You can’t be on a campus for more than 10 minutes nowadays without hearing about inclusivity. Universities and students’ unions are mad for it. At the University of Sussex, a statement declaring that ‘The Union is committed to providing an inclusive and supportive environment’ has to be read, aloud, before every students’ union meeting. Students who want to set up a new society at the University of Bristol must satisfactorily prove that they will ‘respect and promote the Bristol SU values of equality, diversity, safe space and inclusivity’. It’s big in America, too. Not least at the University of Delaware, where, in 2007, it was revealed that the administration was making undergraduates fill out questionnaires about what races and sexes they tended to fancy, with the stated aim of getting them to be more inclusive in the bedroom.
But there’s one kind of British student who clearly doesn’t qualify for inclusivity, a nefarious group so toxic it’s not welcome at the students’ union circle time: rugby lads. They are universal hate figures, slammed, not only for their usual booze-soaked antics, but for what SU bods now claim they represent. Their crass ‘banter’, rampant sexual appetite and love of smutty club nights (Rappers and Slappers, anyone?) are perceived as a threat to the fabric of right-on SU life. And, as always happens when a tyrannical regime faces challenge, a purge has begun.
Over the weekend, Oxford announced that all college rugby teams would be required to complete mandatory ‘Good Lad’ workshops before they were allowed to enter this year’s ‘Cupper’ tournament. The workshop programme, developed by 27-year-old Oxford grad Dave Llewellyn and now popular with SUs across the country, amounts to Mao-lite re-education in which self-flagellating men in plaid shirts promote ‘positive masculinity’ to the misogynistic brutes. Student politicos are so chuffed with the scheme that they’re now planning to push it out nationwide.
It’s enough to make your skin crawl. Oxford undergraduates whose only crime is wanting to play rugby are being forced to sit in a circle and publicly dredge through their sexual history so as to assess whether they received ‘verbal and enthusiastic’ consent from each hook up. ‘If you’re 5 per cent unsure, then you’re becoming a rapist’, Llewellyn told the Times over the weekend.
This is only the latest development in a nationwide war on campus lad culture. Last year, the London School of Economics banned its men’s rugby for a year for distributing a leaflet that made crass jokes about ‘sloppy birds’ and rugger bugger debauchery. While, at the University of Edinburgh, laddish websites like UniLad have been banned on the charge that they ‘contribute to a culturally permissive attitude to rape’. Across the country, ‘bad lads’ are being punished, not for their actions, but for the jokes they find funny and the leery websites they choose to frequent.
The pretext of tackling sexual violence has allowed the anti-lad crusade to rumble on without a peep of criticism. At its centre is the much-touted National Union of Students statistic that one in four female students experience ‘unwanted sexual advances’ at university. These stats have been broadly discredited – among other things, the questionnaires lumped together a bit of unwelcome bump ‘n’ grind with forceful sexual assault – but even if we took them at face value, there is zero evidence that so-called lads are to blame. Instead what you get is dodgy sub-sociological dot-connecting about how laddish culture is somehow ‘normalising’ rape.
What we have here is cultural cleansing. An attempt to rid campus life of a form of youth culture that prissy SU bods simply don’t like. For all the talk of inclusivity, uni lads are fast becoming an oppressed minority.
Tom Slater is assistant editor at spiked.