of liberalism at Sussex, particularly in those who may be more privileged than others, no matter how hard they attempt to pretend that this isn’t the case.