Connor Drake, one of YUSU’s Working Class and Social Mobility Officers, wants to help you feel more comfortable talking about class. Read on to find out more about him, his shared role and the network him and his co-officer lead at YUSU.
Connor says talking about class is something that society as a whole is not very good at: ‘we’ve got better at talking about other liberation networks, but we still can’t properly talk about class. It makes people uncomfortable or confrontational.’
This is something that Connor, alongside his co-officer Sean Price-Regan, are working to engage you with regardless of your own background and privileges. Read on to understand why York students created the first Working Class Officer position at the union and why Connor is so passionate about representing working class students.
What do you define as ‘working class’?
It’s hard to define generally. If you are working class, then you just know you are. I suppose I know I am because of the obstacles I had trying to get to university - my upbringing and where I was coming from directly contributed to how difficult it was to get here compared to others.
A big part of it is also about confidence - or a lack thereof. I had a lack of confidence when I started at the university and especially during the Working Class Referendum - I felt like I didn’t belong here. That’s changed now and I feel more confident in myself and the network me and Sean represent.
Class is so complex that it’s hard to pinpoint to one factor, it encompasses socio-economic factors, culture, upbringing and worldview. I’d say that we should stick to people using their own best judgement and defining what they are.
Tell us a bit about your background.
I grew up on a council estate and my parents split up when I was 11. I didn’t do too great at school, but not too bad either - I was always, sort of, in the ‘middle’.
I was also in a really toxic relationship at school which didn’t help my confidence. Getting out of that helped me a lot.
Why do you think it’s important for York to have a Working Class and Social Mobility Officer and network?
Across campus, there’s a very strong social justice base that caters for lots of groups’ needs, and before the creation of this role and network, working class students weren’t.
Is this because those other networks have been established for longer?
No, I don’t think so. I think people feel very uncomfortable talking about class, as talking about it means you have to come to terms with your own privileges.
I always get told by other people, who come from a well-off background, things like ‘my mum worked really hard to get where she is today!’ and I always say ‘Yeah? So did mine!’. I mean, what does ‘working hard’ even mean? There seems to be a denial in our society that people in all areas of life work hard - just because you earn more doesn’t necessarily mean you’ve ‘worked harder’.
Think about Alan Sugar. People say to me ‘He came from nothing and now look at him!’, but how many Alan Sugars are there? There’s one! We can’t disregard the current political context either. We’ve had austerity for almost a decade and the working class can’t take it any longer.
What do you think students can do to help their working class peers?
On a basic level, challenge classism as you would any other prejudices. On a deeper level, engage with myself and Sean and respectfully challenge or discuss your views with us - we’re happy to chat!
Also, if you want to make a change at university then do it! For example if you think colleges should have a Working Class officer, then fight for it - with our support, of course.
What do you think the university can do to help working class students?
Don’t just pay lip service and make sure admissions are properly contextualised. The existing Widening Participation schemes, while great, are far too conditional. Working class students’ backgrounds and circumstances should be properly considered - A-Levels aren’t everything. The University should do more. The university should do more to reach out to, what the government calls, ‘opportunity areas’ such as Bradford, Blackpool and Doncaster.
Also, they must take a firm stance and say ‘we must do better to get working class students here’ and make sure you mean it by making the right changes.
How did you meet your co-officer, Sean?
We met during the campaign before the working class officer referendum as someone told me he also wanted to run for the position. We met and decided to run together and now he’s my best mate!
What’s your university experience been like so far?
It’s the best thing I’ve ever done. It was really challenging during the referendum but now I feel at home.
Some people don’t believe there is a need for a Working Class and Social Mobility Officer - what do you want to say to those people?
I should say first that I’ve met quite a few people who were against the position initially but have since changed their minds after seeing what it’s all about!
I’d invite those people to come along to the ‘York Has Class’ conference on 10th November. Don’t sit in an echo chamber!
Can you tell us a bit more about the ‘York Has Class’ conference?
It’s a space for experts, members of the general public and students of York to discuss the current state of social class.
It is free and open to all - regardless of your opinion on our position and network. All that I ask is that those who attend are respectful to each other.
‘York Has Class’ has been organised by YUSU’s Working Class and Social Mobility Officers and will take place on 10th November, 10am-6pm. Tickets are free and are therefore in high demand. If you’d like to attend, please register your interest here.