Following NUI Galway’s cancellation of this year’s RAG week, Westley Barnes examines how entertainment and welfare can be balanced
Rag Week has long been regarded as a rite-of-passage into university society for many students across the country. The events of any given Rag Week throughout our nation’s campuses bear the same contradictory but widely accepted hallmarks; charitable in theory, but often rowdy and occasionally disruptive in reality. However, the old adage ‘charity begins at home’ took on a new meaning for UCD’s western contemporaries NUI Galway recently, when NUIG SU president Emmet Connolly confirmed that he and his fellow officers had been successful in brokering a deal with NUI authorities whereby the University would be awarding 60,000 euro to the Student Assistance Fund as means of concession for the SU’s agreement to cancel all Rag Week events.
NUIG SU President Emmet Connolly discussed the obvious benefits which have emerged as a result of the cancellation and explained how the negative associations which Rag Week had provoked through recent years served as the genesis for the decision.
“The University have wanted to get rid of Rag Week for the past three or four years, but we weren’t going to give it up for nothing,” Connolly explains. “That would obviously have made for poor negotiation on our behalf. So we decided to think of some concessions that could replace the benefits of having a Rag Week, and the one all of our Students’ Union agreed on was distributing money to the Student Assistance Fund.”
Connolly didn’t need to look far for the inspiration behind this move, as an urgent need to provide financial assistance was in evidence within the most disadvantaged sectors of the students he represented. “The main reason behind this decision was that NUI Galway has the highest percentage of students who depend on grants to pay for their education amongst all Irish universities.” Connolly asserts that offering financial assistance to the economically disadvantaged students which the SU represented was therefore of more importance than organising student revelry events in aid of charities which existed outside the college. “Seeing as our university community represents people from a series of different socio-economic backgrounds it was our aim to focus the funds we were now receiving … towards a section that our students could hopefully benefit from”.
At the heart of the resolution lies a public relations victory, as Connolly admits that the greatest relief to come from the move was the fact the NUIG SU would no longer be affiliated with the negative press surrounding previous Rag Weeks. “The problem wasn’t really concerning the logistics of organising Rag Week or anything like that. We just found that the reputational damage that Rag Week was doing to the University and to the students’ degrees was becoming unjustifiable given the concept’s original intentions.”
In reaction to the developments of NUIG SU’s Rag Week’s cancellation UCDSU President Pat de Brún first discusses the initial plans for next semester’s Rag Week events. “Plans for Rag Week 2012 have not yet been finalised. It is to be held in Semester Two and all proceeds from the week’s events will go to charity. The charity has not yet been chosen, but last year the chosen charity was the ‘UCD Community Reachout Fund’, which gave money to disadvantaged projects in the local area.”
The charitable focus of UCDSU’s Rag Week therefore parallels the intentions of NUIG SU’s, and de Brún shows no intention of changing the format. When asked of his reaction towards NUIG SU’s steps in removing Rag Week from their calendar, de Brún conveys scepticism about removing what he sees as a positive undertaking on the part of Students’ Union. “I commend NUIG SU for their commitment to student welfare, but the decision appears to be a strange one to me. If anything it would make sense to go ahead with the week’s events and then give all the profits to the welfare fund. Rag week is a charity event and therefore raises money.”
Rag Week in recent years has included mainly nightclub and society events targeting very specific groups, so that many students seem not to be enticed or have any interest in attending activities. So how relevant can the traditional tomfoolery-in-aid-of-a-worthy-cause approach remain? De Brún acknowledges this concern. “The week itself has never really taken off in UCD for a variety of reasons, particularly the size of the campus, along with the existence of the various charity faculty day events, which are hugely successful.”
De Brún hopes for continued student interest in the University’s Rag Week Campaign. “I would love to see more people get involved with Rag Week and I do hope it is successful this year. If I thought for a second that not holding Rag Week would save money for student welfare, I would be opposed to [Rag Week]. The only reason I’m supportive of it is because it has the potential to make more money for charity and student welfare.”
The re-evaluation of what is less commonly known as ‘Raise and Give’ or ‘Raise a Grand’ Week