The silence that is sapping our Student Union

Combibos in Gloucester Green, the downstairs of Caffé Nero on the High Street, Christ Church Meadow. All of these places feel eerily quiet at the moment. And it’s terrifying me. You see, at this time of year, you shouldn’t be able to catch a whiff of roasted Arabica without spotting a secretive liaison between two aspiring OUSU sabbatical officers. Strolls along the Isis should be greeted with a subtle chorus of blackbirds and wannabe NUS delegates, and an early morning apricot danish is always best appreciated whilst overhearing a candidate for OUSU President persuade a JCR Officer to run for Student Trustee. But not this year. Silence.

6th Week of Michaelmas marks the annual elections of the Student Union, OUSU, and usually by this time in term, there are a plethora of candidates for the varied positions, out there hacking to build the best slate (a team of candidates). But as I’ve mentioned above, the usual haunts of this seasonal visitor are devoid of their customary democratic discussions. And this is bad for all of us.

The fewer candidates there are for the top jobs in OUSU, the less competition there is, which results in less pressure on the candidates to go out and build strong electoral teams. This leads to fewer new people becoming actively involved in OUSU, and future leaders never being discovered. Smaller slates means less active outreach during the election, which leads to lower turnouts and higher rates of apathy towards OUSU. Shoddy policies remain unchallenged, and candidates with views unrepresentative of the wider student population become more likely to gain office. And so the body that is meant to represent us all to the University becomes ever more distant to the ordinary student members.

Some of you, at this point, are wondering why you should care about OUSU in the slightest. I understand where you’re coming from – I didn’t care much for OUSU as a fresher; my Common Room was always there for me when I
needed it, and I couldn’t understand why some of the people in OUSU seemed to be more focused on condemning the latest international goings-on rather than on discussing educational issues.

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Commons Rooms are great, but they can’t do everything. We, as students, have been granted a seat at the top tables of the top university in the world – we should be sending the very best to fight our corner. And it does matter. A few years ago, OUSU secured the best fee-waiver and bursary package of any English University, something we need to continue to defend and protect for future generations of students. Your choice over the next few weeks, through the OUSU elections, has the potential to define what student life in Oxford will be like for years to come. But first we need there to be a choice.

So to the waverers and fence-sitters, umming and ahhing over whether to run in the upcoming election – give it a go. There are too many good people sitting this one out, and leaving it to someone else. We need you all to run, to put forward your vision of OUSU in a post-Trup age, and to allow students the option to engage with a set of ideas that appeals to them.

To those who haven’t even considered being a student representative, but have a passion for anything from academic issues to graduate welfare, then there’s a place for you too. Nominations open on Thursday of 3rd Week and close a week later. And don’t think that you need to have a big team to win -plenty of independent candidates triumph in these elections.

Finally, to those who have no interest in running for office: at least make your voice heard – vote. Even if this plea for more people to announce their candidature doesn’t work, you will still have a choice. For there is always the opportunity to vote for RON, which stands for Re-Open Nominations. Consider their proposals, watch them hust, and if they’re not good enough, then vote RON. You deserve the best.

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It should be said that there are a few who have quietly mentioned they are going to run, but we shall only see the best of these people if there is competition, and they have to fight for every vote.

In the meantime, the future of our Student Union is in intensive care, and desperately needs a transfusion of fresh blood and ideas. It is time, therefore, that we start donating.