Invited by the University of Birmingham Conservatives, controversial backbench MP Jacob Rees-Mogg visited campus on Friday 9th March, speaking about his views on free speech, housing, mental health, Russia and tuition fees to a packed lecture theatre of around 300 students.Written by Erin Santillo & John Wimperis on 16th March 2018
Backlash Over Sports Night Theme
Two UoB students have been lampooned for criticising one society’s infamous ‘chav’ sports night theme
The original complaints arose on November 20th, when an undergraduate student posted screenshots of an email sent to the Guild of Students to the Fab’n’Fresh Facebook page. She spoke of her ‘shock and disgust’, branding the theme as a ‘classist cariacature [sic] of working class people’.
A separate UoB alumna made a similar complaint on November 24th, two days after the event. In an email to the Guild, they also labelled the society’s choice of theme as an ‘appalling display of prejudice against council house residents’. They questioned why the Guild’s Zero Tolerance policy had failed to outlaw the ‘offensive theme’.
“In an email to the Guild, they also labelled the society’s choice of theme as an ‘appalling display of prejudice against council house residents’
Both students have both faced fierce backlash for their views. The latter was accused of expressing her own prejudices towards the ‘privileged group’ of students allegedly mocking ‘a working class minority’. The student claimed that students should be upset at ‘anyone insulting the working classes’ instead. One student did defend their views, expressing their incomprehension as to ‘why the poster is getting so much grief’, agreeing that the theme was ‘classist’.
The former’s original post was targeted for her conflation of the working classes with ‘chavs’. One commenter said that the entities ‘are two separate social states’, disputing her right to complain. Others rallied behind this opinion, claiming that the ‘only offensive thing here is you associating people from low income backgrounds with antisocial behaviour’ – and one other commenter believed that ‘there are bigger problems in the world’.
Redbrick investigated student opinions on campus, which were similar in nature, but far less malicious than those found online.
Jonathan Lench, third year English and Philosophy student, said that the students were exuding a false sense of understanding for, and a need to defend, the rights of supposedly working class people.
Similarly, Lauren Ward, third year Law student, felt baffled by the theme’s backlash. She said, ‘of course you should be allowed to have a ‘chav’ night – why not? It’s just a bit of fun. Besides, you can dress as loads of things on various theme nights, so why not dress as a chav? I’m all for it’.
In contrast, Georgina Thomas, third year English student, did not agree with the society’s choice of theme. She said, ‘the word “chav” will always have associations with working class, or poorer people. Some may deny these associations completely, but in the wider context, it is clearly there. As a sports night theme, it has never sat comfortably with me, because I know how this kind of language affects people. It derides the working classes, and this derision can have serious consequences, and hold people back.
‘I personally would not have messaged the Guild or put that message on Facebook, but I’m glad someone did, even if just for showcasing those awful comments. It showed how little perspective some people at this university have. They wanted to use a word because they think it’s funny and light-hearted, but when they’re confronted with the consequences, they become offended and start an incredible backlash.
“As a sports night theme, it has never sat comfortably with me, because I know how this kind of language affects people. It derides the working classes, and this derision can have serious consequences, and hold people back
‘There are loads of other themes for sports night. I’m not saying that the chav theme should be prohibited, but get more creative, maybe. It’s a little overdone now anyway, isn’t it?’
Another third year English student, who chose to remain anonymous, said ‘I see where the poster is coming from, and if something makes you uncomfortable then she should absolutely have sent the email. But putting it on the Fab’n’Fresh page was asking for trouble. Clearly no one was willing to take it seriously, so Facebook was not the place to discuss it.
‘That being said, whether she’s right or wrong, there’s no excuse for how some people reacted. If they disagreed, fair enough – but some of the comments were foul’.
Commenting on the student’s alleged misinformed dualism of chav with the working class, the anonymous student said, ‘I know “chav” has issues around it, but sports night does have other themes in a similar vein and it’s meant to be a joke. What about the sexism or ho/slut costumes, or the creepiness of sexy baby costumes, or the religious insensitivity of sexy nuns and vicars?
‘It shouldn’t matter if it’s done as a joke and without malice. It doesn’t mean anything – it’s just a stock costume choice. You’re not saying anything profound about the thing you’re imitating, because these things don’t really exist. Essentially, you’re dressing up as fictional characters’.
Sarah Horton, third year English and History student, also commented on the student’s dualism. She said, ‘for me, “chav” is associated with secondary school girls with hoop earrings, and guys in tracksuit bottoms – which are two sizes too big, and drooping down to show their underwear.
‘Clothes are just clothes. Unlike wearing a Nazi uniform or culturally misappropriating outfits, “chav”, for me, just signifies a type of clothing. Perhaps it’s because a lot of my friends might have been called “chavs”. They still went onto university, have jobs, wear suits for meetings, and then wear tracksuit bottoms at home’.
Horton also said that ‘what [the student] stated wasn’t entirely wrong, but her argument was poorly written. She implied that chavs were intellectually inferior, and made the image synonymous with the working class. That was a big mistake’.
“In a reply to the complainant, the Guild distanced themselves from the society, stating that they had no ‘direct involvement’ with themes chosen by anyone, and that the student union is not notified of any choices in advance of the night
In a reply to the complainant, the Guild distanced themselves from the society, stating that they had no ‘direct involvement’ with themes chosen by anyone, and that the student union is not notified of any choices in advance of the night. They did promise, however, to review any complaints in accordance with its Zero Tolerance policy.
Ellie Keiller, Guild President, confirmed this response, adding that they would ‘absolutely look into this complaint’. She reiterated that, if breached, the Zero Tolerance policy ‘prevents people from entering the building’.
This is not the first appearance of the controversial theme, however, as the Guild ran a 'Chav N Fresh' night in 2005, advertised as 'a celebration of chav culture 'in it!' The event-wide dresscode was 'burberry & bling fancy dress' and the featured musicians were British R&B artists 'Javine' in the Underground and 'The Big Brovaz' in the Deb Hall.
Advertised in Redbrick 1269 with the usual £5 ticket price, this end-of-term party at the Guild encountered little backlash, despite 'chav' being the overarching event theme.
In response to this twelve-year-old advert, one UoB student, who wished to remain anonymous, said to Redbrick this week: 'perhaps back then the term "chav" was less offensive, but not it really resonates as a vicious insult directed at people of a lower social class - times have changed'.