Exeposé Comment Issue 659, Page 6 and Exeposé Comment online (24 October 2016)
Here’s a fun little study break game: head over to the Exeter Express and Echo website, find any ‘bad news’ story about the state of the city, press Ctrl+F, type in “students” then scroll down to the comments. Now, I’m not saying every story will be followed by raging locals blaming the city’s woes on the student population… but you know. It happens.
It’s particularly fun to do this on any article about new developments. The new bus station, for example. “How about a plan to make the city more bike friendly and therefore ban students from bringing their cars,” one commenter suggests. Mention new student flats and you’ve got yourself the ingredients for a killer comment-section debate. “Exeter City Centre is dead, long live Exeter University City Centre!” one reader declares on a story about plans for new flats opposite Unit 1.
Like I say, brilliant procrastination. But jokes aside, there’s no denying it: students aren’t a popular breed here in Exeter. Whether it’s our homes, our cars, our lifestyles, or our domination of the city centre, we’re definitely doing something to rub residents up the wrong way.
Things came to a head after this year’s Football Varsity at St James Park stadium.. Exeter vs Swansea? Nah. Students vs Locals was the real play-off on 12 October. Express and Echo gleefully reported one dad’s video of the night’s events, showing bottles and cans piled on the roadsides and drunken students struggling to walk home.
During the video, this guy confronts two students outside the stadium. “How do you feel about this?” he demands. He’s not blaming them, he insists – graciously adding: “most students are good as gold” – but still. If I were one of those students, I’d be feeling pretty uncomfortable.
Sounding disturbingly like some wildlife documentary narrator, he then turns the camera on those leaving the stadium. “So, we’ve got drunk students coming out… Why they let them in drunk in the first place I don’t know… One girl over there absolutely para, can hardly stand up… Absolutely ridiculous.”
I get it, I really do. I get miffed when I leave the house and find someone’s lined our front wall with empty bottles. And don’t even get me started on when I get woken up by next door returning from Unit 1 at 3am. It’s not nice, being confronted with someone else’s mess and noise. And if you’ve got a young family, you’ll want to do all you can to stop it. The guy who made this video has obviously been driven to desperation.
But is a student-shaming video really going to improve anything? Let’s face it: this is basically the digital equivalent to passive-aggressive post-it notes. And we can all vouch for the hostility those cause. It’s sad, then, that this kind of automatic student-bashing seems to have become the norm here in Exeter – and that even those who admit “most students are good as gold” feel it appropriate to approach students at random and demand an explanation for the actions of a few inconsiderate arseholes. Yep, most of us hate the noise and mess too. And you know what? I cannot wait to shrug off the “student” label that apparently offers Exeter’s local residents a free pass to resent, patronise and belittle me. I chose to live and study here after falling in love with this city back in 2012. I pay rent and utility bills – not to mention extortionate student fees – to stay here. In Exeter there are students reading to the elderly in care homes, students helping stroke survivors use gym equipment, students collecting sanitary products for Exeter’s homeless women… so it’s upsetting that we’re often made to feel inconvenient at best, and downright unwelcome at worst.
We spend our first 18 years being told we’ll have no decent life choices if we don’t go to university… and the next few years being told we’re spoilt, privileged and undeserving of our place here. There are calls to ban students bringing their cars to Exeter. As if we’re some kind of pseudo-residents who couldn’t possibly need to, you know, go food shopping, commute to work or travel outside the city. Is it any wonder that some students feel no connection to the city? Of course, that’s no excuse for the kind of anti-social behavior and disrespect shown by some… but I can’t help thinking that if students weren’t made to feel so alienated, things might improve.
And for this to happen, I guess local media would have to stop capitalizing on student-hatred. I mean, what does it say when a local news story about ‘parking horror stories’ (which, incidentally, didn’t even mention students) links to a story headlined: “People are angry about Exeter’s Honiton Inn student block plans”? Or when even that headline sees the paper accused of “trying to stoke resentments to boost readership”?
The barriers between students and local residents aren’t anywhere near being broken down – and it’ll take a change in attitude on both sides if this ‘Students vs Locals’ thing is ever going to go away. Not to mention a serious change in how students are slated in local press. But hey, what do I know. I’m just another spoilt Millennial, amirite?