The need for student politics to be conducted online has raised unique challenges for student groups in Durham, but it is important to find ways of continuing to operate from a distance. Student politics is one of the ways of maintaining a university culture and bringing students together. This sense of unity has never been needed more, and the current crisis also offers opportunities for new initiatives.
There are many difficulties with operating virtually; JCRs have continued to maintain welfare support, offering virtual drop-ins and online campaigns. However, attempts cannot compare to in-person interactions, and this has made it difficult for students to be supported at such a difficult time. Societies such as the Durham Union have been livestreaming events, allowing discourse to continue, but the social aspect of societies has been limited.
The crisis has not put an end to student campaigning either
Accessibility is becoming a key issue in the online space. The SU Assembly has faced backlash for only allowing entry to voting members, whereas normally any student can attend the Assembly. Critics argue that the SU Assembly could have done more to make the process available to all students. In organisations designed around in person meetings, the shift has meant ordinary procedures to ensure transparency and participation are void; groups must adapt to this new state of affairs and do everything possible to maintain the integrity of procedures.
Social media has become an essential tool for conducting student politics, allowing groups to reach large sections of the student populace. Groups continue to campaign and operate online, and many societies will be electing their new executives. There are many positive examples of groups embracing the virtual space to create unity in the university culture, and there are also unique benefits to operating online; for example live streamed events can reach a greater audience than can be confined to a single room. It is incredibly important that these groups continue to operate effectively — student politics brings people together under a common cause and is a welcome distraction from the global situation.
Student politics brings people together under a common cause and is a welcome distraction from the global situation
The crisis has not put an end to student campaigning either. One example is the university’s restructuring plans, which prompted great student opposition and various groups challenging the move. A petition raising concerns about the plans was signed by over a thousand students. The petition also spurred the creation of Decommercialize Durham, a student effort focused on holding the University administration to account and challenging the commercialization of higher education. This serves to show that new initiatives can arise even in a time of crisis.
It is clear that student politics is not going anywhere, and this is something to be thankful for; it looks after our interests and strengthens the student community. It is just as important now, as at any other time, to maintain scrutiny on the administration’s actions as fundamental decisions regarding Durham’s future are made.
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