Humour increasing community spirit
Humour is a crucial part of student culture, and it can be colourful and derisive at times. However, you should always approach humour with awareness, and traditions should be assessed critically in reflection to societal structures. What kinds of matters are being used as the subjects of jokes and in what way? No one’s ethnic background or personal characteristics should act as the punchline in jokes. Are the jokes only about minorities, or do you crack jokes about those representing the hegemonic culture, too? On the other hand, completely excluding a group from jokes suggests that they are not important or do not belong to the group. We recommend following the basic rule of ‘punching up’ versus ‘punching down’ in humour: it is generally more acceptable to joke about those whose status in society is already strong than those in a weaker position to start with. However, defining clear lines for good taste is difficult if not impossible. Humour is a difficult art form, and much depends on its reception and interpretation. People have very different preferences when it comes to humour. In large events, when you do not know the audience of the jokes so well, it is best to play it safe. The more provocative the joke, the greater the risk. Let us try to have fun in such a way that no one gets pushed down.
The starting point of humour and having fun must be that everyone has fun, is comfortable and feels safe. Humour is unsuccessful if it offends someone, makes someone feel unsafe or makes it difficult or uncomfortable for someone to participate because of it. On the contrary, the point of humour is to create an atmosphere that strengthens community spirit and a sense of belonging. Humour that makes people feel bad does not belong in student events. You should reflect on what kind of humour the participants consider positive and what negative. Doing anything at all that creates negative connotations should be avoided in the first place. You should also have a critical view of power positions: it is not advisable for humour to prop up a certain group or push down another. Older students in particular should help and encourage younger ones to participate instead of ‘showing them their place’ or highlighting their ‘mistakes’. Embarrassing or humiliating other people in any way is negative, shows bad manners and is generally in poor taste. Traditions are not grounds for discrimination, and the fact that things were done badly before does not mean that they could not be done better now.
We have a moral duty to reform outdated, discriminatory practices, so that no one feels unsafe about participating in events.
When it comes to humour in student events, remember that its aim is to be light-hearted, insightful and fun – for everyone. For this reason, it is best to avoid difficult, sensitive, polemical, heavy or otherwise emotive topics. They can be discussed in other occasions that are reserved specifically for the topics in question. People must be able to come to student events for some light-hearted fun without the risk of being forced to encounter heavy topics unexpectedly. Even thinking about the possibility of having to encounter topics you do not want to talk about right now in an event can be extremely distressing.
We cannot know the experiences or personal characteristics of other people. For this reason, it is not acceptable to assume them on behalf of someone else or to make generalisations based on your own preferences. Even though it might seem that there are not any representatives of a specific reference group among the participants, this does not mean that someone could not experience discrimination based on it. It is, above all, a question of atmosphere. Aggressive comments and jokes made otherwise in bad taste negatively affect everyone’s mood and the general atmosphere regardless of whether a person representing the reference group that the joke deals with is present.