The Students’ Union (SU) Elections are right around the corner, and with voting happening online for the first time in the organisation’s history, we decided to ask why you should bother with the whole thing. Registration, which closes on April 24th, is necessary to be eligible to vote on polling days. Here to tell you why you should and shouldn’t bother voting, is Joanna Siewierska, this year’s SU President, and Aaron Bowman, last year’s Co-Editor of the Tribune.
Why Should You Care?
Siewierska: The Students’ Union is the recognised representative of student voice on our campus. Whether you know everything about it, or never engage with it at all, it’s work affects all students. And its potential to achieve positive change for students is incredible! But it needs your input, in order to realise it.
Bowman: Weeks late and in the mists of the bigger crisis many students have ever experienced in their lives, the Students’ Union is desperately trying to get you to care about its annual popularity contest. For a politics student and former Editor of the College Tribune it may be an odd stance to take, but SU elections really don’t matter. For one, everyone running has more or less the same ideas and those that try to think up something new generally run so far beyond the realm of possibility that you’d think they were running to be a Government TD.
Why Should You Vote?
Siewierska: The SU is independent of the University and its only prerogative is to do right by the students. How this plays out in practice depends on who is in the driving seat of the SU – and this decision is directly in your hands, as the students of UCD.
Bowman: Secondly you may notice that just about every candidate could be classified as an “hack” or “insider”. Just about every candidate running either currently holds a position in the SU or has been involved in every major SU campaign this year. Being knowledgeable about the institution you are running for isn’t a bad thing, but it does mean that you tend to have a stake in the existing structure, faults and all. This might explain why nearly nothing seemed to change in how the SU has approached things in the last few years, everyone running the show came up through the system.
What Can Your Voice Do In This Election?
Siewierska: Your vote matters because the SU is a democratic organisation and the stronger it is, the greater the power it can yield against management when their decisions go against the best interest of students. Just look at what 6,000 signatures and over 4.5k students mobilising online delivered, in terms of pushing rigorous exam and grading support for students during COVID-19. The success of that campaign came down to two factors – strong student turn out, and SU action representing that voice with top management. It’s a simple formula. Big numbers and confident representatives, equal results. But for this to work, we need a strong mandate to put the incoming sabbatical team on firm ground to represent you into the next academic year. You have the opportunity to vote for people who will continue to stand up for you for the year ahead.
Bowman: In fact, the biggest change to the approach the SU has taken to the University was caused by an outside group, one the SU has now very successfully co-opted by having its members seek office. Our Students’ Union can be important, but the function it fills for students will, in providing a means of communicating with the University, still be filled no matter who is running the show. The structures that enable the SU to fulfil this function won’t change no matter who is elected.
Siewierska: The future of the SU and how much power the voice of students will have in UCD is in your hands. If you believe that we need powerful advocates to ensure that students’ interests come first in UCD, then take part in the elections. It’s the greatest act of solidarity with other students and faith in your rights that you can make.
Hitting Back At Each Other:
Joanna preaches about how the Union is a democratic organisation, while wilfully glossing over the fact that most of its races are uncontested races or have no candidates at all. What does it say about the strength of an organization that it can’t even get members to run for officer roles to continue that organizations work?
Even beyond that, she encourages students to engage with the Union while at the same time the Union has taken the unprecedented step of requiring additional steps for voters to register this year. You can’t expect people to engage with you while simultaneously making it more difficult!
Finally, she speaks about the importance of people power. It would be important to note the successful example she highlights (the No Detriment Policy) actually formed completely independent of the SU, as did Fix our Education. If we need people power, we’ve proven that can exist without the SU.
Those are rich comments coming from the former Editor of a paper that gave the President of UCD a warm four-page spread, ignoring how he championed increasing rents, vanity projects and spending more on luxury flights than on the entire student mental health service.
If this year showed anything, it was that change can happen in the current structures, but students need fighters to push for it! If it made no difference who ‘ran the show’, we wouldn’t have impeached Katie Ascough.
Why did UCD management choose to increase rents by the maximum amount possible, and do it mid-semester? Why not do it over the summer to avoid protests and bad media? Because they were not afraid!
As far as management is concerned, students are tokens in financial decision making. This must stop, and the only way it can is if students demonstrate that they care about meaningful participation in decisions. Show them that you are paying attention to who will represent and fight for you. Register and vote!
Joanna Siewierska – Students’ Union President
Aaron Bowman – Former Tribune Editor