UCL has been buried in white. But the snow, for good or evil, has not returned to us. No, instead it is election season at University College London Union (UCLU) and more posters cover the walls than there are students likely to vote. The UCLU election is the vital tool for students to have their say in the way their Union – and even their University – is run. So, why are so many students utterly apathetic towards student politics? Are students right to believe that the elections have nothing to do with them and that there is such a thing as an irrelevant vote? Has the MPs’ expenses scandal obliterated students’ trust of politicians from any department and from any faculty!? No. Too often, we students fail to give credit where credit is due, and the plethora of services that UCLU offer are invaluable. Further, politics within the Union and within political societies help to engage those youths of today to, if not take a more active role, at least keep track of politics on a national level. Knowing what’s going on is always a nice part of democracy.
Student politics are often sneered at, both by students and by other commentators. Seen as pointless and a mere exercise in ego-massaging, student politics are ignored by the vast majority of students, with such poor turnouts that some question whether the winners can even be seen as legitimately representative. However, this ignores the fact that we don’t have quorums, and leads to an acceptance of ‘Ah well, what can y’do!’ in the style of a mother, hands on hips, looking lovingly at the wayward child crossing the highway. Why is it seen as logical to be apathetic to apathy? Fortunately, many of the candidates for UCLU elections are putting a lot of effort into engaging with students, but there’s always the fear that, following the announcements, visibility will sink away.
Think of the Union as a benevolent iceberg: you see a bit of it, but most is under the surface; but this iceberg will wave cheerily at the student-ship, easing and helping it along the way. If asked what the Union does, people are likely to mention the four cafes, the three pubs, the gym, and the clubs and societies catering to the bizarre (UCLU Liberal Democrats) and the wonderful (UCLU Chocolate Society). The above things are only what we most clearly see of what the Union does for us; they are what make our UCL experience much more enjoyably worthwhile. However, this is only the tip of the benevolent iceberg that is the Union. Whilst our time at university is made much more fulfilling and better with our involvement in societies and the other things that we are offered, student politics and, through it, the Union are essential in the other aspects of our university experience.
Student politics are essential for making sure that the right person gets into the jobs that are important to students. Manifestos will express clear aims for their time in office, and we have the right to see in which direction we will be taken. Take the raging debate over the role of Women’s Officer: the election race has turned into a question over both the validity of the position, and whether a man can speak for women (which seems a touch too patriarchal for me). Either way, it’s raised some tempers and got more people involved in the political debate on the issue. Pi Online has several articles on the issue, so make sure to read them and get involved with the debate. The Women’s Officer is only one of multiple hugely important roles, designed to make some students’ lives that bit easier.
Moreover, political societies enable students to get involved more closely with matters that they feel passionate about and wish to change. These societies offer a light entrance point to wider political involvement, as we see from the presidents of both UCLU Labour and UCLU Conservatives running for full-time sabbatical positions within the Union. On the lower levels, however, student politics offer networking opportunities, as well as helping to develop opinions, ultimately leading to a healthier, more vibrant political debate on campus and beyond.
In a world still claimed by men in grey suits, student politics and representation encourage and enable more people to stand up earlier, in their student days, and start making a difference to their societies. Student politics, influencing our academics, our welfare, our social lives, are not something that we can ignore; they are something that we should scream about. So, get on board that ship of student-dom and welcome that benevolent iceberg: vote!