Playground politics: its role in student life and if it can benefit us

Participation in student politics is often seen as a consequential part of university life; the stepping stone for years of future interest, or a chance to influence the day-to-day. For some, it might be the first time engaging in a political forum. For others, it is an initial opportunity to be heard in a community that appreciates them. However, the state of student politics, for all its worth, is arguably not universally held in the highest esteem nor greatly engaged with. Thus, the question arises of whether the institution itself, through the SU, JCRs, MCRs and political societies, can even be considered useful for today’s university population.

There is much potential for student politics as it is a pathway to improve life on campus. There are those who argue that activism through the SU allows for an important amplified student voice, such as in 2016 when tuition fees were raised from £9,000 to £9,250. In highlighting the University’s “failure to consult” with the student body, they acted as a medium between the institution and its members. This allowed for a sense of recognition and validation that can pave the way for a lasting enthusiasm in politics.

Nonetheless, there are claims that these political interactions give an inflated sense of self importance that may not translate well into wider society – or even make a difference within Durham. The mentioned decision was made by the University, and no students were asked for advice. Attempts to tackle issues beyond student control could result in undermining the value of student politics and voices. More generally, this could be seen as a distortion of the political world in the sense that students are not guaranteed to make change and could feel disillusioned.

There is much potential for student politics as it is a pathway to improve life on campus

In many ways, the state of student politics in Durham is strong and crucial in giving students a taste of democracy. The SU gives opportunities for changemaking, for example, the “Register to vote” campaign encouraged voting in elections, empowering individuals to make decisions and providing a rudimentary basis for future engagement. This is indiscriminate in its wide-reaching audience; not limited to certain subsections. Similarly, current campaigns such as ‘Pincident’ that have created “an anonymous mapping tool… which records experiences of harassment” are tailored to the student population. These are important examples of student politics that have high engagement and show the value of Durham’s initiatives.

The JCR and MCR with their associated referendums could be seen as perfect, more limited exposure to the political world. “Should the role of senior student become sabbatical?”, asked a recent referendum and students are encouraged to attend debates and vote. So much value can be gained from passing responsibility to students who attend Durham as it gives a sense of ownership and satisfaction with the university experience. Unfortunately, many students do not engage with these activities; whether they simply do not appeal or have not been publicised in an engaging matter, it is a serious point to consider if student politics is to be as universally welcomed as possible.

Between political party, feminist, environmental, minority group societies and more, there are myriad ways to get involved. Student politics remains an important part of life at Durham – it is definitely alive and well. In some ways it is hard to avoid it. By reading Palatinate itself there is engagement. Although there are numerous shortfalls, and whilst the state of interest in Durham and perhaps any university is by no means perfect, the work that continues with the aim of ultimately improving student participation must be commended.


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