Image Credit: Alix Scorer
Over the course of the Covid-19 pandemic, there was a constant rhetoric about young people being lazy and selfish. Our concerns about online learning and the loss of social activity were presented as entitled; that we were all living the easy life and breaking lockdown rules to boot. We were blamed for rising Covid-19 cases by the government and told by others that we were not bringing anything to our communities.
At the same time, so many of our student representatives and volunteers were working harder than ever before to support what remained of the university experience and advocate not just for students, but for the wider community. College JCRCs, society committees and student representatives worked between online lectures and amongst ever-changing lockdown restrictions to support their communities, whilst they themselves dealt with the personal challenges dealt by the same devastating pandemic.
From reinventing Freshers Week to the blistering success of Roses Un-locked, incredible work was done by students, for students in ways we had never imagined to be necessary or possible.
Yet much of this work was done behind the scenes, for little thanks, respect or reward. Those who supported our student life at a time when student life was so challenged often did not get the recognition they deserved. In fact, a significant number of the complaints surrounding a lack of opportunities for students during the pandemic do all of these people a huge disservice. The Nouse committee saved me last year - as so many groups did for so many other lost and lonely students. The way this is underestimated both by members of the public and of our community but also by the university itself can only be described as an insult.
Unfortunately this kind of under-valuing is not just a pandemic-related flash in the pan. The past few weeks have seen a flurry of elections for YUSU volunteer positions, college committees and student groups alike. Yet so many of these positions have passed by under-appreciated and - more importantly - un-filled. As a department rep I am still avidly searching for someone to fill course rep roles. You don’t have to look far to find announcements of vacant college roles or society by-elections either. For many, the world of student representation is merely a novelty to laugh at, ignore or complain about.
What is arguably worse though, is the way all of this work remains grossly undervalued. Whether it is the anonymous criticism flung across Yorfess, a complete disregard of student campaigns or a lack of recognition for the hours put in by the university itself, students and staff alike show too little regard for those who actually take on these responsibilities.
The work that students put in is not in itself a problem. Voluntary work is a staple of university life for many students, and I myself would say the time I spend on these projects accounts for the majority of the highlights of my time at York. However, I guarantee that if you go and talk to any student leader, campaigner or society executive the amount of work that goes into their role will likely stagger you. Critically many students also take on multiple positions concurrently, and the passion we have for what we do can drive us to put in significantly more work than is expected of us. For some this is likely to be at the expense of their degrees, part time jobs or mental health.
This is exacerbated by the expectations placed on so many of these representatives by the university and our student union. Elements of the upcoming RAG weekend, for instance, are entirely reliant on the contributions of student groups and their executives, such as the Band and Comedy Societies.
"People forget though these students are exactly that; students. They don’t deserve to deal with all the pressure and the hate for what amounts to little or no compensation."
This is even more so the case in diversity and inclusion, where much of the work that arguably should be carried out by paid university staff is undertaken by unpaid students. I can still remember how during last year’s YUSU election debates everyone’s solution to an accessibility problem was to consult the relevant part time officer. People forget though these students are exactly that; students. They don’t deserve to deal with all the pressure and the hate for what amounts to little or no compensation.
It is lovely that we reward the best of our student volunteers once a year and that part time officers and academic reps get a black card, but this in no way fully compensates students for their work. Nor has enough been done to deal with the hatred waged against college committees and student representatives across social media. If I see another Yorfess post insulting a college liberation officer or a message in a group chat about how ‘pointless’ course reps are, I am going to scream.
On a basic level though, we just don’t thank these people enough. So for anyone reading this who gives up their time to improve and support student life here at York; thank you. Thank you for everything you do, especially the things that are not enjoyable or that no one realises. Now lets hope our University can catch up with the sentiment.