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On the road to Mill Lane: Why I changed my mind about CUSU

One man’s reflection on how he went from a steadfast CUSU opponent to a sceptical supporter

#cusu #student union politics cambridge university students union CUSU Council Mill Road

Love it or hate it, the undeniable truth is that CUSU appeals to a rather small amount of people. Turnout in 2018 was 20.9 per cent, and 22.5 per cent in 2017 with the Graduate Union only just about scraping double figures. Voters were concentrated in colleges where the candidates were running, Robinson and Jesus in 2019 achieve heights of 54.1 per cent and 51.1 per cent, impressive scores which no doubt helped those candidates from those colleges to victory. Outside of election time, the regular CUSU Councils get a reasonable – yet small – turnout from an assortment of JCR/MCR officers, activist campaigners, and student journalists.

When the I was elected as Vice President at the honourable college of Magdalene, one of my promises was to make CUSU more accountable. An avowed CUSU sceptic, there had been talk of a CUSU membership referendum, although the impracticalities of one was quickly realised and no progress was ever undertaken towards one. Despite this, your author turned up to Council brimming with ideas of how to challenge this supposed echo chamber of left wing activism.

To be honest, I was badly misinformed as to CUSU and my initial opposition was soon tempered to sceptical support. For although it is undeniable that CUSU has its weaknesses, a poor financial situation, low turnout and a reputation among many circles for strong political views, at its core is an idea that should be given due credit.

The work that the CUSU sabbatical officers and others do is not, as I initially believed, to further their political ideology but rather they hold the genuine wish to make Cambridge a better and friendlier place. The amount of work which they do towards the University is crucially important; not only do they act as a mouthpiece towards the university establishment, but their campaigns and services make Cambridge an inclusive and vibrant university.

I still am, and probably forever will be, at political odds with the majority of the CUSU officers, but that does not stop me recognising that CUSU can and has achieved great things. I would encourage all those who are in a similar position that I was to engage with CUSU to initiate change.

If you want change, vote at next year's CUSU elections for a candidate who supports your views; if you feel marginalised by CUSU then support a candidate who will include you; if there isn’t a candidate who you feel represents you, then run yourself or encourage others to run. CUSU will only change if its voters want it to change. Instead of sitting by the wayside, get involved: vote, campaign and CUSU will change.