Presidential candidate Louis Jacques presents his agenda for the 2021 KCLSU Spring Election.
I was extremely proud to get into King’s. I remember my results day, and I remember seeing my grades and instantly making the connection in my mind that I was in. No more hoops to jump through, no more work to do. Next stop London.
I’m not going to sit here and write about how that was all a sham or how I’m now endlessly ashamed or embarrassed. That would just be lying, because I am still insanely proud to go here. What I am going to write about is why I think the university has failed its students, workers, and campus; why I think there’s so much potential to get it right, and how we’re going to get the ball rolling in the right direction.
Let’s cut to the chase: This year has been the worst on record for King’s and KCLSU. I’m not talking about results or admissions or what the Uni seem to care a lot about, I’m talking about safety nets, misleading instructions, nonexistent support, overpriced rent, and fraud. Fraud is wrongful deception for financial gain, and that is what the university has done: they promised us a world-class education in world-class facilities, they promised us support, they promised us clear communication, and they promised us good student accommodation. I will not mince words: we have been ripped off.
This happened before the pandemic too. Letting students live in a fire hazard (Champion Hill) for months, barring students from their own campus because of a made-up security threat, refusing to pay staff a respectable wage, setting up an unusable accommodation portal, covering up for abusive and racist staff, and other abuses of position are unacceptable and have gone unchecked. KCLSU are not the victims here either. No, they are not rule-makers, and yes, they do not have a veto on university decisions, but some outrage would help. Being polite with the university has only gotten us this far, which clearly isn’t enough.
Disregarding the pandemic, students feel isolated in both their representation and their social life, and they often leave King’s feeling like they haven’t been part of a community. This is KCLSU’s fault. Most students feel entirely disconnected from their Union, have no idea how it works, and certainly don’t feel listened to. KCLSU far too often feels like a secret club you’re not in on, even though we’re all members.
Where does this stem from? Institutional disorganisation. King’s has a total lack of organisational structure, no outside accountability, and zero chains of communication. The priorities at the top remain profits, and compartmentalisation keeps it there. Even where staff or student reps try their best to improve conditions for students, they are often stonewalled by ineptitude, bad management, and bureaucracy. The same core issues go for KCLSU. The system is messy, bureaucratic, far too inward-looking, and contents itself with ticking boxes rather than interacting directly with students.
So, what can we do to fix it?
The great thing is that it’s definitely not a lost cause. In fact, I think the Students’ Union is its own biggest obstacle in both representation and student life. We have a brilliant, passionate, engaged corpus of students and world-class facilities. We have the people, we have the places. It’s now about getting the ball rolling in the right direction.
A key part of this is refreshing the student rep role: representatives should receive comprehensive guidance and support, and should all be fighting the same fight. Discrimination, injustice, or just plain ineptitude in one department should become the university’s problem to solve.
If necessary, this means working with other Students’ Unions and UCU to really push the university on the big issues. King’s has to be more democratic, more transparent, representative, fair, and engaging for students. We need to push King’s in the right direction together.
Representation also means making sure systemically repressed voices are heard. Decolonising curriculums, making a much more transparent complaints process, providing clear liaison officers, training teachers better, and providing much less threatening mechanisms to challenge teachers is not enough. Nothing in the space of one year could be enough. But, it will make students safer and it will make more students feel listened to. That is the goal.
In terms of student life, getting students engaged on a vibrant campus isn’t rocket science. Physical presence and human contact are key, and next year will be a fantastic opportunity to get all of that right. KCLSU needs to feel like less of an ivory tower for students and societies alike – affiliated or not. People shouldn’t need to do painstaking research to figure out what to do on a Tuesday evening, and societies shouldn’t have to be training their committee in accountancy degrees just to be able to figure out funding. The onus is on KCLSU to not just provide the tools for student life, but actively work with the community in getting the motor running.
Concretely, this means more freshers’ fairs, a refreshers’ fair, more society involvement with SU outreach, more campus presence so students can stumble upon exciting things anytime and anywhere, more funds to get sports socs back on their feet next year, more direct advertising for societies and their events, a big varsity week, a new student bar, and (of course) re-opening Philosophy Bar. Uni is meant to be unforgettable, and the SU needs to be making sure of that, not just contenting itself with the bare minimum.
This also means making sure fellow students aren’t left behind. The pandemic has exacerbated an already huge mental health crisis that just simply hasn’t properly been addressed. Mental health needs to be actively addressed, not just passively cared for, and access needs to be clearer and easier than anything else. Services are bottlenecked at the university counselling service when there are dozens of other ways to get students the support they deserve. Not just token gestures and whatever “group discussions” are, but real and easy access to services, tailored to a students’ situation and location.
All of this is achievable. I guarantee that. The core issue still remains institutional, and untangling those fundamental difficulties will bottleneck some projects. However, when we get the SU to stop chasing its own tail, when we push back harder against uni injustice and incompetence, when students feel listened to, then everything else will become possible. There’ll be no more limits to the next committee’s ambitions if we get the basics right.
I promise to do that. I know how the system works because I have been an active part of over 6 student societies, because I have investigated King’s and KCLSU, because I have challenged institutional disorganisation, because I was fighting for students before the pandemic made it popular. I’ve got your back. Lend me your vote, and I’ll make damn sure the SU has your back too.
Disclaimer: Roar neither supports nor endorses any candidate/group of candidates in this or any other KCLSU election. Roar reached out to all candidates on this year’s ballot, offering each equal notice and opportunity to write op-eds laying forth their platforms. This op-ed was edited minimally to ensure quality/clarity, and none of the candidate’s views were altered in any way. The candidate’s views do not necessarily reflect views held by Roar or Roar’s editorial board. Further candidate op-eds can be found here.