Kerwin Cameron Jacobs
After countless slogans, many promises, and a dozen new faces making themselves known as potential campus leaders – most students must be happy that they can continue their day without being asked to vote for someone, or being reminded that an election is happening. Having attended almost every Student Representative Council (SRC) caucus, however, it became apparent to me that most students choose to be disengaged with the leadership structures on campus, and more particularly, with the SRC.
Only about 13% of the student body voted in the past election, and beyond the turnout being so dismal, what’s more shocking is the fact that this is the second best turnout we have had for an SRC election in the last 5 years. This raises the question to me – do we actually want to be involved, as students, within the structures which represent us?
In speaking to some students, most of them feel that student structures are irrelevant, or ineffective, to us as students. The major argument being that students do not know what these structures are doing, or are supposed to do. As a result, most of our positional leadership has been systematically hollowed out, with our leaders being reduced to either additional administration staff or project managers to the university. Whether this has been intentional or not, is debatable.
Naturally, some elected leaders have actually done more, and managed to raise some critical issues on campus and, to varying lengths, been successful in solving some of the pressing issues – but why is this the exception and not the rule within the positional leadership structures?
I have no easy answer to these questions. In speaking to some former leaders they consistently raise the issue of agency. They find the Centre for Student Leadership and Structures to be overly paternalistic leading to severe restrictions on the autonomy of bodies that are legislatively empowered to function autonomously within the interest of students. The paternalism also tends to force the leadership bodies through more bureaucratic processes than is necessary, further slowing the pace at which leaders can reach their goals.
If, as students, we truly care about institutions such as the SRC, Student Court and Student Parliament, functioning to our benefit, then we are going to need to start getting more involved in them. The perceived divide between those elected and the student body at large needs to end, and a mutual commitment to proactive engagement will need to be forged. It is within our best interests as students that we empower ourselves with an understanding of the leadership structures and how they work, so that together we can encourage our leaders to fulfill their roles better. I believe that we should revisit the principle of that nothing about us should be done without us, and we should take the initiative to make our voices heard.
Kerwin Cameron Jacobs is the current chairperson of the Democratic Alliance Students Organization (DASO) and is studying toward a BA in Social Dynamics.