By Theo Burman
A report from the early stages of the Student Union’s Culture Commission has identified aspects of university culture that can be sources of discomfort for many students.
The preliminary research of the Commission, published on 9th February, outlines a series of contributors to Durham culture, noting that aspects of them alienate certain groups within the student body and prevent them from feeling welcome in the community.
According to the review, the three main factors of the university culture are “Identity and Privilege”, “Physical and Conceptual Spaces” and “Reputation, Expectations and Traditions”. Each one yielded unique hindrances to inclusivity.
On the topic of integrity, the report noted that “there was a clear feeling amongst many students from liberation backgrounds that often, their identities made them ‘outsiders’ to Durham’s culture”.
“It was clear that a strong, shared understanding of what a ‘typical’ Durham student is like; their background, how they look and how they behave are all characteristics which have been firmly accepted and internalised by students, regardless of how long they’ve been at Durham.”
In the section on physical and conceptual space, it was stated that “there was a general consensus that different spaces promote different aspects of Durham’s student culture, and that therefore experiences of the culture can differ significantly depending on the spaces an individual engages with.”
The report explored also the potential of Durham’s reputation as a predominantly white middle-class university being a “self-fulfilling policy”, arguing that “participants reflected that students from liberation backgrounds (particularly Black or working-class students) do not apply here because of the lack of diversity in the student body and barriers such as the cost of attending Durham.”
Traditions were identified as one of the most significant factors for why students choose Durham, but also a point of tension in the community, with the report concluding that “for some, these traditions represent the best of Durham, and are highly valued as part of the Durham culture. For others, many long-standing traditions such as formal gowned dinners and roles such as ‘Senior Man’ and ‘Master’ represent a more sinister history of oppression.”
The Culture Commission, led by SU President Seun Twins, is heading into its next stage of research, where it plans on “exploring the culture which is created, continually shaped and experienced by students at Durham University”.
The full report and the SU’s update on the full Commission can be found here.
Image: Amana Moore