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November 04, 2008

Letter to the Warwick Boar

Published in the Warwick Boar 4/11/08

Dear Editor,

“Our role is to facilitate not dictate debates, the reason being that many of our students have differing opinions. I will make no apologies for my Warwick focus…Gone are the days when we should be prioritising ideological campaigns trying to achieve world peace or trying to bring down capitalism. This year what we want is a focus on ourselves…”

I’m sure we speak for a large number of students here at Warwick in expressing our annoyance at comments made by our Students’ Union President in last weeks edition of the Boar.

Tommo’s article painted a truly dismal picture of the potential for student campaigns both on campus here at Warwick and on an international scale. To admit defeat is to be entirely ignorant of the multitude of successful student campaigns that have been led in the past and are still very much active today in pushing for social change worldwide. Take for example the student boycott of Barclays in 1986 for financially supporting the Apartheid regime in South Africa. Barclays was forced to pull out of the country after the boycott which helped lead to the destabilisation of the Apartheid regime and their eventual downfall. Other examples include the Vietnam War, Tiananmen Square and high-profile student protests in France in 2002, 2005 and last year. The issues that students are campaigning on today are no less important than they were in ’68 but we must tackle the climate of student apathy in order to make today’s campaigns as successful and wide-reaching as they were then.

Although it is undoubtedly true that a large proportion of the student population will spend their years at Warwick caring about little more than the price of a pint, is this really something that their union should be encouraging? We are encouraged to ‘get involved’ with union decision-making and we are often reminded that the Union is ‘more than just a nightclub’, yet how do Tommo’s comments promote this in any way, beyond limited internal policies on Freshers and Accommodation.
It is also true that there is a range of diverse opinions on campus, and lively debate involving all sides is hugely important, but do we want to be dictated to by the apathetic? The president of the Student’s Union has a responsibility to draw students’ attention to issues of national and international importance; they are not only there to facilitate debate but to lead it, especially where the Union democratic bodies have decided to take a stance on issues.

Students are concerned about issues outside the Warwick bubble and the Student’s Union is a body which can facilitate and act on behalf of these concerns. With 26 registered campaigning societies in the Union, support at all levels is vital, otherwise we may find that policies banning unethical companies such as ExxonMobil, Nestle and Arms Companies are gradually rolled-back to leave our Students’ Union with the bare bones of a stance on anything at all. The body of Union policy on campaigns is testament to the history of active Warwick campaigners who recognise that the Union can make a difference on issues outside the bubble.

A final point that is crucial to make here is that not all student-led campaigns will achieve their aims within a year. This may be hard for someone who is elected into a year-long term at the Union to accept but it is important to look at the big picture, the long-term. Big campaigns will take a long time but their effects will be worth the effort in the long run.

Sincerely,
Hannah Smith and Barnaby Pace


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