Friday, 16 March 2012

Election Night.

Today was the annual student union elections. It's been a low key build up this year with candidates only allowed to begin their campaigns on Monday. Whilst this may have meant the process has been contained and well managed, it's also been less colourful and imaginative than in recent years. The turnout, however, was up which has to be a good thing.

I took part in the count, which saw Charlie Benson elected as President and Luke Allen take on the Athletics Union post. Both apparently where very impressive at Tuesday's hustings and seemed delighted to be elected.

The only concern I have about the process is that despite being a University where over two thirds of our students are women, all of the fourteen candidates who put themselves up for election onto the executive were men.

Perhaps this reflects the way in which Politics has been traditionally played out in the UK but it is a shame, nonetheless. In the six years I've been at St Mary's we may have had three women SU Presidents, but we've not had a woman run the Athletics Union.

Locally this might be to do with the boysy atmosphere that pervades the Union building, where despite some good work in recent years, sports clubs still dominate. Most people see it as a hedonistic place, somewhere to fuel up on a Monday or Wednesday before the subsidised buses take everybody off to get further tonked at Oceana or McCluskys in Kingston and the primary job of the elected executive seems to be to ensure that this party culture continues. The gender roles in this set up are clear, defined and unchallenged.

So what? You might say. The Union belongs to the students. It's up to them to manage it in the way they chose and up to a point I agree. But my feeling is that we, as a University tacitly support the tribalism and binge drinking in the way that we structure our own data gathering procedures. We're very happy to ask for tokenistic student opinion or ask focus groups to contribute soundbites to committee work and policy documents, but we don't let students chair any of those committees or prepare serious recommendations. Were we to promote a higher level of responsibility for the Union we might just see some more serious politicians, of either sex, emerge.

Students are in real need of a strong voice as the new fee regime comes in and the College moves from 15 to 20 credit modules. The decisions being made now will effect the community here for many years to come. I wish Charlie and Luke all the best and hope they'll be able to use their time in office to continue to expand the Union's remit.

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