As the London Metropolitan University moves to ban the sale of alcohol on campus, the motives of the officials in charge and the debate surrounding the issue come into question
There has been outrage this week as the Vice-Chancellor of a London university has considered banning the sale of alcohol in some areas of the campus as it has become a “culturally sensitive” issue.
Professor Malcolm Gillies said that with one fifth of the students at London Metropolitan University being Muslim, a “high percentage” of students find drinking “a negative experience – in fact an immoral experience.”
He added, “given that around our campus you have at least half a dozen pubs within two hundred meters, I can’t see there is such a pressing reason to be cross-subsiding a student activity which is essentially the selling of alcohol.”
However, what struck me in this report by the Times Higher Education, is that Professor Gillies went on to say that most London Metropolitan Muslim students were female, many of whom “can only really go to university within four miles of home and have to be delivered and picked up by a close male relative.” I don’t go to London Met, but this seems to me like an absurd generalisation. I feel offended that anyone might think that I, a Muslim woman, need to be chaperoned anywhere.
The President of the London Metropolitan Student’s Union has called for the vice-chancellor to apologise for his comments, saying that London Met’s Muslim students were “respectful of other people’s cultures.” Claire Locke said that he had “offended” Muslim students by generalising about their beliefs, adding it was not true that Muslim students do not drink, as in the previous academic year three out of four Muslim student’s union officers had drunk alcohol. Give me a break.
But interestingly, Claire said that the university was shutting down a building called the Hub, which contains a bar, adding “Is he just generalising [about] the Muslim community in order to justify cuts to student services?”
As would be expected, there has been backlash and a torrent of abuse against the vice-chancellor and ‘conservative’ Muslim students. There is a cacophony of voices shouting, “political correctness gone mad” in the online comments threads.
The first thing that crossed my mind when I heard this story was whether the Muslim students had actually asked the vice-chancellor to speak on their behalf?
Secondly, if you must make cuts to services, don’t blame it on Muslim students. Furthermore, what does it say about the state of our Higher Education system when this is the most pertinent question, especially at a time when UCAS reports that applications have fallen by 15 percent this year and when fees have trebled?
Yet, it is true that a mature discussion on the increasing binge-drinking amongst students needs to be raised. Starting at a new university last autumn afresh as a post-graduate student, I thought I was an old hack in my expectations of how much alcohol the students around me consume.
But I have to say, it was on another level.
As deadlines approached, sometimes it felt as though everyone around me was chain-smoking, chain-swearing alcoholics. But why does it have to be this way?
There are differing opinions on this issue, but I chose to miss out on alcoholic-beverage related socials. So, I organised a dinner at a Halal restaurant in Tooting. There may have been no tiger beer and the curry may have been a bit too hot for some, but it was definitely a change from the usual Thursday night pilgrimage to The Peasant with everyone agreeing that it was a thoroughly enjoyable evening.
The real question is why can’t there be more variety in student clubs and societies? Does the venue always have to be the same? Does the meeting have to be in the pub again – what’s wrong with the coffee-shop? Integration is a two-way process, after all.
And by the same token, why don’t Muslim students get more involved in the many areas of university student life, because that’s the way to make a difference. As a sub-editor of the university newspaper while an undergraduate, I remember my first meeting was to be held in a bar. But when I recommended that it would be better if it was held in the canteen the floor below, the editor agreed. It was as simple as that.
So banning bars at university misses the point completely: it won’t make campuses or society more inclusive. Especially if you cause a storm in the media that nobody asked for.
Image from: http://www.dcsu.co.uk/content/432913/welfare/healthy_living/
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