by Sam Naylor
Today, Friday 2nd December 2016, is this year’s #LoveSUs Day. It’s a time to encourage positivity and togetherness with our Students’ Unions, highlighting the impact they have on our student experiences. It comes at a time when student maintenance grants have been scrapped by the government, English university tuition fees are set to rise even further based on performance in the new ‘Teaching Excellence Framework’, and student accommodation prices are rising more rapidly than any other rates in the private rental sector. All students need an organisation that will speak for us when the government of the day is constantly ignoring our needs and actively promoting policies that are having negative impacts on our lives.
The NUS, founded in 1922, has a long history of liberation campaigns and assisting with national liberation movements. From NUS Women’s campaign fighting abortion rights restrictions in parliament, to NUS LGBT+ campaign playing a key part in ending the blanket ban on gay men donating blood, the union of unions has done a lot of good over the years. Student Unions often receive a lot of negative press and eye rolls from the population at large, including many students. Granted this is sometimes warranted. Not every decision is going to be the right one, not every plan is going to go smoothly – SU staff are only human after all. But it is often too easy to get sucked into the negative and cynical mainstream media backlash, generalising all SUs’ actions as too sensitive, meddling or idealistic. So if you are more inclined to loathe SUs than love them, just imagine what would be lost without them. For one thing, many on YikYak and Twitter would lose a major target for their trolling and ridicule…
To celebrate #LoveSUs Day, I want to showcase 3 UEA SU campaigns that are having positive effects on the lives of UEA students.
1: Homes Not Houses
Campaigns and Democracy officer Amy Rust worked hard with many SU staff over the summer to campaign against ‘Article 4’ legislation in Norwich. Article 4, if enacted, could limit the number of student homes in Norwich. It would place restrictions on the number of houses of multiple occupancy in certain areas of the city, such as the Golden Triangle, and could lead to new student houses spreading out further and away from the university.
As a direct result of this campaign so far, Norwich City Council Cabinet have decided to delay their decision on Article 4 to February in order to gather more information. This gives the campaign time to reach out to the local community for support. Making sure we get city housing right will be vital in the future if UEA continues to expand, on campus accommodation prices continue to rise disproportionately, and students continue to turn to the private rental market.
The ‘why is my curriculum white’ national campaign is a brilliant example of SUs working to make our curriculums more representative and inclusive.
2: Liberating UEA
This semester has already seen a number of liberation awareness events. Black History Month saw a range of discussions, screenings, workshops and other events at UEA, to promote knowledge of black history, culture and heritage and support the struggles of black people. We are currently in UK Disability History Month, for which a similar number of events are planned to raise awareness of the multitude of factors that affect people with disabilities. Asexual awareness week, Transgender awareness week and bisexuality awareness week have also taken place throughout October and November, as major contributions to the awareness-raising and question-answering work of UEA SU’s constant liberation movement.
Our undergraduate education officer, Theo Antoniou-Phillips, is currently working on projects to liberate our degrees, tackling the under-representation many students face when studying on their courses. The Why Is My Curriculum White national campaign is a brilliant example of SUs working to make our curriculums more representative and inclusive.
3: Mental Health Matters
Our postgraduate education officer, Maddie Colledge, is working to improve the mental health of PGR students at UEA, whilst SU officers more widely are pushing for improved mental health services across campus. Maddie is meeting with other postgraduate officers next month in Nottingham to create a pioneering national report on the state of postgraduate mental health. Progress already underway includes the creation of postgraduate-specific counselling and wellbeing services at the Student Support Service on campus.
So whether you tend to approve of Student Unions or not, let’s all use today to acknowledge and appreciate the hard-work they do to improve students’ lives and the lives of those in the wider university community.
Featured Image via NUS