Opinion: Are we Societies or Puppets?

In recent days we’ve heard many things surrounding the upcoming DSU motion. I’d like to tell you I was surprised by them, shocked, horrified even; but the truth is I can’t. I can’t because I knew it was coming. No, not because they told me (why they didn’t tell anyone!) but because it’s just one step in an all too familiar direction; an inch on paper that costs societies miles of lost opportunity.

The DSU have proposed a number of changes to student groups which on the face of things look reasonable, even sensible; but in which hide an underhanded and calculated blow to student democracy. To the freedom, originality, and precious autonomy of student groups. It hands significant power directly over to DSU and gives its staff free rein to exercise and even amend that power as they see fit. It makes them your Boss, and your Judge, Jury, and Executioner. Well I say NO. The DSU may play Judge all they like but only a group’s membership can be the true decider.

It is my experience that the DSU, far from seeing societies as a precious asset and a prime example of real student engagement, consider us a problem in desperate need of a fix. But it’s one of their own making. It is not the first time the DSU have tried to force changes to societies without consultation, in fact they’ve done it again and again. The introduction and attempted forced uptake of an expensive and substandard new financial scheme without prior consultation forced my resignation from Societies Committee nearly 2 years ago.

We are told that they want to support us, to help us, and there are some societies that need and want that support, particularly those just finding their feet. However for others, as I am sure most of us can relate, unwanted help is well, UNWANTED! We are not children who need over protective mummy & daddy to tell us what’s best for us, we are adults who know what we want, and will ask for help if we want it. Just like if they genuinely want to know what they can do to better support us, they can ask.

I understand that from the DSUs perspective all they see is the problems in some groups, but what they don’t see are the problems they cause themselves and the restrictions their policies and methods create. The autonomy we value so much is important for the flexibility, resilience, and uninhibited growth of student groups. Yes, groups will make mistakes, yes it’s really really annoying, but it’s part of the process. Despite this they insist on forever holding us back, like a parent putting 3 sets of training wheels on a child’s push bike, when really they should just let them go and have a first aid kit ready for when they occasionally fall off.

It doesn’t need to be this way. If the DSU showed us the trust and respect that some other Unions across the country do then we could do so much more! Allowing societies that can show reliable good governance, fiscal responsibility, and adequate planning the liberty to operate freely and flexibly and to truly express what makes them unique and special would be a great first step.

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