As any fresher (be it undergrad or postgrad) at LSE will quickly become aware, views on the AU (Athletic’s Union) are extremely polarised.
Go to the sport’s section at Fresher’s Fair and you’ll essentially walk into a glamourised changing room; everyone tall, slim and beautiful in their (wonderfully clean) sports gear. They’ll beam down at you and there’ll be something menacing in their voices when they tell you that “if you don’t join the AU, you won’t have a good time at LSE.”
(I would like to cite that as a direct quote used by countless AU folk.)
You’ll think to yourself; “they seem like a lively, fun bunch. I’ve always wanted to try X sport/ I’m a pro at Y sport. I’ll join.”
Or you’ll immediately shy away from the fact that your first impression of the AU is an emulation of a fraternity/ sorority.
Regardless of whether or not you signed up, you’ll also probably hear incessant references to Zoo Bar over the coming weeks. Zoo, Zoo, Zoo. What is this magical place of Zoo? You’ll think to yourself.
If you joined the AU then in the coming weeks you’ll soon find out. You’ll also be subject to a number of AU rituals; initiations (where everyone gets as drunk as possible, but it’s OK because it’s a great way to welcome all the Fresher’s), team dinners (where everyone gets as drunk as possible but it’s OK because everyone wears pretty clothes and has a nice meal before doing so), Halloween (where everyone gets as drunk as possible but it’s OK because everyone’s in silly costumes)… you get the idea.
If you joined the AU it won’t take long before you get sick of it or before you’re taken under their wing and became a well-adjusted member. In a way, you’ll become part of a family. The split between these two routes is, from my experience, about 50:50, although it depends largely on the sport you join.
If you didn’t join the AU then your impression of it is likely to quickly morph one of two ways; either you’re the type who adopts the perception of the AU as gathering of pretentious people who (male or female) are unable to keep their clothes on when the first drop of alcohol touches their lips.
(That’s a bit of an exaggeration but still; Houghton Street and Zoo Bar have most certainly witnessed their fair share of escapades).
You’ll, perhaps, start to view the AU as a social gathering for people who have nothing better to do than fritter away ‘Daddy’s money’ and wear scanty outfits (even though it’s December and you’re parading around in some knitted number). You’ll hear how the AU-type have a notorious reputation and you’ll start to view everyone associated with the AU this way.
Or you might be the type who never realised how much you relish a chance to get hammered and walk around campus on Thursday morning in a state of semi-sobriety until seeing swarms of other people doing so. You’ll walk down Houghton Street every Wednesday evening and gaze longingly into the sticky, crowded mess of The Tuns (pre-drinking AU central). Eventually you’ll pluck up the courage to go out to a Zoo night and it’ll either be one of the best or worst nights of your life.
So after attempting to give a balanced view of the whole AU perception (accommodating, I hope, a variety of views), what’s my opinion?
Well, I enjoy the AU. I like the people in my team and I like the sport I play. I enjoy going out with a large crowd of people and knowing a huge number of people in one club is a massive novelty at first. Pub crawling around Central London and having that sense of team loyalty that’s synonymous with sport; that’s all great.
At the same time, the AU is home to some big personalities. If anyone has ever watched “Young, Dumb and Living Off Mum” then a lot of THOSE type of characters are also in the AU. It’s not plagued with them; despite the impression of many non-AU-ers that it is. There are a lot of people who do splurge Daddy’s cash and the rest, and maybe because of them the term “Rash, Gash and Daddy’s cash” is a warranted term for the AU.
But my point is, there are just as many people who DO NOT fit the stereotype. I’m most certainly not a big personality; I can’t do Heavy Drinking or Wild Clubbing and maybe that means I’m boring, but the fact is I still found some fantastic friends in the AU. Some of whom ARE into that sort of stuff, some of whom aren’t. Just as it’s wrong to generalise a university, it’s wrong to generalise a society, and although there may be a disproportionate number of Extreme Clubbers in the AU, I would advise anyone to join up before passing judgement.