Students enjoy a formal – and a hefty amount of privilegeSkittledog

Maybe this isn’t unique to Cambridge, I don’t know. But at my comprehensive school, gagging to prove how special you are wasn’t a ‘thing’ like it seems to be here.

Open ambition was received as arrogance and was met with a sort of offended bewilderment. One of my teachers, upon my explanation that I’d missed her lesson due to being at an Oxford open day, responded with guffaw: “Oxford?! You have a cheek thinking you’ll get into ANY university at this rate.” I already had an A, which was way above average in my overpopulated class. Apparently I should have been content with that; I should have been grateful. It didn’t seem to occur to my teacher that a few more UMS points could be what decided whether I got into Cambridge or not, because an A was “more than good enough for most unis.”

An assembly was held in which a teacher tried to persuade sixth-formers to drop English Literature because the class was oversubscribed. Many of these students were taking the subject against the forces of their background, which already told them that it wasn’t their place to be academic, or to use big words. Yet, a teacher was standing in front of them, pleading with them to drop it so that the (predominantly middle-class) kids who were already set on doing English Literature could have access to the scarce resource of education.

So the recent revelation that 40 per cent of state school teachers rarely or never advise students to apply to Oxbridge doesn’t shock me. The general attitude was that Oxbridge was not for us. In this context, it’s easy to direct the lens towards working-class people and blame them for their hostility. But the prejudices felt by my friends are founded in the very real experience of class segregation. They are right to suggest that I might feel alien at Cambridge; to suggest that it wasn’t made for me. They are right – there is a cause for their hostilities.

As its population, we are the actors that inject the concept of Cambridge with life. We navigate within the confines of a gothic architecture, furnished with entrenched traditions and a Bullingdon image. Being within this structure, we can try to break these confines, to make it accessible. But contrary to the story told by university prospectuses, I am yet to sit under a tree with my multicultural friends, laughing at a joke that – despite our contrasting experiences – we all somehow get.

Maybe it’s to compensate for no longer being seen as special upon arriving in Cambridge. Maybe we’re all realising that being good at exams is not a substitute for having a personality. It seems that here, everyone is desperate to prove that they are interesting. Being nice doesn’t make you useful, or endow you with cultural capital that people can profit from; it doesn’t make you a network.

Networking has its place. That’s what LinkedIn is for. But in Cambridge, a culture of your social status defining your value as a person runs deep. ‘You can’t sit with us’ has seemingly lost its ironic dimension and has become the actual philosophy of Cambridge students. What this is saying is that to be inaccessible is to be desirable.

The Regina George of Cambridge is a damaging character I’ve seen performed too many times. Guys on my first swap reassured my crying fresher self that they didn’t mean it when they slammed the table and declared “fine if the last girl you had sex with was asleep”, and that they didn’t actually hate the poor, like they’d shouted. I don’t care if you only hate the poor ‘ironically’. To me, you’re still a posh boy and those words are far from satirical when they’re articulated in a gun-boat admiral voice.

Even before arriving at Cambridge, I remember the freshers’ Facebook page being littered with sixth-formers indulging in how superior they believed themselves to be to Anglia Ruskin. One comment read: “I heard they’ll be our waiters… lol”. Whether this was ironic or ‘just pretend’ is irrelevant. To me, it’s in gross taste that Cambridge students seem to get a thrill from the idea that they are The Elite. In the notion that they are the best, they take comfortable refuge in the delusion that their place here was gained entirely by merit; that it was not at all influenced by the thousands of pounds Mummy and Daddy spent on their education – or from being told since birth that they shit glitter.

If you want to see a direct consequence of a culture that worships exclusivity, look no further than our government. It is the culture at Oxbridge that influenced a consciousness that enabled the justification of austerity; enabled them, so detached from the implications of their policies, in a ‘you can’t sit with us’ exclusivity, to make the cuts that forced my teachers to persuade sixth-formers to drop English.

Being inaccessible doesn’t make you interesting or cool; it makes you unpleasant. I’m not that special. Neither are you. What we must emphasise, to people of all backgrounds, is this: you most certainly can sit with us