According to Union of Students in Ireland (USI) the students’ union is an organised body of ‘willing would-be activists’ whose primary focus is defending the rights of the student, as well as enabling and furthering travel opportunities for Irish students abroad.
A cohesive force that first came together on the 19th of June 1959 now represents over 354,000 students across 40 Irish third level institutions. Today the USI continues to be an active and progressive representative of the student body with protests ranging from student support from the government.
This includes grants, student assistance funds and increased accommodation availability, to joining with Amnesty International in calling on the government to repeal the 8th amendment. As is common knowledge each third level institution has its own union which represents the student body who offer a range of services, advice, support and aim to have the voice of the student heard.
As part of the ‘Behind the Headlines’ series organised by Trinity College a panel discussion was held on the topic of ‘Abortion in Modern Ireland’ earlier this week. Professor Ivana Bacik, a barrister, professor of law and Senator for the University of Dublin, was present to share her views on the issue and in doing so referred to her time spent in the TCD SU.
Some twenty-eight years ago Professor Bacik served as President of TCD Students’ Union. She spoke about the infringement on students’ and women’s rights during her time as President when it was illegal in this country to distribute information on abortion. A court case was taken against her by pro-life group SPUC (Society for the Protection of the Unborn Child) for distribution of this information.
At this time the Student’s Union was the only body where such information and support was readily available, despite the legal implications and challenges its members faced. Monumental responses by the Students’ Union like this made me consider and question the active and persevering role of DCU’s Student Union.
As the second semester came to a close last year it was all go on the Glasnevin campus with final assignments and summer exams impending and the canvassing for next year’s Student Union representatives. Fiontar, DCU’s Irish faculty, were ambushed with some unsettling news on the departments upheaval to St Patrick’s College and All Hallows as part of ‘The New DCU.’
Students of Fiontar were up in arms about the furtive decision and sought out the SU to defend their right to remain on campus for the duration of their degrees. As most are aware the resistance was futile. Aspiring candidates seeking votes included Fiontar’s strife in their manifestoes and a former SU representative attempted to bring the matter further.
Nothing materialised. A ‘Gaeilge agus Iriseoireacht’ (Irish and Journalism) student shares her sentiments on the participation and support of the SU at this time: ‘many members showed an ignorance and disengagement with Irish students concern about the incorporation and move to All Hallows’.’ With more publicity being given to the infamous fifth goujon endeavour on the DCU SU facebook page, the question of ‘what has the Student Union done for Irish language students?’ niggles at me.
The DCU SU’s website clearly outlines the role and supports offered by the organisation along with making elected representatives easily contactable. Two manifestos that stuck out were: ‘to help you better your time in DCU’ and ‘make sure that you have an unforgettable experience in DCU.’
The SU are renowned for their promotion and organisation of events, workshops and talks in DCU. This semester Careers Week, Body and Soul Week – advocating mental, physical and nutritional health and Seachtain na Gaeilge were some of the events shared on the SU Facebook page. However, speaking to some students on campus there was a consensus that this year’s Student Unions involvement has been somewhat muted.
A previous class rep and LGBT student contrasts this notion and cannot praise the impact and efforts of the Student Union enough for their participation within her community; from the funding of ‘Pink Training’, a weekend of gender and sexuality workshops along with the SU’s intention to provide all access bathrooms for use by all staff and students of all genders. ‘Without the SU we wouldn’t have been able to attend this incredible educational and empowering training.’
The Student’s Union is a central aspect to college life, a support system to get you over the hurdles of student life. In theory it provides the first taste of democracy and advocacy of rights. The SU can be a platform for the student body to make their voice heard and challenge their everyday injustices.
Their impact and priorities vary from year to year in correlation with its members; as is the case with most political parties. In the end what the SU does for students comes down to the students, how they avail and persist for the support of the Union and in turn persevere with their own cause.