By Jessica Warren
White T-shirt socials are as commonplace in university as going to the pub, or missing your Thursday 9am lecture. Yet last week, Cardiff University Students Union (CUSU) emailed all societies “strongly advis[ing]…to avoid organising such socials”. If any “unacceptable and offensive comments” are found, then the group will face a University disciplinary, and suspension from activities.
This comes as Exeter, York, and Sheffield Universities have graced the tabloids this month for disgraceful and disrespectful messages being scrawled across their t-shirts. Understandably, it is important to CUSU that students stay out of national tabloids for their behaviours, but is a ban on White T-shirt Socials the answer? Whilst it is vital that anti-Semitic, misogynistic, racist and homophobic phrases are not endorsed, promoted, or even used to form the butt of a joke, surely warning students off these socials does not address the root cause of the problem.
What needs to be addressed here is the flippant use of offensive terms, passed off under the guise of “banter”. The rhetoric “it’s just a joke so it doesn’t matter” needs to disappear among students across the country, especially when the majority of people writing them come from such a privileged position. They cannot see the harm they are causing. The group mentality around such socials was also addressed by CUSU, who stated that shifting the blame to someone else who wrote the comments on your shirt – as it has often been done – is “unacceptable”, as the whole group is responsible for the behaviours demonstrated at the social.
Yet, whilst CUSU is trying to safeguard its student population, stopping a particular style of socials may be seen as authoritarian by some. Arguably, this is a step too far, and by surrounding students in bubble wrap, they are being sheltered from the real, adult world of accountability. You could question whether the university is being hyper-sensitive to issues such as these, especially when Cardiff students haven’t hit the news themselves. White T-shirt socials are hosted by a huge number of societies, and often serve as brilliant and easy icebreakers when new members join at the start of each academic year. With this purpose in mind, it would be fair to say many students probably enjoy these events, as a way to get to know people.
This year, a Channel Four program, “Has political correctness gone mad?”, argued that liberalism and a fear of offending minorities are stifling legitimate debate. And whilst this is a good point, and can be used in many other contexts, there is not much room for debate when it comes to racist, homophobic and offensive terms being used loosely, especially for the amusement of drunk students. Within the program, Trevor Phillips found that the most offensive terms to the British public were no textbook swearwords, but instead were racist, religious, and sexist slurs. Evidently, language to this degree is deemed the most offensive. Much like the NUS ‘No Platform’ policy, the argument for this move from CUSU stems around inhibiting the voice of racist, fascist, and sexist students who don’t seem to be able to censor themselves.
And so, whilst this move may go down as a bit extreme by some, it is clear that CUSU needed to do something about the growing hate language among students (whether for a joke or not), especially since the discovery of Neo-Nazi imagery being found displayed around campus this month. Perhaps students still need an authority figure to tell them how they can and cannot behave until they grow up and accept some responsibility for their actions.