By the time that this article is published, RAG week will officially be over and done with for another year. Disorientated students, shook as the proverbial hand at mass, will once again emerge from whatever narcotic hole they’ve been buried in and sprawl out across campus like squadrons of shell-shocked troops. At the time of writing, however, RAG week is just getting started. It feels like the guillotine has been lifted, and, whether it’s about to drop or not remains to be seen. The usual herds of students trudging their way about campus has already thinned substantially – seemingly overnight – and lecture crowds are more and more beginning to resemble those of a 9AM Mass in mid-July. On a positive note, no major hiccups, controversies or – more importantly – tragedies, have taken place at the time of writing. Almost eerily, everything seems to be running smoothly – or, you know, as smoothly as is student-ly possible.
The real good news though, is that – so far – we’ve been given a big thumbs up from the lads over at The Evening Echo. They published an article on the Tuesday evening of RAG, summing up the proceedings thus far with “a few incidents, but mostly well behaved”, which, in comparison to almost every other article published around Cork RAG in recent years, can roughly be translated to “Cork students shine during RAG Week, with zero reports of Hillbillies’ chicken tenders being thrown at the back of Gardas’ heads”. Understandably, RAG has garnered somewhat of a distasteful name for itself over the years. In the eyes of many local residents, the media, and even some UCC students, the week resembles nothing more than a concentrated storm of drunken chaos and disturbance.
A quick Google news search for “UCC Rag Week” reveals an absolute storm of articles from recent years, with almost every single one condemning the annual event and the students involved. The entire first page of News results reveals not even one headline that mentions RAG with even a hint of positivity. It would be naïve to try and claim that these furious takedowns of RAG are unjustified, or even wrong. Despite having charity at its core, RAG Week is synonymous with drinking, drugs, and sessions for a sizeable portion of UCC students. It doesn’t sound great when put so bluntly, but that’s just the way it is. The acronymic ‘Raise and Give’, for some, is absolutely lost, with the symbolic withering and wasting of one’s condition to rags throughout the week perhaps taking its place. All of these things are true (although to what extent is arguable), and I’m sure you’ve already heard them a thousand times.
The RAG Week student-bashing is a long-running trend in Cork, and across the nation at large. A lot of it is understandable, and as someone who is involved in Journalism myself, I fully concede that when someone does throw a chicken tender at a Garda’s head, it’s probably a good idea to write about it. RAG week is a messy time. A lot of students go out, get drunk, and end up doing stupid – and sometimes illegal – things. These things happen, and we know it because we’ve been told the exact same story by every media outlet across the nation. But, do you know what else happens during RAG week? A shit-load of money gets raised for charity. This year, the Students Union, along with the help of volunteers and generous donators, are raising money for Jigsaw, The Cork Life Centre, and Homeless Help & Support Cork. A number of the events taking place across the week will be sending proceeds directly to each of these brilliant causes, along with various conventional charity collections taking place around campus. Historically, the RAG campaign has always culminated in a surplus of €20,000 being raised and divided between the three chosen charities for that year. Surely this begs the question, why isn’t this side of RAG week given more representation in the media? Why aren’t the Neil Prendevilles and the Echoes and whoever else – even for a second – acknowledging the immense positivity and good will that is produced by Cork RAG week proceedings? It’s almost as if bashing and vilifying students is deemed more important than the €20,000 that we raise as a collective, every single year. It is widely known that RAG week is far from perfect. It comes with a lot of negatives – a lot of drunken debauchery and disorderly conduct. But I would argue that RAG week has positives that outshine the negatives in both quality and quantity. Yet, it’s representation in the media remains almost comically biased and imbalanced.
As mentioned previously, a Google News search for “UCC Rag Week” turns up a full wall of article headlines speaking negatively of RAG week. Astounded by this result, I decide to go on a hunt for an article which praises the charitable and altruistic nature of RAG week. It proves to be a more difficult task than I had anticipated, but one article eventually does turn up. It’s an Irish Times article, with the slightly confusing title (notice the British currency symbol) of “UCC Rag Week to top £25,000”. The article is short and sweet, briefly celebrating the massive amount of money raised by UCC students for the three respective charities endorsed by the RAG campaign that year. The pound sign in the headline obviously confuses me. Clearly, it should be a Euro symbol, and I’m certain that the Times hasn’t plummeted to such levels of apathy that they’d fail to correct themselves in using the wrong currency symbol for a headline. So, I click on the article, and realise that there’s no mistake at all. The author was fully correct in their choice of currency sign, because – and I kid you not – the article was published in 1999. Yes, you read that right: The one and only article that I was able to find speaking about the positive effects of UCC RAG week was published when I was literally three months old. I don’t know whether to laugh or cry at such a stunningly weird yet appallingly insane fact. Of course, I can’t say for certain that other articles have not been published which speak positively of RAG. The University Express, of course, has pumped out its fair share of constructive RAG-related articles over the years. However, when it comes to ‘mainstream media’ – the big publishers and broadcasters working in Ireland today – you would, quite literally in my case, have to wait an entire lifetime before hearing them talk about RAG in a good light.
This isn’t exactly a pressing, or even important issue. The media has been reporting exceedingly negatively on RAG week for years, and I’m certain that they’ll continue to report on it in the exact same way for many years to come. Sensationalism – painting students in a bad light, gets clicks; It gets listeners, and that’s the bottom line. Why would anyone want to hear about the money that UCC students have raised for various charities, when they can tune into Neil Prendeville and hear about how a group ‘feckin’ students’ ran across Patrick Street in front of traffic and almost gave poor old Maureen from Ballincollig a heart-attack on her way home from work. As long as a public appetite to vilify students and perpetuate negative stereotypes around them exists, the admirable charity work done by them throughout the year – and especially throughout RAG week – will be forgotten about, swept under the rug, and buried deeper in the ever-growing swamp of negative press.