I went to a public high school that played sport against some of the most elite private schools in the country. We had a fierce rivalry with one school in particular: Sydney Grammar.
Students would turn up to games in better gear alongside higher paid coaches. The school had a lot of money, and flaunted it. In the football and cricket I played against them, they would sledge us for a bunch of different things: we were the nerdy selective school (true) or the school that always lost against them (true).
And sometimes, even though it wasn’t true, they said that we were a poor school.
On Monday, a post in ANU Schmidtposting read:
“What do UC and ANU students have in common? They all applied to ANU.”
A day later, a post was put up that asked “Can we as a student body stop shitting on UC to make ourselves feel good? Your disdain for working class people (teaching, nursing students) is showing”.
Hundreds liked this post – but I disagree with it. It isn’t classist to continue a long-standing rivalry between the two largest universities in Australia’s capital city.
UC is not working class. In many ways, UC is as privileged as ANU: according to last year’s Good Universities Guide, the average starting salary of a student at each university is split by only $800. For UC, it’s $58,000, and for ANU it’s $58,800. Yes, they’re known for their nursing, but their next most popular courses are in software engineering, information technology, science and law. 90 per cent of their students are employed within four months of leaving their degree, which is more than at ANU.
Even if ANU is wealthier, it’s not like UC is working class. To be in university, you have to be privileged – only a third of Australians have even completed tertiary education.
There are certainly some students from lower socioeconomic backgrounds at university – but the ANU-rich UC-poor divide is not sharp enough to convince me that we have a “disdain” for the working class. Just like I need to be Jewish to be affected by anti-Semitism, students need to be working class in order to be offended by classist rhetoric. That’s by-and-large not the case when it comes to UC.
And what’s more: those Australians that are struggling the most may be hurt by the idea that we think UC is true blue working class. What does that say about our understanding of how the most vulnerable Australians live?
The second reason why it isn’t classist to poke fun at UC is because we have a long standing rivalry with the university. That means that there are a bunch of other reasonable motivations for why we might have a go at UC. UC students themselves have made jokes about our lack of social skills, our own bad meme pages and our issues with flooding.
Almost all of their jokes target our misfortune, but I bet you that very, very few ANU students are actually offended by these jokes. That’s because we can place those jokes in the context of an established rivalry: it’s a lot of fun to have a go at your closest challenger.
If the University of Sydney had made a crass meme about how someone could have died due to our university’s poor flood management system, maybe that would have been inappropriate. But when UC does it, it stems from a shared geography, a history of banter and an established relationship between the provider and receiver of the joke.
That matters. I’m sure many of you have friends at UC, and I’m sure our universities’ mutual rivalry helped develop some of those friendships.
Back in high school, my school’s rivalry with Sydney Grammar definitely helped me form some of my closest friendships. Those cricket matches against Sydney Grammar were some of the best moments of high school for me, and I think they would not have been as quality if our schools’ rivalry was muted.
Of course, there’s a line: it’s bad taste to target a group of people that doesn’t want to be targeted, especially when there are other ways to maintain a fun rivalry.
For the past 30 years, Australia’s income inequality has increased at one of the fastest rates in the world. This week, the most enticing thing the government could offer to Australians earning less than $37,000 a year was a $10 a week tax cut. Youth Allowance and Newstart have remained at the same real levels for the past 20 years. It’s clear that there are serious class issues to fight for, and care about, all of which are a lot more serious than a joke.
I wanted to see whether UC students were responding to the joke made against them, so I went to have a look at their public meme pages today. Despite all the discussion that’s been had over at ANU, it looks like they’re more offended by ANU students dampening the rivalry than by ANU students being classist.
It goes back to the rivalry between my old school and Sydney Grammar. Neither of us were poor. Neither of us meant it when we sledged each other. And neither of us were hurt by the rivalry – in fact, we got closer because of it.