As some SU representatives experience their first bouts of online criticism, Kate Rothwell examines the difference between constructive and crass critiquing
This year has already come to the inevitable point when sabbatical officers are coming under fire for promises that, for whatever reasons, have not been fulfilled. Stephen Darcy has been subject to harsh criticism after two, or approximately one and half, acts failed to perform at the ‘Cheesefest’ concert last month. Some of the students who voiced their disappointment on the Ents Facebook page complained that the compensation of a five Euro refund or two six Euro drinks tokens on the night was not adequate, and that a full refund or a guarantee of admission to the promised follow-up show should instead have been offered. Others resorted merely to name-calling.
The crude insults that come alongside genuine complaints and constructive comments are unavoidable in all walks of life, but access to internet forums and Facebook pages have invited an unfortunate deluge of the former rather than the latter. Former Entertainment Officer Jonny Cosgrove received a similar backlash during the furore surrounding last year’s UCD Ball, however given the greater number of students who felt hard done by, his online ordeal was of a more extreme nature and the comments were also painfully personal.
The internet boasts endless advantages for anyone wishing to communicate with the public, but it is also a distinctly double-edged sword. Anyone promoting a society or event to the UCD student body must be fully confident in the quality of whatever they are bringing to their attention, as any flaws or unfavourable aspects will soon be pointed out by the many critical eyes online, and a personal insult or two may be thrown in for good measure. Those without a suitably thick skin would be better off not putting themselves out there.
Of course if you put yourself in the public eye, then you have to be prepared to take the eventual criticism that is destined to come your way. Some of it will be deserved, some of it will not. Yet there is no doubt that many students take on sabbatical or extra-curricular positions without quite realising the intensity of the job that they have taken on. Just last week Stephen Darcy admitted that he didn’t realise how much criticism of Ents would have an impact on him personally, while Student Union President Pat de Brún acknowledged that he is finding his second sabbatical year “extremely challenging” and has had to put some planned projects on the long finger as a result of financial restructuring taking up more of his time than he had originally anticipated.
Yet there is a different sort of demand upon those who take on high-ranking positions within societies or the Students’ Union while still studying; they must balance their studies alongside their extra-curricular responsibilities. Getting involved in a society or club at UCD can be the most enriching element of a student’s college life, but it can also lead to the most stressful times of the year becoming even more acutely pressured.
Poor exam results are a disappointment only for a student themselves, or at most also for their parents and perhaps a particularly concerned tutor. When a society event or SU initiative fails to go as planned or receives a poor reception however, there is the potential to disappoint tens, hundreds or even thousands of students. There is also often the legacy of revered predecessors to live up to; auditors who managed to secure notably renowned speakers, captains who brought their teams to new levels of success, SU officers who championed national campaigns. This is not to say that the pressure of extra-curricular activities is greater than a student’s academic obligations, but it does entail a different, and perhaps unanticipated, sense of expectation.
Our Students’ Union, societies and clubs can only continue to succeed and improve with both the devotion of those who dedicate themselves to these organisations, and the continued surveillance of the student body’s critical eye. Criticism can be constructive, and is undeniably necessary, but those who are tempted to voice their discontent in a crude manner should first consider if their comments will do anything to improve the situation they disapprove of, or if it would be more productive to simply get involved and attempt to make the necessary changes themselves. Those who reach the highest echelons of non-academic activities however, must also consider whether they really are prepared and able to commit themselves to what can be the most demanding, but also most rewarding tasks that they may encounter during their time at university.