The Union gets you at your most vulnerable time. In freshers’ week, you wander the same corridors as some of history’s greatest thinkers and orators, following a Union representative as they snake their way through corridors lined with familiar faces.
Half asleep, you blankly nod along as they tell you that it is your privilege to spend hundreds of pounds to join them. It is that same vacant expression which stares back at you, two years down the line, as you accidentally pull out your membership card instead of your Tesco Clubcard, a cruel reminder of the money you once wasted on a piece of laminated card.
It is undeniable that the Union has boasted some amazing speakers and events and it gives students an unparalleled opportunity to broaden their intellectual landscape and discuss our time’s hottest topics. However, the reality of membership is, for the majority, quite different. When it comes to the most impressive speakers, you are actually paying for the opportunity to stand in the rain, in a queue that leads almost across the entirety of Oxford only to be turned away and be forced to watch it on YouTube.
Then there are the social events. You picture yourself sipping free cocktails and networking. But when it comes to it, it’s a Tuesday night, you have an essay due the next day for which you haven’t even started the reading and the thought of alcohol fills you with nausea after a week of poor choices. The deadline is at 10am – your friendships with future politicians can wait.
The debates come as a way to prove to yourself that you are still intellectual. Suffering from a heavy bout of Fresher’s flu and imposters’ syndrome, you make your way to the famous chamber to engage with the outside world once more. However, it seems oddly familiar.
The boy standing at the front, lecturing you more from a place of entitlement than wisdom, reminds you a little too much of the girl that stopped you the in the JCR to debate whether Brexit might actually have been the best thing for Britain since Thatcher. Your college kitchen, as it turns out, is just as much of a debating chamber as that of the Union.
Each week you promise yourself that you’ll ask a question, make a point, actually participate. But the debates are reigned over by the same few people whose arguments are so eloquently put that it doesn’t seem to matter if they are inherently flawed.
A Union membership card is the key to new experiences, to making lifelong friends, to challenging your every belief. That is, if you actually go. If you want posh boys arguing, I recommend the Bridge smoking area.
(This article first appeared in the 2017 edition of Cherwell’s sister publication Keep Off The Grass.)