Channel 4’s preparation for uni

Of all the reactions to have, I didn’t expect the feeling of injustice that crept up on me as I watched the first episode. I knew Channel 4’s new observational documentary The Secret Life Of Students was going to be explicit and deliberately edited to highlight drama and ramp-up the shock-factor. We all know the kind of programme we are watching, we all know how reality shows work.

It’s content also wasn’t anything new if you’ve been to uni in the last few years. There wasn’t a scenario featured in the first couple of episodes that would have been out of place in what uni was like for my friends and I. I may not have drunk at uni, but sat with 25 other freshers, crammed into a hot and sweaty kitchen, playing drinking games and hearing awkward admittances during ‘I have never’ is not a culture shock to those of us who lived in halls and engaged with the culture even if we lived differently in the middle of that crowd.

In a bizarre way, some of the scenes brought back brilliant memories of times with my housemates and course mates, and that nervous energy and excitement that filled the corridors during freshers week, where we made friends for life in 24 hours. 

But the feeling of injustice I also got as I watched the show and read the twitter feed of viewers reactions caught me by surprise. Basically, what it’s brought up in me is that I am not ok with the fact that the only preparation for university the vast majority of our country’s soon-to-be Freshers are going to have this year, is from this Channel 4 show. The biggest influence on thousands and thousands of nervous sixth formers who have finished exams and are tuning into Channel 4 with their results out in a month’s time, is this show. The Secret Life of Students is their most in-depth information source for what to expect at uni, what the “normal” culture and behaviour of a student is, and therefore, what will be expected of them too. Excessive drinking, nazi-based humour, sex, STIs, cheating, fear and rejection, the wild-fire spread of gossip and a series of embarrassing moments, shamed-confessions and regrets the morning after. 

Is everyone ok with this being our nation’s predominant offering of preparation for uni? Is everyone happy with their younger siblings, friends and youth groups getting insight from Channel 4 on how to live the student life? Is this the best we can do?

I have no problem with people watching the show, I aim to follow the whole thing. Like I say, it’s nothing new in terms of what this generation live, both online and in the heat of the moment. It does also remind me why I care so much about the local church reaching students and students loving their unis. It doesn’t intimidate me, it makes me more passionate and determined to give everything I can to support students as they represent Jesus. 

But when you see comments on twitter ranging from ‘this is making me worried about going to uni’, to ‘getting ready for freshers with #secretlifestudents’ we also need to take action and take back the preparation for uni ground.

So, let’s not leave it to Channel 4. Step up and join me in taking responsibility for the freshers of 2014. Pray for them. Prepare them for the adventure of uni, parties and all, with Jesus at the centre of every area of student life, so that they can actually truly live. And spread the word. We have a voice too, and more power in us than a television series.

Miriam Swanson

Global Student Mission Leader

Miriam helps equip the church for student mission internationally. She's based in the USA and hungry to see young adults follow Jesus with all of who they are. 

Partner with Miriam