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Brexit shows that UK students live in a bubble

A student blogger in London looks at the deep divides between the capital and the rest of the UK, and students and their non-student peers on the EU referendum result

  • Student life
Saira Khan's avatar

Saira Khan

June 30 2016
Students with EU flag


A note to my fellow disheartened university students: the fight for unity is not over

I had a good day last Thursday: walking around London, enjoying the sights, making the most of a beautiful city that I have grown so attached to. I was making the most of my final days here, as it is only next week when I’ll have to pack my things and move back to Medway, a much smaller place in Kent. I have been, for several months now, dreading that move. The thought has only made me feel sick to the stomach and rather despondent. For a variety of reasons, I had been dreading the move to the point of despair, but one of the biggest reasons was the huge difference I felt between London and university life here, and “real life” in other parts of the UK – a difference that has also been so clearly highlighted through the European Union referendum results.

Through my four years at university, I became increasingly aware of how insulated I had become. The people who I surrounded myself with were university students; the place I lived in was a bustling, multicultural and diverse borough; and the people I had on social media had almost all pursued higher education, if not in London, in other parts of the UK or abroad. In short, the world around me tended to be full of diverse people with relatively liberal thinking: students who share similar views, who are passionately pro-EU, pro-environment, feminists, LGBT activists and so on. For me, it is a fantastic little bubble, where tolerance is promoted. But I am fully aware that this is, sadly, not “real life”.

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All it took was a train home for me to notice Britain First marching outside my workplace with the ever so eloquent Jayda Fransen spewing Islamophobic hate through a speakerphone; or to witness Ukip supporters constantly on the high street, smiling and handing out flyers to everyone, but disdainfully leering at me as I walked by (mistaking me for an immigrant because of the colour of my skin perhaps?). All it took was this fortnightly reminder to illustrate just how shielded my life in central London was.

Of course, racism, xenophobia, general bigotry and hatred can be found in every community and area, and there is plenty of it throughout London and in universities, too. I’m not saying that it doesn’t exist there, because it definitely does. The difference is that the diverse nature of a London university makes it very easy to find and form extensive circles with people with very similar thinking.

And so, back to the referendum. Back to where there was such a stark divide, with London voting Remain and the rest of England largely voting “out”. I feel that these results have just exemplified a divide that I, and many others, have been witnessing for a long time. I feel that by going to university, especially one in the capital, I have gone through a system that has remarkably shaped my views to something largely different from many of those who haven’t gone to university. When I compare many of the people I know from my home town who did not go to university, with those I have met in London or elsewhere who did, it sometimes feels as if there is almost a completely different pattern of thinking and set of beliefs.

Of course, this sweeping statement cannot apply to everyone, as there are plenty of young people who did not pursue higher education who voted Remain. This is simply a recount of my personal experience. My fellow students who were so passionately for Remain have been in a state of shock and mourning since the results, while my former classmates in Medway who did not pursue higher education have been celebrating, cheering and chanting about how they’ve “made Britain great again”. We are all the same age, but the two differences between the groups are geographical location and level of education.

As a passionate Remain supporter, I, too, am in a state of shock and frustration. But I feel it is crucial to ensure that divisions are not exacerbated further. I have seen both celebratory Leave posts against “all the posh uni t***s who thought they were politicians”, and angry Remain posts against “ignorant, uneducated, chav w*****s”. It’s clear that there is a huge problem here that must be addressed, and it cannot be solved by sharpening our pitchforks, calling out and hunting down the opposing side.

I understand why a lot of my fellow students are furious and cannot comprehend how anybody could vote Leave. But perhaps that is part of the problem. We cannot help the other side to understand our point of view if we don’t at least try to understand theirs. We cannot immediately discredit their opinion as “uneducated” because this is only damagingly creating an even further rift.

At university, it is very easy to surround yourself with circles of similarly minded people, and so when an opinion doesn’t fit with a pattern of thought it can feel outrageous. I am also guilty of this, for I too am horrendously frustrated with anybody who voted Leave. But, in the aftermath of the referendum, it is really time to open up a dialogue. We must do all that we can to try to communicate with people outside those circles so that we can understand their fears and concerns. It is now more important than ever so we can dispel any more xenophobia-based myths and prevent any further distressing division between the Remain and Leave camps.

However, in all honesty, I do feel that promoting tolerance is a lot easier said than done, and sadly I feel that the hope to bridge the gap is a rather romanticised ideal. I just don’t know whether in reality such unity in a now wounded Britain is possible.

But regardless of the bleak outlook, to all the students who voted Remain, I do feel that we must keep fighting. But this time we must not only fight for unity between Britain and the EU, but among the people of Britain itself.

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