Apathy is the greatest enemy of student politics. First it hit the OUSU Elections, with a large number of positions uncontested and a historically low turnout. Now it seems to be hitting Common Rooms across Oxford. Take Trinity JCR, for example. Of the nine JCR committee positions up for election last week, nobody ran for six of them. That’s right, not a single person in the entire college wanted to run for two-thirds of the positions available.
Some students would celebrate this. They would point out that student politics is a trumped up waste of time, useful only for allowing those involved to have their egos stroked. Nothing, they might argue, is more depressing than watching people hack for a role so insignificant as to be unworthy of such self-debasement. And, to be fair, they have a point. A lot of student politics, especially at JCR level, is mundane to the extreme. The External Affairs rep, for example, is one of the offices that nobody in Trinity ran for, and who can blame them? It involves turning up to one very long OUSU Council meeting fortnightly to represent students who, in the majority of cases, don’t give a damn about the whole affair. Voting on moves to vote on motions seemingly as inconsequential as OUSU’s election system could be considered the epitome of boring.
However, that does not mean such positions are unimportant — far from it. Take, again, the External Affairs rep. He or she is the JCR’s conduit to the wider student movement, whilst the main purpose of the Welfare reps is to help look after the wellbeing of students, a vital role in the stress cooker that is Oxford. Entz reps ensure that students have exciting social events to liven up their week, whilst the myriad of reps focusing on equality issues all help to make members of historically oppressed groups feel more comfortable and secure. Whilst there might be little excitement or pizzazz on offer here in comparison, say, to being a rugby blue, these roles are vital in making colleges friendly and welcoming places to live and work in.
But, perhaps more than that, they are vital in helping to give JCRs a communal identity. The life of a student, especially in the humanities, is a starkly individualistic one.
They read books in the library, write essays and turn up to the odd tutorial. None of this really requires them to be part of a wider community. JCR committee members, therefore, are key in giving these students access to such a community if they so desire. They put on social events, provide a peer-support network and campaign on issues close to the hearts of many students. By doing so, they make JCRs a community, rather than a disparate set of individuals.
It is for this reason that it is such a pity that so few people want to get involved in the JCR, and it is for this reason that I would urge all the apathetic students out there to run in the next elections. And if my appeal to your heart hasn’t worked, let me appeal to your head: it looks fucking great on your CV.