Taking charge of our campus

 
 

With more society posters criticised for lewd imagery, Farouq Manji asks if students can learn to regulate themselves

SCANTILY-CLAD WOMEN everywhere; suggestive poses; oiled skin; seductive interplay of light and shadow to create a sensual image… oh, and please attend the debate on the objectification of women in modern society, etc. You may see a few dozen of these posters in front of the James Joyce Library as you emerge from the smoke-cloud beset upon its front steps.

Most people who find these images disagreeable, do so because they feel such posters don’t belong in the corridors of an institute of higher learning. To some, however, they represent a deeper and more systemic problem in the student-governance of our university.

It is said that the evolution of higher consciousness requires the development of self-awareness. This leads to the ability to reflect, to exercise more control, and take more responsibility for our actions. Our student body – a thriving, changing organism – should be expected to evolve in the same way.

Too often in the recent past we have neglected to exercise self-awareness beyond the simple scope of a token debate or rally. The time is ripe for students to take responsibility for their own actions, yet we continue to let these opportunities slip by.

The annual back-and-forth over society posters is a prime example. For years our student governance has had the chance to step in and institute a poster-checking policy, where before anything can be posted in a public area, an appropriate official could veto it. An offending party (be it a club, society or business) could be fined, or banned from posting again.

“Should we wait until a poster really upsets someone, the national media get involved, and the UCD administration fill this regulatory role instead?”

This isn’t about free speech, it’s about students governing students. Should we wait until a poster really upsets someone, the national media get involved, and the UCD administration fill this regulatory role instead – thus quashing yet more student autonomy?

This is simply one example of the lack of self-responsibility of our student body. The sale of cigarettes on campus is another. We sell Fair Trade coffee, organic fruit, recycled paper, and we banned Nestlé and Coca-Cola – yet implicitly endorse smoking!

As a student body we have the ability to control our own destiny, to set ourselves upon a path of intellect, ethic and principle. We have unlimited opportunities to illustrate that our moral compass points true – but neglect to do so.

I know the free speech/will/the-dolphins brigades will find this abhorrent, but implementing ethical policies takes nothing away from a student’s free will, nor is it paternalistic in nature. They are simply steps towards students taking responsibility for their own actions.

With ambition, vision, and courage, we could begin building a distinct student voice within campus. The significant principle exhibited by a small act like taking control of posters could be extrapolated to a far greater extent.

Students host many events around campus every year, and people misbehave at every single one of them. Just as with the posters, we are content to sit back and allow UCD itself mete out punishment. This is not to imply that UCD are unfair or unjust – but wouldn’t a student-centred, student-operated discipline programme be much better?

I’m not speaking of simply banning a student from the Forum Bar for a semester; this goes beyond simple discipline. If students could implement formal peer-driven discipline, we could create a distinctly unique, transparent, open process to deal with misbehaviour. The benefits of self-regulation would be astronomical. Rather than an arbitrary ruling, a student would face a jury of their peers, better understand the significance of their actions, and accept a decision far more readily.

The development of self-regulatory systems would make our student body more autonomous, and give us more power over our own affairs – and ultimately, would enhance our position on campus around the decision-making tables.

Of course the ideas expressed here would take years to implement – but that should be a motivating factor, not a deterrent. We must start somewhere, anywhere; perhaps posters are the perfect place.

If we can do posters, maybe we can do more. We can grow, change, evolve. Twenty years from now, the political atmosphere on this campus could be very different – with a robust, influential and powerful student government, but it starts with today, and us, becoming aware.

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