I am working class, get me out of here – Being a working-class academic in a university (by our new anonymous contributor)
The constant look of shock you get
Being a working class academic for me means people being shocked when you tell them you’re a Dr, and not because they have never met a doctor before, but because YOU hold that title. Someone who looks, talks, and dresses like you, lives where you live, has a PhD? Every time I tell someone they reply with “really?, “wow”, “you’re joking?” or something similar and my heart sinks a little. If that doesn’t tell you that we have an issue with class within higher education, then I am not sure what will.
Watching your P’s and Q’s
Breathing a sigh of relief while sitting in your local pub safe in the knowledge that nobody you know from work will be there or quite frankly willing to be seen dead in there, so you can just be yourself without fear of judgement or repercussions. Having to be really careful what you share with your colleagues about your life and upbringing. I have learnt the hard way that my upbringing and my lifestyle doesn’t fit with other academics. People tell me I am quiet but I am not actually, I am a really chatty person but I am just selective with who I am chatty with. It is quite frankly exhausting for me having to deal with all this extra emotional labour.
Having very few work friends
I have very few work friends admittedly, that is also partially an active choice I have made. Again, just to be clear, I don’t want people reading this going “aww bless.” Quite frankly the idea of meeting up outside of work with some academics is horrific, I don’t want to even be in the same room as them let alone go for a few glasses of Pinot Grigio (vile stuff). I don’t want to be surrounded by academics outside of work, I have had enough of their fucking presence in work. I want to have friends who are not in academia to help keep me grounded in the real world, sometimes working with academics I feel we get really detached from society and because of our relative privilege we become detached from peoples struggles and fears in everyday life.
My friends are people who work 9-5 in dead end jobs (their words not mine) or working shifts for peanuts trying to make ends meet. I love my non-academic mates (I mean obviously) they are genuine, kind, and real.
It’s not you it’s me – Feeling lonely
I think my feelings of being on my own can be summed up in the following memory which is engraved on my mind, when sitting (alone obviously, again not looking for sympathy) eating my lunch and overhearing a bunch of senior academics talking about the areas in which they live (all of the areas they mentioned are actually traditionally working class areas which thanks to the university have been gentrified to fuck) and trying compete about who lives closest to the poorest families or as they put it “chavvy” families. Laughing at women in their pyjamas after 9am, I literally live in my pyjamas and consider bras to be the enemy.
At this point I wanted to storm over and ask if they had any idea of that what they were discussing was a serious case of class discrimination and that they should all be ashamed of themselves. Then I thought what is the point, started to well up and the tears raced down my face. I always knew deep down I did not belong in a university environment, but that moment just really cemented that notion.
The feeling of loneliness I have is not just confined to the university but even to environments where I thought I belonged like my local pub and gym. I am seen by many in my friendship group as a weirdo and radical (quite flattering really, I have been called so much worse in my life). I have had many heated debates with friends about issues I research and that I am passionate about. I have called people out about racism, misogyny and generally shitty behaviour and attitudes. By the way, I am not saying because I am working class that I am therefore surrounded by racists and misogynists, trust me I have seen a lot of this in positions of power too. But I very rarely talk about my work with my friends and family.
I don’t feel I ever truly belong anywhere or accepted by any group. My friends see me as a left wing lunatic and some resent the fact I spent so long in higher education and not getting a job at 16 and paying “my way” like some of my friends did. People in academia see me as rude, blunt, radical, and thick as fuck. I have therefore spent most of my adult life floating round like a turd in a sewer pipe hoping one day I will feel that I belong somewhere. I often sit and think what is wrong with me? Where have I gone wrong? And thinking it’s not you, it’s really me, I am the problem.
Being confined to the shittiest jobs
So, when I say shittiest jobs, I mean it’s relative compared to when I was a cleaner and literally my job did involve shite. I recognise I am still in a better position than some but in the context of the university, I don’t get the opportunities or the best tasks.
No one thinks about my career progression, no one wants to talk to me about doing research or writing something together. Meanwhile, I see others having meetings with senior academics talking about their career progression and strategically planning how to keep hold of certain academics until they are able to land a permanent position. Things seem to just magically appear for them and are packaged as “great opportunities”, when really it is a carefully constructed plan to keep hold of who they want and whose face fits.
Any success I have had (all be it that is very fucking limited) has been off my own back. No one has handed me anything. I am not saying other people do not work hard but what I am saying is that some people (generally privileged people) have it easier than others.
I must say sorry about ten times a day to colleagues, and I don’t know why. What am I apologising for? My ideas, my thoughts, the way I talk, for taking up too much room, for swearing or am I just apologising for being me and simply existing? I think the reason I apologise so much is because I feel like I am nothing but a burden and everything I do or say is wrong. So, I guess I am just apologising for being me!
Being bullied & forced out
I never thought I’d be bullied by people who are so highly educated and supposed to be of high moral standing and integrity but I have been. I have sat and cried many times at how I have been treated and spoken too. I willingly left my job in academia but I knew deep down my exit was heavily encouraged by those around me.
I don’t write this blog looking for sympathy or for more academic mates, ahh fuck that, I couldn’t think of anything worse to be honest. I suppose I am hoping others may read this and laugh and say “oh my god, same hun”, or maybe just to let others out there know you’re not the only one who feels like this.
I suppose the main goal would be for some academics to read this and think “Fucking hell, I am part of this, of making working-class academics feel like they don’t belong in academia” and sit and reflect on their shitty behaviour. And for the institution as a whole to realise we have a serious issue with social class within the university environment.
I have now left my position at the university (shocker) and I am not sure if I will ever return to a university for the reasons discussed above, as well as other issues that we have harped on about for so long, such as job security, pay and working conditions.
However, I will continue to write and campaign on issues that are much likely to affect me as a working-class person. I am sick of people of privilege writing about working class people and issues that are much more likely to affect working class people. Why can’t I as a working class person set the agenda, spread knowledge and write about my own class?
I would like to thank Mr Caravan (not their real name) for proof reading this and being one of my biggest fans!