One cancelled lecture, 10 identical presentations and 10,000 posters — that about summarizes my first experience with Students’ Union elections. During my first semester at the university, I listened to disputes regarding Lister Hall, dodgeball and SUB renovations. Although I felt isolated from these issues as a student with no attachment to “old Lister” or the legacy of dodgeball, I thought elections season would be a chance for all students to get involved. I must admit I was wrong.
For those uninitiated in campus politics, the election appears out of the blue. Sleek campaign posters materialize overnight and lectures suddenly feature unsolicited sales pitches. For those who thought university politics would provide the opportunity to get involved, it was disappointing. Like many first-years, I would have willingly gotten involved in the planning and campaigning stages. But, we heard nothing of it until the signs fell from the sky and landed in Quad.
Instead of getting fresh ideas and new people involved, the current system functions by keeping those on the outside in the dark until the campaigning begins. Then we’re supposed to miraculously become fully informed and ready to vote within a week. Yes, there are forums, and candidates have websites, but it all comes too little, too late.
It’s easy to say first years will be more aware in the future and can get involved in subsequent years, but I think the low voter turnout in the last election tells another story. The numbers say people do not go on to become involved in SU politics over their academic career. It appears people don’t catch up to the SU wagon after they get left behind.
This state of affairs is a shame. The act of democracy should bring people together as a whole to have a genuine discussion. Candidates giving identical speeches promising to “stand up for students” in first-year classes is not getting people involved. This problem would be easy to rectify — if the SU properly advertised how its elections are going to occur and gave people the tools and connections needed to learn about and get involved with a candidate they support, it would be easy to get new students active early in their academic lives.
Instead, individuals like me, who would like to get involved but were unaware and unable to navigate the complex and nebulous Students’ Union are left out right from the beginning. The entire student population loses out when new students are disenfranchised from the SU, never bringing forward what could be great ideas and new energy. If we could get people involved in their first year at the university, within a few years the voter turnout could be far above the abysmal low it is now.
We should strive to make the system more open to new students who would like to get involved but must fight the challenges involved to integrate themselves into this potentially lively and mind expanding event.
Regrettably, if current trends continue, SU elections will stay as a minority event, only attracting a small group of insiders — a state not conductive to a healthy democratic process.