Exclusive: Durham Uni’s attitude to Northern students

1 October 2020

By Lauren E. White

Six days ago, I wrote an article about my experience of prejudice and discrimination targeted at my Northern background/accent at Durham University. The response has, to say the least, totally overwhelmed me.

Over fifty people have contacted me with messages of support, and 2,000 people have read my article. But the depressing thing is this: my experience is not uncommon. Of the messages I have received, most were from students who have experienced the same thing. So I decided to do something about it: I investigated the issue and composed a report, which I have now sent to the Vice Chancellor of Durham University and the MP for Durham.

The report includes some disgraceful behaviour, including Northern students being told they are “taking up a worthy student’s place”; that they are “vulgar” and “common” because of their background; one student was asked to sleep with a girl because she had a “poverty fetish”. Every testimony includes the mocking of Northern accents, to the point where a great number of students have been terrified of attending seminars.

One account in the report is of an individual who attended a local secondary school and a boy from Eton College. Both studied at Durham, and the Old Etonian told my source that they were “lucky to be state educated” as since they had nothing in the first place, they had nothing to lose. The Old Etonian then stubbed out a cigarette on my source’s hand.

As a result of all of this, I am demanding that Durham University accepts, adopts, and enforces the following five points:

Provide specific support groups for students from Supported Progression, the North and ‘disadvantaged’ backgrounds;

Specifically include ‘background’ in the Student Pledge as a characteristic which all students should respect and have no prejudice towards;

Enforce the new Student Pledge;

Take re-educational action to ensure no student at Durham University is unaware that prejudice and discrimination against students because of their background is unacceptable;

Acknowledge that within its walls, there is a toxic culture towards Northern students.

A Report on Northern Student Experience at Durham University, Lauren E. White

Northern students at Durham University are facing what is currently a socially acceptable form of prejudice and discrimination, all based on their backgrounds. Most are working-class, the first in their families to go to University, and have been encouraged to attend Durham by a scheme they were sold in Sixth Form – as a ‘disadvantaged’ student.

There is a vicious toxicity to the culture at Durham University – and I will now be doing everything in my power to prevent it from continuing before I leave next year. And if I leave next year without the issue being resolved, I will still be involved, fighting every step of the way to ensure it stops.

Northern students should not feel alienated anywhere, let alone in their own region. They are just as bright and talented as all other students, and got to Uni through grit, hard work and determination. What is sad is that many of them have felt they had no choice but to leave Durham, which a significant number have done. This is unacceptable, and we all must put pressure on Durham to stamp out this discrimination once and for all.

Now is the time.

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