The Students’ Union election season is upon us. The nominations period has opened and campaigning is expected to begin with gusto on Wednesday morning following its closure.
There will be thousands of flyers passed out, hundreds of posters erected, the odd funny video and a gaggle of campaigners scattered across campus for the various candidates. Prepare to be canvassed.
Despite the campus turning into an electoral carnival every year, over the last number of elections our union has found it difficult to break beyond a 20 per cent voter turnout rate.
Apathy and disengagement seem to be the status quo. It is always the easier option to become disengaged from the democratic process. But that easy option has consequences. Disengagement leads to elections where candidates and their ideas aren’t as robustly tested as they should be which creates bad leaders and bad governance, creating an apathy cycle of further and further disengagement. The eventual end of this scenario is a bad union that creates a bad college experience and a poor student life.
One of the largest apathy creators is the idea that student activism and student engagement doesn’t matter. This is simply a myth and one that should have been killed long ago. The influence and power of students in Ireland has been seen throughout history in a number of areas such as in LGBT rights, reproductive rights and during the anti-apartheid movement, which was recently highlighted following the passing of Nelson Mandela at the end of last year.
Students’ Union leaders at a local and national level have helped transform the shape of third-level education through campaigning for lessening the burden on students and widening access to university for many citizens via the introduction of the free fees system and the grants system.
The high level of representation students have within universities and colleges translates into a relatively positive experience for the majority of students. This is the real success of student activism.
In the past few years DCU SU has turned a corner and has rejected the material and selfish culture that suffocated our society during the Celtic Tiger Era. We have changed our union constitution to start engaging with issues that affect students; we have started to hold referendum ballots to find out what students’ opinions are on issues; we have decided to rejoin the national student movement and year on year the quality of our candidates is improving.
This election presents an opportunity for students to be the ones that become involved and that actively engage with the candidates. Students need to meet the candidates, ask them questions, read their material, judge them and vote for the one they think is the most competent and would best serve the students of this union.
The students of today only have such a positive college experience because of the hard work and determination of student leaders over the generations that came before us. This is a debt and one that is repaid by students beginning to engage with their union and participate in the democratic process by voting.
Sean Cassidy is an activist within the DCU Students’ Union and DCU Societies.