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YUSU needs to fight the real power, not itself

Fine-tuning bureaucracy means fewer wins for students.

Photo Credit: YUSU

A union is defined by its members. So, when super-engaged students blame “YUSU” for things going wrong, it always feels ironic - but it’s some-thing we need to unpack.

Who or what are people refer-ring to? It could be staff, who aren’t members of the organisation. It could be sabbatical officers, who aren’t students as such. Regardless, they’re rarely referring to the student body itself - the actual definition of what YUSU is.

Students othering their Union do so because they don’t feel part of it. A year on from RON coming second in the presidential election, so-called disengagement is bound to come up in this year’s elections. However, as one of the top fifteen students’ unions in the UK for voter turnout, this whole conversation has been fuelled by hyper-engagement. Antipathy, not apathy, is the likely root cause.

What draws this discontent? The RON campaign told us it was bureaucracy: ineffective presidents, agenda-driven staff, not enough student democracy. When you ask students what they want YUSU to deliver (rather than how they’ll do it), you get much more direct answers: cheaper accommodation, more accessible activities, greater job prospects for the future.

On the latter three, we’re doing pretty well. For future campus developments, James Durcan has been making the case for more economy rooms. Last term I piloted Activities Access Grants for over 100 students. Our YUSU Develops training programme is growing, while we lobby to make the University’s employability strategy work for York students.

If any of this is news to you, that might be the problem. I’m not suggesting that fighting antipathy means death by a thousand copies of Nouse. However, we seem to be confronting a genuine communication problem. That won’t be unique to YUSU, but our members are asking us to meet the demands of an excited student democracy.

We’re achieving a lot - but we need to be doing it together. A New Year’s resolution of mine is to be way more collaborative when achieving wins for students, as well as being more out and about on campus. A few other officers have mentioned similar goals. Also, we need to be consulting you on how we achieve our wins. Let’s start there.

Does any of this mean tinkering the by-laws, policy process or overall governance? Probably not. Granted, I ran on more media freedom (I’m still pushing it), but you won’t hear me talk about it as a headline issue. I’ll be damned if even 300 students know what the Media Charter is. Despite coming from Nouse, I had to put my own interests aside. I urge all candidates to do this.

Students won’t thank us for being nothing but introspective: the what, not the how, must define this year’s YUSU elections.

Bureaucracy is a poor excuse for underachievement - both for me and any incoming officer. 90 per cent of your ideas can be implemented somehow. If you know your priorities, shout loudly about them. You’ll rarely go wrong.

Democracy is an important means to an end. However, processes will never form the head-lines on our impact reports. YUSU is delivering, but we need to communicate that better. We also need election candidates who commit themselves to impact, reaching out to the student body, and not letting bureaucracy get in the way.

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