There are few things that really, really annoy me as an Officer. Never having enough hours in the day has to be among the top five; a significant proportion of the comments and trolls on the ‘Better Guild’ Facebook forum comprise much of my top hundred; and student landlords make a pretty strong appearance as well. However, one of the things that really, really winds me up the most is when students living in local student communities are described as a “problem”. So I was rather aghast, disappointed and generally bewildered when I discovered on what was otherwise a fairly pleasant (albeit mildly chilly) afternoon that our very own Selly Oak MP, Mr. Steve McCabe, had used that very word that drives me oh-so-wild to describe students in one of his latest blog posts:
It’s a shame, because Mr. McCabe’s blog on the whole is very fair and he acknowledges that the crux of the issue is with irresponsible landlords; it is a shame that his personal comments let him down. I must say that I’m no idiot (contrary to popular belief) and I fully understand that Selly Oak is not the perfect place in the world. There are problems – lots of problems – and many of these problems are as a result of having such a dense population of students in one area, but one thing that is for certain is that students themselves are NOT the problem, and I would expect an MP who was elected with student votes to understand this just as I do. In a community containing a significant number of LGBTQ residents would a comment like this be acceptable? Or a community containing large numbers of elderly people? Students are residents of Selly Oak – and every other student community at that – just as any other resident is and for us to be described as an ongoing “problem” is, to put it frankly, bloody ludicrous. Myself and the President of the Guild of Students have arranged to meet with Mr. McCabe in the coming weeks to hold him to account on this remark and his complete lack of engagement with this “problem” throughout our term of office thus far. Despite attending a number of community forums on a regular basis; having met every local councillor countless times and been lobbying the council on issues in Selly Oak since Day 1, I have never actually had the pleasure of meeting Mr. McCabe and I’m sure that if he took the time of day to work with the Guild then he might begin to understand that the student “problem” in Selly Oak is not a problem at all.
I have to say that I am a very proud man when I attend community forums and speak to councillors, residents and anyone else about students. I hear horror stories from other Student Unions about meetings that have been attended where students get slated until the cows come home and the lobby to have students moved to “any community but ours” is louder than the student voice could ever be. But the ‘anti-student’ lobby here is significantly quieter and the understanding of the student community is significantly greater, and yet our MP is still stoking the flames and failing to understand the real issues out there on the streets of the Oak. We are fortunate enough to have a crew of Community Wardens who are perhaps the single best thing that has happened to Selly Oak since Barry Toon (you won’t know who he is, but you have probably walked past him without even noticing, and Selly Oak is a far, far safer place thanks to this elderly, bearded man and yet very few students will ever thank him for it) and protol week in, week out, identifying the issues in Selly Oak and taking positive steps to resolve them. We have Carnival RAG who year after year raise thousands upon thousands of pounds for local charities, as well as our countless other Student Led Volunteering Projects who volunteer their time to improve the lives of others in the local community. Our Residents’ Associations have recently gone above and beyond the call of duty through organising in the same week both a sleepout on the Vale in aid of St. Basil’s and an attempt at breaking the world record for the most people flipping pancakes in aid of St. Mary’s Hospice in Selly Oak. We have hundreds of students at this university who make a conscious effort to give something back to the local community and while I personally find Mr. McCabe’s comments deeply offensive, what is worse is the shear ignorance that surrounds them. Yes, some students may make noise late at night; yes, the issues caused by landlords in Selly Oak wouldn’t be there without the student market; and yes, some student households aren’t the best at dealing with their household waste, but if students making such a positive impact in the community and stimulating the local economy and funding local jobs with their disposable income is really a “problem” then I think Mr. McCabe needs to reassess his priorities.
Having a dense student population in Selly Oak does bring issues and students do make mistakes – university is a learning experience afterall – but Mr. McCabe I think you are making a grave mistake by having the audacity to identify a significant proportion of the people YOU were elected to represent as “a problem.”
Interesting Fact of the Week: According to Mr. McCabe’s website: “Steve throughly enjoys representing constituents as the MP for Birmingham Selly Oak. He tells it like it is and stands up for his constituents. You might not always agree with him but he’ll listen and he’ll be straight.”
Vice-President (Housing Community)