You’re at Cambridge, you know change is slow: Why we must stay affiliated to NUS

I am urging Cambridge students to vote NO to disaffiliation, not because the NUS is perfect, but precisely because it’s not.

affiliation anti-semitism boycott Cambridge CUSU cusu president disaffiliation institutional change NUS radical referendum rent workshop sabbs

Arguably, in the last year I have had the most contact with NUS as CUSU President.

I was elected to the Higher Education Zone Committee, and I even ran in the NUS national elections. I learnt that ‘left wing’ means something wholly different in student politics. I learnt that ‘Black’ is a self-defining category— for some. I learnt that national elections can be cruel and relentless, and I witnessed the validity and strength of the word ‘boycott’, a method used for centuries to realise historical change, bandied around without a clear sense of what would be achieved from its use.

Captain Boycott himself - originally 'boycotted' by tenants in County Mayo, Ireland

Captain Boycott himself – originally ‘boycotted’ by tenants in County Mayo, Ireland

I cannot pretend NUS is without flaws because I saw those flaws close up. I am urging Cambridge students to vote NO to disaffiliation, not because the NUS is perfect, but precisely because it’s not. In all my engagement with NUS, my highlight is the time I spent with the Cambridge Delegation at the NUS National Conference 2016. In the front row, armed with 300 page motion booklets, your representatives scrutinised, amended, built and voted for the kind of policies Cambridge students can be proud of. Your representatives voted for candidates promising an inclusive student movement, and your representatives spoke out against the culture of anti-Semitism within the student movement – a culture which must be rooted out if we are to move forward.

During the last academic year, Cambridge representatives have tirelessly engaged with NUS precisely for the purposes of making it better, and there is certainly no time like the present to keep pushing for genuine change and genuine representation. I am under no illusion that these changes will take place in weeks, or even months, but for the very same reasons that students organise, campaign, and volunteer in the 800 year-old machine we call Cambridge, I’m urging students to invest in what is a long game for the student movement.

'800 year old machine'

‘800 year old machine’

And I would be remiss to omit that this long game will have substantive gains along the way. This year I have fulfilled all of my manifesto commitments to students and this would not have been possible without the help and support of NUS staff and elected officers. It was national President Megan Dunn who helped me shape the Presidents and Autonomous Campaigns Roundtable events which laid the groundwork for campaigning during my year. The rent workshops I led across Collegiate Cambridge were created in partnership with an NUS member of staff, and I want to be clear that without the NUS ‘Black Sabbs Network,’ where I sought support in the face of racist stereotypes of my leadership, I’m not sure I would have stayed on to finish my term.

 

Megan Dunn who was unseated as NUS pres by Malia Bouattia

Megan Dunn who was unseated as NUS pres by Malia Bouattia

NUS is not perfect, and I have a deep respect for the arguments lodged against continued affiliation. But I fear disengagement now will only aid and abet those supposedly radical activists who will use the disaffiliation of Cambridge (and potentially Oxford) as evidence of how progressive their tactics are. I fear that disaffiliation not only slows, but outright blocks the ability of Cambridge students to formally hold the figureheads of NUS to account on their promises. I never want our elected student representatives to feel complacent, and I believe a stake held by Cambridge students will consistently prevent that.

In the last year I have learnt a lot about how change is made within an institution. Right now, it starts by having a seat at the table.

I’m urging students to vote NO to disaffiliation; Cambridge students need a stake in the future of NUS, now more than ever.