EUSA have had a decent semester, free sanitary products and the establishment of a Wellbeing Fund cannot be argued with when it comes to successes, however the problem of a total lack of student engagement and an increase in student disillusionment has not been adequately tackled. At the beginning of November after an abhorrently low turnout for the annual EUSA by-elections with some elections receiving single digits in votes, the EUSA President Jonny Ross-Tatum described a survey, then soon to be sent out, as a wide-ranging and reformist piece of research.
That is not the case. What has instead been sent out is a survey intent on retaining the status-quo and built in a way that personifies anyone who disagrees with the current situation as raging bigots.
The main bone of contention is with Question 7 of the survey, “How important is it that sabbatical officers’ roles include responsibility for the following?” This question is then followed by a list of issues and areas of policy, and the student answering the question has to rate them from ‘Very unimportant’ to ‘Very important’. As an example, one might answer that ‘The natural environment’ is very important, and that ‘Bars/Shops/Venues’ are very unimportant.
It is not my job, or frankly anyone else’s job, to tell a student taking this survey what they should view as important issues, in fact I would argue that in the context of a Student Union all of the issues that are up for debate in this survey are important. However the use of the word ‘important’ means this survey is unfit for purpose.
This survey, deliberate or not, is built and written in a fashion that is backing the status quo within EUSA. Currently, based on recent Student Council motions, wide-ranging and often undeliverable political statements such as ‘Say No To Arms’ and ‘Preventing Prevent’ (a piece of government legislation, which is essentially impossible to actually prevent), are the cornerstone of EUSA’s politics.
The use of the word ‘important’ implies that anything you consider ‘unimportant’ should be disregarded totally, and by extension people who do not want EUSA’s priorities to be liberation politics and wide-ranging political statements may feel like bigots, and that is inherently wrong. As an example, it is impossible to imagine anyone stating that they believe (and this is how the issue is written) “Women’s liberation – freedom from sexism” is unimportant in a sabbatical officer’s role
It is not bigotry to ask EUSA to prioritise campaigning for cheaper rents for students in Edinburgh over ‘Preventing Prevent’, it is not bigotry to ask EUSA to prioritise affordable and subsidised bars, shops and venues over stating that ‘EUSA is a Feminist’, it is not bigotry to ask EUSA to provide adequate and competent support to the 260 societies it claims to help exist over ‘Say No To Arms’, yet this survey implies that that is exactly what you are if you say these issues are unimportant.
It is subtle wording, ‘important’ instead of ‘priority’ that forces this conclusion. This has the consequence of the results of this survey being skewed, with the status quo; undeliverable endorsements of various liberation policies (currently the bread and butter of a Student Union so massively out of touch with the student population it supposedly represents), continuing.
This survey will change nothing because it is built to change nothing. Sabbatical officers will be told they are doing a fantastic job and to change nothing because it is impossible to say otherwise without sounding like a raging bigot.
This unfettered belief from within EUSA that it is doing a good job alongside Student Council meetings dictated by certain cliques claiming to represent the views of the whole student population, is damaging to it as an organisation (a look at the recent ‘Say No To Arms’ motion where 87% of STEM students disagreed with it, and 73% were unaware of the motion, is an indicative example). This survey is symptomatic of the structural and institutionalised problems that EUSA currently faces.
Photo courtesy of John Vrushi