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How The Student Officer Roles Are Being Misused

student officers we need a change

Roar writer Abdus Shaik on how the Student Officer roles at different universities are being misused 

With Autumn elections coming up for student trustee, networking, union development, and academic roles at King’s, it is important to look into how students take up the responsibility of leading their peers via “democratic means”, how these roles represent the current leadership in our society, and how they are being misused.

Around the globe, students’ unions (SUs) have existed for decades to promote, extend, and defend the rights of all students at universities and colleges. Unfortunately, in many cases, these unions have not been able to keep their promises. Often, what we instead witness from the people we’ve elected into power is incompetence and inability. In many ways, this unironically represents the current situation of world leaders in the modern political world – take, for instance, the current status of many promises made by the sitting Conservative government.

In the UK and across the West, we witness poster boys and girls trying to run for roles in students’ unions for the wrong reasons. These days, a sabbatical role at a university SU seems, in many cases, to be viewed as something that looks good on a CV, not a responsibility to be undertaken. It is time that we make sure people understand that when we vote for them via democratic process, we expect them to fulfil their promises to us. We expect them to get us a “partial tuition fee refund” as most have promised over the past year and a half, or not make such false promises in the first place. Not to give us false hopes, and not to use democracy as a means of impressing future employers or embossing their cute Instagram bios.

The students who are fit for the posters are elected because these elections are designed to function like that in the first place. The person whose campaign looks the most attractive, with fancy slogans and pictures and promises that cannot be kept, gets more votes. Not to mention how, in some cases, elections can even become sexualised, with voters casting their ballots for the candidate they consider to be most attractive; ‘cause, why not? It’s the looks that get us our rights doesn’t it?

We are told that the people we elect must “improve student experience” and “support student campaigns”, but we witness nothing but silence while international fees go up and UK fees remain the same despite our university education going digital. All the while, we see nothing but smiley faces on our students’ unions’ websites and social media pages.

Is it okay for students to remain silent while our positions are abused by none other than those who have taken up jobs to improve their CVs, while students who aren’t being paid to fight for their rights set up campaigns, only to be ignored by universities? Why should such people be allowed to stay in power? Do their campaigns last as long as the polls are open? And what happens when they’re elected? Do they forget that they have promises to keep, students, to represent and defend?

Dozens of student trustees, presidents, vice-presidents, and delegates have promised to support mental health, to empower women and people from minority groups. Yet despite that, we still notice a decline in mental health, a rise in harassment, sexism, and other forms of discrimination against people from all sorts of backgrounds on campuses. Even if these trends are the result of universities’ unwillingness to cooperate with SU campaigns or demands, the results are the same nonetheless.

The question we as students should ask ourselves is this: is it okay for students to remain silent while their positions of power at their universities are being used by different people from different backgrounds for different (selfish) reasons?

However, it might be the case that campaigning for student rights might be taking place “behind the scenes”; that student officers did not realise the limitations of their students’ unions before running, that the roles they were running for would not allow them to fight against issues they promised to resolve in their campaigns; or simply that their efforts would be blocked by their academic institutions themselves, if not even by the government. Regardless of the reason, student officers are expected to be open and honest to the best of their ability without having to go against the contract they’ve signed with their respective students’ unions when they are elected, as they also have a duty towards people who have voted them into power.

What we can do as students

Student officers are not the only ones who have a voice and hold power. As students, we hold power that is unmatched, and our forebears fought over decades so that we could have such power and privilege. Students protested on Earth day which led to the creation of the United States Environmental Protection Agency and student-led protests also influenced the withdrawal of US troops from Vietnam. It will be a massive dishonour to them if we don’t fight to keep that privilege and pass it on to future generations. It is apparent that students have lost hope in campaigns at universities that struggle to fight for an improvement in students’ mental health or better accommodations.

It’s time that we realize what our rights are, to vote for the right people, for the right reasons, for our rights, to elect a leader who will work for us – not for their fame or CV.

My fellow students… It’s time to think… And time for a change…

Physics Student at King's College London | 07948080968 | [email protected]

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