In my first semester at Sydney Uni, I took a subject called ‘Emerging Giant: The Making of America’. As I left a tutorial, the girl I had been sitting next to started chatting to me. She was quite unpleasant.
She was studying Arts/Law and considered ‘Emerging Giant’ her “easy” subject (despite it only being week 2). She had gone to Queenwood, a fact she managed to casually drop into the conversation three or four times. She was kind enough to let me know that she had received a scholarship for her “perfect” ATAR. Laughing, she told me she would probably just put it towards an overseas trip—she was keen to see Europe again.
She asked me if I were heading towards Redfern station. I replied that I lived on campus, so I would just be walking back.
Suddenly, a look of complete disdain crossed her face. “Oh well excuse me if I have to get public transport. You college kids need to realise there’s more to Sydney than Mosman and Vaucluse!”. She stormed off down Eastern Avenue.
That was my first experience of what the typical university student thought of college kids. At the time, I didn’t know what Mosman or Vaucluse were, so I couldn’t really comprehend the irony of what she was saying.
I am not your stereotypical, ‘privileged’, college kid. I went to a very bad public school in an rural area where the average taxable income is $39,000 a year. My family’s earnings, embarrassing as this can be to admit, sit somewhere in the bottom 15% of Australian families.
Growing up, there were a lot of things I did without. My parents couldn’t afford to get me braces, I had to wear my brother’s late 90s hand-me-downs until I was 15, I grew up without Internet, and I didn’t see the ocean until I was 18. But I wasn’t particularly upset about how much money we had. Yes, I would have liked it if we owned our own house, but no one else I grew up with had all of those things. It didn’t seem like that big of a deal.
When I moved into college at the end of summer, 2013, I had only seen Sydney once before. I can’t speak for many others who’ve gone to college, but my experience there was, and has been, great. There was a community of kids from all around the country who were just as freaked out as I was, who understood how scary it was to be completely alone.
Of course, college has its class problems. There are a lot of kids who went to really nice schools, and have parents with ridiculous incomes. I know someone who had never been west of Stanmore until college. One girl had a near panic attack when I told her I was public school educated.
“Selective though, right?!”
In particular, it’s SUPER gross when Sydney GPS boarding school boys sometimes wear their school ties and blazers to formal dinner. And when they obsessively attend high school alumni football matches, I can’t help but think, “Someone peaked in high school”.
However, this behaviour tends to be the exception and not the rule. And to the extent it happens, I would say the entire university has that particular problem. It’s a greater systemic issue, the elitism of Sydney University and the Sydney private education system.
At uni I’ve been at the receiving end of many people’s frustration regarding the colleges on campus. When one of my tutors found out I was on scholarship she said, “Oh, I thought you were another North Shore snob after seeing you in your college jersey”, despite telling me that her two children had just started at SCEGGS.
The worst snobbery I’ve experienced while at uni hasn’t been from college kids—it’s been from the everyday students I’ve gone to class with. I once had to sit in a tutorial with a man wearing a Grassroots election shirt who thought that if you did not grow up with private health insurance, this was the equivalent of child neglect and abuse.
Pointing fingers at a group of people who are allegedly more privileged than you doesn’t change the fact that the vast majority of people at USyd went to schools that cost more than my mother’s yearly income. Scapegoating the colleges because you feel guilty about your own privilege will only make you feel so much better before you realise that perhaps you’re being a little hypocritical.
The moral of the story is don’t throw stones from glass houses. I’m sick of having to justify my residence to people who brag about their dads being doctors while simultaneously waving around pickets for the Greens (not that I have anything against The Greens—I voted for them last state election).
At college there are people on scholarship, and there are people with money. There are smart people, dumb people, douchebags, and even people whom I will treasure as life long friends. Sometimes I hate college, and sometimes I love it.
I came in expecting prejudice and what I experienced was community.