Heading back to UCD, you may reflect on the various changes the college has seen over the last few years. There have been some developments even since we left for Christmas. Complaints about the library that dominated semester one have been more or less solved. Long time criticisms about the lack of textbooks, and out of date materials have been aided by a one million euro injection by the college and after much protesting, there will be a return to seven-day library openings. Things are also looking up regarding the Students’ Union’s financial problems with reports that both the shops and the Union as a whole have begun to be profitable again. The Gym has opened a new gym to solve problems which arose from restricting access to students at peak times after work and class hours, to make way for paying customers. They’ve even dropped the charge for the popular ‘Get in Gear’ program to give students free access to fitness classes.
But despite this, it still feels like many areas of student life here have been in decline. One of the most attractive elements of a large university such as UCD is the promise of a vibrant social and extracurricular life. The hundreds of clubs and societies and the new Student Centre are a badge of honour for the University. While societies should be better than ever with their new home, things just seems to have gone off the boil somewhat. Attendance at events and debates has reportedly been dropping steadily, and social activity as a whole has almost crumbled.
There are a few reasons this could be. Perhaps it’s that now that all events are relegated to the Student Centre at the opposite end of campus to most people, or at least to the Arts Block and the library, people can’t be bothered going over. As a former Arts student, this seems very likely. I skipped events because they were on 30 minutes later than I originally thought and waiting was too much hassle.
That could just be me, but it’s unlikely; students have been lazy since the invention of tertiary education. Events have always required you to bring yourself at least to an adjacent room and societies have historically thrived. Furthermore, the sports clubs are doing well and that involves some manner of exertion. The more likely culprit for the decline in UCD social life is the closure of the bars. While not wanting to perpetrate the idea of the Irish fondness for alcohol, however blatantly true it may be, the bars really just gave us an ideal venue for any sort of casual social gathering. Very organised events are actually not that easy to get to know people in, at first. For example, if you go to a debate, you will just be sitting in a room-watching people talk at you. It was the post-debate sojourn to the bar that allowed people to make friends. Once you know a few people in an organisation, even just as acquaintances, getting more involved with the society is not intimidating.
I have found the lack of bars on campus a huge problem this year. While promises of re-openings have been constant, it seems clear now that it won’t happen this year. Following the receivership of the builders working on the Forum Bar in August, the University has only just found a company to start working on it again and the plans to reopen the Student Club for events has received another devastating setback recently. This has been a dry academic year, and all UCD groups have felt the blow, even us.
The University Observer unfortunately lacks the natural sociability of most societies. I didn’t make friends at the paper until I became a sub-editor, a whole year after I started writing. With email and Facebook it has become completely possible to be one of our best writers and never have stepped into the office. Most editorial teams strive to make the paper more social, but it’s actually much more difficult than you would expect, especially this year. With no bars, and with casual drinks in the office now a chucking-out offence, the options are either book a room with an alcohol license so you can provide a maximum of two drinks of weak beer to people before leaving at 10.45; or go to town. Neither option is ideal. For someone wanting to get more involved in a society or group but who doesn’t know anyone that well, going into town to hope to meet up with them needs a lot of courage. Courage I don’t even think I have now, never mind as a first year.
This trend has become more worrying with the news this week that the UCD Ball may be in trouble. The running track has been ruled out as a site for the event, and little effort is being made by the University to suggest an alternative. The Gardai are concerned about drinking at the Ball, which tends to be quite high. I imagine it will be even higher this year should the ball go ahead considering it’s the first time people will have been able to purchase a drink on-campus since the year before. If the UCD Ball 2013 cannot go ahead or needs to be moved off campus, it will be the death knell for UCD’s social side.
Although not the reason we are here, the social side of college is much more important than it seems UCD realise. The things people remember about their time in college are not the lectures and tutorials, it not exams (other than the man who makes announcements in the RDS, he is memorable), it’s the people they meet and the passions they find that have nothing to do with their degree. And it seems, as per our stereotype, students’ passions dim without out a bar.