The SU is lying when they say they represent you – they just want to tell you what to do
At least at school it wasn’t your peers dishing out detention
The most dangerous thing a young person can do is give up their freedom to make political decisions to a big institution. This is exactly what is happening in Universities across the UK and abroad with a new generation of young minds incapable of standing on their own arguments.
Some people will look at the wave of student union nannying and censoring and claim these bodies represent their students interests and therefore it’s all a very democratic decision to ban people from listening to a song, or from wearing a certain t-shirt.
So let’s get some facts straight:
1. All universities and student unions in the UK became charitable institutions under the Charities Act of 2011 which effectively means that it is false to call themselves a union when they are in fact a charity.
2. Under this act, “student unions” are largely controlled by a board of external governors who make the final decisions.
3. Voting in union elections, AGM turnouts and generally being at all bothered about union policy is at an all0time low with many universities unable to make quorum at general meetings to vote on policies.
Therefore it is totally inconceivable to argue that the Students Union at a University is some kind of Ken Loach-inspired powerhouse of radical thought separable from the institution of the University and government legislation.
Given all this, it is unsurprising that University feels a lot more like going to school than a free thinking adult institution.
LSE has its own uniform policy, which won’t let you wear blasphemous t-shirts and several SUs won’t let you wear headphones inside – that is if you’re playing Robin Thicke.
The student populace has taken this blow to human agency and free thinking lying down. It has become fashionable to jump onto ban-wagons – rather than dealing with problems in a public and adult way, students tell-tale to their SU, the self-appointed guardians of “safe spaces”.
The uproar about twerking, Blurred Lines, lad culture and a corrupted generation stifles any wider debate on real, structural inequality.
LSE University recently banned the rugby team over an offensive leaflet that was embarrassing, but not criminal or dangerous.
By clamping down on speech, by telling students that certain language is sexist or homophobic and therefore unacceptable, universities are stopping discussion, not fostering it.
And in the process, they are degrading the intelligence of their student populace.
In the case of the LSE leaflet, the implication often made that all men are predisposed to be pigs is pathetic and untrue. Sexism is not about simply being “nasty” to women, and feminism is not about being sympathetic to women. The way to deal with the broader problems, which go far beyond petty squabbles over language, is to debate and discuss them freely.
An individual should challenge everything. This is the beauty of human agency, we are able to exercise our own intelligence without having to be told what to think by an outside “authority”. Collective consensus on political issues that comes from a top-down structure like a union ban is never effective in dealing with a political problem.
Students, quit relying on your “welfare” officer or your union rep to sort our your problems, if there is something on your campus that you don’t like then deal with it as a free thinking individual, open up the debate do not shut it down. The biggest lie you’ll be told during your time at university is that your Union represents you – don’t believe it.
Ellamay Russell is a writer and a graduate from Sussex University. She will be speaking at the debate “Cotton-wool campuses?” at the Battle of Ideas festival, held at the Barbican in London on 18-19 October. You can buy a discounted BT Ingenious Student Champion ticket for just £27.50 here.