The Students’ Union Elections and real student power
This year’s Sabbatical elections raise some interesting questions and their results will go some way towards revealing whether UCDSU is truly representative of the student body
Let’s be clear, The Students’ Union is – at least to a certain extent – a clique, as has been claimed by some students recently. However, to suggest it is different to any other entity in UCD seems slightly unfair.
A clique is defined as “a small exclusive groups of friends or associates”. Even the staunchest SU Officer would be hard-pressed to deny that this is not a legitimate description of their current status.
In order to make an impact and acquire a position as a Sabbatical Officer, it can be assumed that certain skills – oratorical competence, friendliness, and political nous – are imperative. Consequently, like most coveted positions, there is a certain degree of exclusivity attached to the role. Not just anyone can become a Sabbatical Officer.
Yet complaints about the SU being an ‘old boys club’ (both literally and figuratively) cannot be easily dismissed. Essentially, the underlying problem, which leads some to question the credibility of the Students’ Union, is inextricably linked with the issue of student voting.
Last year, roughly 4,300 students voted in the SU Elections – a paltry figure and one that amounted to a turnout which was 20 per cent less than the previous year. Admittedly, this can be partly attributed to the fact that three of the Sabbatical positions last year were uncontested. However, to extrapolate the implications of the aforementioned figures, as part of a feature investigating students’ attitudes towards the Union, our reporter had to go out of her way to find and interview students who genuinely seemed to care about its workings.
Moreover, many of those who do vote can hardly be said to be doing so with the interests of the student body in mind. Anyone who has ever walked through buildings in Science or Arts on voting day knows the level of farce that often characterises proceedings.
Some students vote purely out of personal allegiance to the candidate (or someone on their campaign team), while campaigners hassling students until they relent and somewhat reluctantly vote for the candidate in question is another common practice. All of which underpins the broad student apathy that in turn brings into question the relevance of the Union.
If UCDSU is truly worthy of the praise that it often lavishes upon itself, if it truly is “the best Students’ Union in the country,” as has been claimed, then surely a concerted effort must be made to discourage elitism, to actively promote political engagement and to ensure the voter turnout increases substantially in the forthcoming elections. Its credibility as an organisation depends on it.
And regardless of how many posters, manifestos or cheesy online videos which candidates promulgate, the ultimate success or failure of next year’s SU lies with you, the student. Therefore, it is imperative to think carefully before registering your vote. Students only have themselves to blame for the general disillusionment that arguably exists with the status quo. And the only way to alleviate this frustration is to scrutinise the manifestos, pay attention to the campus media, and question the campaigners.
And while last year’s voting turnout was alarmingly low, there remains legitimate scope for optimism this year. For instance, there are 14 candidates actively running in this year’s Students’ Union Elections – precisely double the amount of candidates that ran last year, a figure which would have been even higher had a series of technicalities not reduced the overall number.
Incredibly, no woman has been elected into the SU since 2007. However, there are now a record number of women running, while they will be represented in at least one of the positions unless the RON (Re-Open Nominations) vote intervenes. The elections thus represent a vast opportunity to achieve gender equality in student representation.
Lastly, the record numbers of those voting in the recent general election – including a significantly high portion of young people – creates further cause for optimism. If university is a microcosm of society, then surely this trend will be mirrored over the next few days.
Yet the choice, as ever, solely remains with all the students to vote to achieve a truly representative student body.
UCD, binge drinking and student alienation
The lack of a vibrant community spirit and social awkwardness of many UCD students is masked by a tacit acceptance of binge drinking in UCD. Such attitudes ultimately prove detrimental to students’ overall quality of life and university experiences
Is UCD a welcoming place? This was one of the questions that The University Observer asked the candidates for Welfare Officer during our Sabbatical interviews this issue and the general consensus was that room for improvement existed in this area.
