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Who Cares About the Student Union Anyway?

An epidemic of ambivalence has spread throughout UCD campus over the last few years, with UCD students feeling completely .disengaged with their Student Union. Very few people vote in SU elections, and participation in SU events is wildly variable, with a general downward trajectory. Like myself, many students feel voting for any particular candidate will have very little effect on the daily running of campus. At times, it appears like the Student Union exists to make students feel like they have representation, despite being somewhat powerless to the trajectory set by UCD’s Board of Directors. SU sabbaticals hold positions on several important UCD management boards, however they are outnumbered by more conservative board members in most of these. 

 I was a class rep from 2018 to 2019, and was briefly Environmental Campaign Coordinator before resigning in September 2019. I witnessed the disorganization of 2018’s union firsthand, and in slow-motion due to the glacial pace of most council meetings. It was while in these council meetings, I discovered the cynicism that many UCD students seem to have for their union: That they spend a lot of time talking, and focusing on frivolity as opposed to seriously representing student needs on campus. Additionally, I found myself  frustrated with the continuous introduction and discussion of new motions, while older motions were never addressed or fulfilled. Though motions are treated seriously while in council, the union often fails to follow through on them. 

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As a first year class rep, I initially found myself delighted with the notion of making a difference on campus. However, three years later, virtually nothing has changed for the better, and UCD on the whole is becoming increasingly hostile to lower-income students, in order to attract more international students with flashy recreation amenities and expensive sports facilities. A 2019 Journal report found that only 5% of UCD students come from a disadvantaged background, while 34%  come from an affluent background. This is symptomatic of a university that is intentionally becoming less accessible to poorer students, while increasing spending on vanity projects like the Alumni bar, the new President’s office, and an additional extension to the student center. The SU are not rallying the students to take back our education from commodification, and are not visibly fighting to make UCD more accessible to lower income students. They seem to be more concerned talking at length about motions that will never be fulfilled, and occasionally offering someone a free condom or coffee. 

The Union can be accused of valuing frivolity over student need. For example, hours of council time was spent discussing the notorious Ice Cream World Record Event. Furthermore, the union was functioning at extremely limited capacity in the run up to the event. Seeing the sheer amount of money that was spent on that event, produced a pretty intense feeling of resentment for some. While students are going to bed hungry, in order to pay for the high student levy, cripplingly high rents, library fines, and repeat fees, the SU chose to take the money allotted to them and bring us one serving of Ice Cream that we had to wait for 30 minutes to receive. Though behind the scenes, sabbatical officers working on student cases do mammoth work, the most visible achievements of the Student Union involve doing business with multinational corporations to sell products to the captive student audience. However as the Student Union relies on these corporations to pay for their operation costs, they seem to no longer represent the students when it comes to business, as we saw with the “Pretty Little Thing” event in 2019. 

When facing the reality that UCD is hellbent on becoming less and less accessible to lower income students, and the continuous failure of the SU to fight back against this, I wonder if it was ever really worth caring about the Student Union in the first place at all? 

 

Lisa Frank Murnane – Opinion Writer

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