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Credtis to: Beatrice Ridge, 2nd Year Arts

The ‘pikey-themed’ social by Reading University students: Are themed socials going too far?

Themed socials are part and parcel of university societies, but it can be hard to know when the line is blurred between humorous and downright offensive.
For some context, students from the school of Agriculture (abbreviated by many as Agrics) do have a certain amount of infamy on campus when it comes to themed socials. The Agriculture Society had a wild partying reputation, with those wearing wellington boots getting free entry into Q Club’s V.I.P. This was until that fateful ‘Agrics on Holiday’ social last year, where students ‘blacked up’ and seemed to dress up as ethnic minorities on a night out. This led to an understandably large backlash, with the society disbanded for 3 years, and those who took part severely reprimanded.
While not associated with the university anymore, Agriculture students have continued to hold socials separately. This has led to controversy rearing its ugly head again for the school of Agriculture at Reading with their latest social. On October 24th, there was a ‘pikey’-themed social, where students went out and then committed acts of anti-social behaviour, with alleged streaking, throwing of fire extinguishers, and excessive noise in a residential area. It has been described as an “attack on working class people” by our RUSU Diversity Officer.
While their actions can’t be defended, there is certainly a more interesting question: Is the act of dressing up as ‘pikeys’ for a theme inherently wrong? There is the argument that the derogatory nature of the word ‘pikey’ means it is unacceptable to use it as a theme for a social. While the word ‘pikey’ originally was used as a slur against Romani gypsies, it has evolved into a more general term for the less well off in society. It seems to be used by our generation more colloquially and rarely used as an offensive term. Other societies have done ‘chav’ socials, a word with similar connotations to ‘pikey’, such as the Netball Society here at Reading last year, and there was no large scale backlash against this. However, the Cheerleading Society at Bristol University recently had to cancel their ‘Chav Social’ due to an intervention from their student union.
Following October 24th’s events, societies at this university will most likely be hesitant to throw similarly themed socials, and RUSU will not want a repeat of the nights events. The problem is that while Agriculture students may not have meant their actions as ‘class warfare’, and may have performed these actions regardless of the theme, it is difficult to disentangle the theme and the actions because of their consequences. It could be argued that not allowing ‘pikey socials’ is a step too far when it comes to political correctness, but unfortunately, the acts of vandalism and hooliganism perpetuated by these students has complicated that issue, and means we might have seen the end of ‘pikey themed’ socials.

About Jonno Simons

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