“Oh, you’re going to LSE? Enjoy being surrounded by bankers!”
My ears have been treated to phrases of this nature at many points over the past couple of months. At least in London, where students are more aware of the reputations of each University of London college, the stereotypical LSE student gets a bit of a rough ride. While its elevated academic standing is undisputed, LSE is still perceived to be the preserve of City worker wannabes and wealthy heirs to foreign business empires. Frankly, it’s also said to be a little – well – dry.
So it’s easy to imagine, when one takes their first tentative steps down Portugal Street and across the threshold of LSE, that it might not offer the diversity of opinion and aspiration that one would hope to find in a university in London. Even the name is a giveaway: anyone that goes to the London School of Economics must surely be mostly interested in money – right?
But my first weeks at LSE have shredded any negative expectations. The Gender Institute, under whose reassuring wing I have been taken, seems to me to host a variety of liberal-minded people who definitely do not want to work in Finance. Not only has everyone I’ve met had a dazzlingly critical mind, but their career hopes range from the humble to the almost heroic – professionals returning to education so that they can take new skills back to a beloved non-profit; one young woman ambitiously tackling female genital mutilation (FGM) full-time in her local area while barely taking a salary; philanthropic students, aware of their own privileges, determined to enact tangible, positive change throughout the world.
It’s been very pleasant to be reminded of the existence of LSE’s student body beyond the reputed masses of future lawyers, bankers and accountants. And it hasn’t just been in my own department. While working at the SU, I met a second-year Anthropology student who was hoping to found a new society to increase the visibility of such students.
“A lot of people don’t even realise that LSE has a huge range of courses in gender and sexuality studies, anthropology and sociology,” she told me. I agreed – it was only by chance that I stumbled upon my own MSc in Gender when searching for postgraduate programmes a year ago. I hadn’t thought LSE taught such things, and yet it’s actually one of the few universities in the country to offer a course in Gender Studies to undergraduates, too.
It’s important to challenge your own assumptions about a place, person or institution; after just a few weeks, I can be on campus discussing development theories, chatting with enthused members of the left wing Occupy Movement about their plans to protest the expense of education, or laughing as I queue for a free lunch from the generous Hare Krishna. I don’t think I expected to be doing that.
While LSE certainly has a lot of Economics students, it’s name really doesn’t do justice to the broad range of programmes and opinions it provides a home for. I for one am happy to have had my preconceptions proven wrong, and would say to other arts and social sciences graduates: think twice before dismissing LSE!