Comment Editor Alex Goodwin discusses how we must strive to meet the demands of intersectional feminism, even if they are higher than they seemWritten by Alex Goodwin on 4th April 2018
What is the Guild?
Comment Writer Jadzia Samuel argues that the Guild of Students goes unrecognised by many students, and suggests how this can change
The Guild. To many of us the university’s student union can feel like a distant, immaterial entity, absent from the realities of student life. Just a building on the edge of campus with a naked mermaid fountain, where you sometimes go on Saturday nights to indulge in a bit of Fab n Fresh. Is anyone actually aware of the behind-the-scenes happenings of the Guild? Does anyone actually know what it does? I know that when I was a Fresher I vaguely knew that it was our ‘student union’ (whatever that meant), and that it was in charge of the various societies. Beyond that, I was (and if I am honest, still mostly am) clueless.
The pervading question which emerges is this: why is the Guild so distant from the student body itself? It is an ever-present, yet persistently invisible entity in the university, only really brought to light during that two-week campaigning period for the Guild Elections.
Ah, yes. The Guild Elections…. At some point in March every year the Guild seems to suddenly materialise for a frenzied fortnight, in the form of hand-painted bed sheets strung up around university, endorsed with strange and seemingly unrelated slogans which make dodgy word play out of candidates’ names. For me, the problem with these elections is simple; nobody has any idea for whom or for what they are voting. Although one first-year student I spoke with was very well-informed and keen on the democratic structure of the Guild, others I interviewed were less enthusiastic. One student aptly commented that, ‘we are told “vote for this person!” for Guild Officer or Sports Rep or whatever, but none of us actually know what that means. For the rest of the year we never hear from the Sports Rep or see what they actually do so why should we care about electing someone else for the role?’
“If we want students to care about these elections, the Guild clearly needs to feel more relevant to student life
When asked whether they voted in the most recent elections, the student replied that although they did indeed vote, they hadn’t really known what they were voting for, and ‘only [did it] for the free pizza’. If we want students to care about these elections, the Guild clearly needs to feel more relevant to student life.
The lack of transparency between the Guild and the student body is evident. Student officers need to make an effort to share their achievements and the work they do around campus (that doesn’t involve a daily email which would merely spam our inboxes), so that students feel involved and are able to view the union as a body which represents them.
In addition to issues with the alien-feel of Guild Elections, students have also found problems with the candidates’ apparently unrealistic claims in their campaign policy. One second-year student expressed her frustration, saying, ‘[newly elected Guild President] Reece Roberts’ proposition to start a door to door night bus from the library is absolutely ridiculous considering the budget available. It was one of the main things people supported, but it was never even a slight possibility so it’s not fair how candidates can get away with such absurd campaign policies and not get called out on it’.
“This communication with the student body could come in the form of a feature article in Redbrick once every semester, a Facebook page with weekly updates, or even a formal review once a semester, open for students to attend
This again highlights the poor communication between the Guild and student community: if more people actually knew the responsibilities and implications (and budget) of each role in the elections, then perhaps more people would be inclined to vote, and candidates could make realistic propositions behind which students could genuinely rally. This communication with the student body could come in the form of a feature article in Redbrick once every semester, a Facebook page with weekly updates, or even a formal review once a semester, open for students to attend.
Many people are unaware that the Guild is actually a charity organisation, re-investing any profits back into development of student facilities on campus. The current crop of freshers are apparently far better informed than my friends and I were last year, and one praised it for being ‘a link between the students and the university’ and for ensuring ‘our voices [are] heard’. However, she did mention that, as a first year, it was only during the elections that the reality of the Guild was brought to light for her.
Its work is often left in the shadows; it was only when writing this article, for example, and actively researching the achievements of Guild Officers that I learnt that it has been working towards creating a safer Selly Oak by working with police offers to increase crime reporting, handing out personal alarms, and creating a University Guarantor scheme to ensure the quality of landlords from whom students rent. Even seemingly minor aspects of university life, such as the increase in vegan and gluten free options available around campus, and the availability of free hot water, are all policies which have been successfully implemented by current Officers in order to improve student life on campus.
The bottom line is that we need to open up the mysteries of the Guild so that the work of Guild Officers is not left in the dark. We students should feel welcome, included, and represented, and should understand the inner workings of the Guild.