UCD can be a haven for social hermits. Too many students are content to blend in with the scenery for the duration of their degree until the requisite time passes and they are at last permitted to escape its confines. Alternatively, the weight of social exclusion sometimes becomes too heavy a burden to bear, and they elect to drop out owing to the intensity of their loneliness and disenfranchisement with university life. According to cliché, university is one of the best times of a person’s life, but for some, it amounts to years of painstaking torture.
Moreover, the Irish are a notoriously repressed race. And such attitudes have been sustained from generation to generation. However, university should serve as a counterpoint to this shortcoming. Students need to serve as role models for the rest of the country by nurturing camaraderie between one another.
At the moment, UCD is anything but a vibrant environment. It is a sleeping giant whereby the number of students attending lectures, involving themselves in societies and voting in student elections is disconcertingly low.
Part of the problem is the seemingly inextricable links between college and alcohol. Excessive student drinking remains prevalent and there is a widespread tolerance of the status quo. Many societies in UCD amount to little more than glorified drinking clubs, and students’ ambivalent attitudes towards binge drinking are currently typified by the fact that more than one of the candidates’ manifestos in the upcoming SU Elections seems at best to make light of binge drinking.
However, binge drinking should be treated as another social disease, not as a hilariously unfortunate circumstance which people finds themselves in from time to time, or as an essential part of social interaction in college life.
While there have been token efforts to address this problem, most students continue to engage in it, if statistics are to be believed. According to a report in The Irish Times last November, 45 per cent of students go binge drinking at least once a week on average. And despite this eye-opening evidence, SU candidates interviewed by The University Observer, while acknowledging its pitfalls, seldom highlighted the issue as one of their key priorities to be tackled.
This sense of expectancy in which ‘getting wasted’ is a rite of passage in the college experience is a one of the subversive problems with Irish university life. It leads to a number of other problems also.
Alcohol is a depressant. It therefore imbues some students with a temporary escape from reality. It induces in them a sense of laziness, which causes them to attend lectures irregularly, or to sit passively in front of the television whilst nursing their hangovers when they could be achieving self-fulfilment in a broader context. It is one of the reasons for the high suicide rate among young people in this country and it has also led directly to the unnecessary deaths of many, in cases where innocent drinking games have ended in tragedy.
Last November for instance, The Irish Times reported on the death of a UCC student who had “downed a large quantity of vodka in one slug for a dare at a party in his student flat”. It is this groupthink mentality, whereby it is reasonable to treat drinking as a sport and in which fun and social interaction are believed to be fostered by copious consumption of alcohol, which constitutes one of the few remaining widespread taboos in our society that date back to pre-Celtic Tiger Ireland.
Perhaps the incoming Welfare Officer will make further efforts to tackle this problem or perhaps the college and the country as a whole will continue to quietly ignore this issue. One matter is certain however, SU candidates jokey references to being passed out “on your neighbour’s bathroom floor” is at best irresponsible and at worst, highly insensitive to the feelings of those who have experienced the perils of alcoholism first hand.
The incoming Welfare Officer needs to address this binge culture, as failing to do so undermines the credibility of this important position and makes a joke of the entire Students’ Union.
Quotes of the Fortnight: SU Election Special
I got into the fashion show, so it’s definitely open to everyone.
Ents candidate, Stephen Darcy, rejects claims that the UCD Fashion Show is in any way exclusive.
I’ll be the kind of welfare officer that you can ring at any point in the day. If you’re stuck out in Balbriggan, and you need a lift, if you’re in danger, I’ll be there for you.
Welfare candidate, Lorna Danaher, outlines the lengths she is willing to go to in order to help students.
You sign up at Freshers’ Week.
Ents candidate, Robert Manning, responds to the question of how you become a member of UCDSU.
The Observer’s great!
Welfare candidate, Regina Brady, does not in any way trying to influence our analysis of her.
My manifesto’s a comic book.
Ents candidate, Darragh Kinsella, responds to the question of what distinguishes his candidacy.
As for education, I don’t even know who’s running anymore – it’s so confusing.
Ents candidate, Edel Ni Churraoin, sums up the general feeling surrounding the Education race.