For some of you this may be seen as a response to recent action on campus but this is more of a culmination of events that I have witnessed throughout my time as a student and within my term in office and something that I have wished to voice for a while now.
To express what I feel I need to on this issue I’m going to start by going right back to my very first experiences in the Guild as a first year unengaged student in my second semester:
A Perspective of an Unengaged Student
I decided to go along to a Wednesday afternoon Guild Television meeting; partly because I’d paid £5 for membership for the year but more importantly because I’d never been able to afford a video camera and I wanted to have a go at filming. I was welcomed into the society and never looked back. The Station Manager at the time took time out of their busy schedule to teach me the basics in camera work and half a year later I stood for committee myself. My involvement in the society gave me life long friends and also the confidence and skill to get work experience in the media, deciding my preferred career path in something that seemed very much the impossible dream in my home town of Derby. Something so impossible that I didn’t even think was a remote possibility. That is the main reason that I wanted to be Vice President (Activities and Development) because I wanted to give back to the institution that had offered me so much. In turn, that is totally down to the positive attitude of the committee and society members that welcomed me all those years ago and student group committees are now the people that I enjoy helping, who are offering the same treatment to their members that I was offered. This is something that I see on a daily basis in the Guild and arguably one of the most rewarding aspects of the job.
However, there was one aspect of being a brand new society member that I couldn’t understand. There was so much frustration, at times bordering on hatred, for the Guild that was unfathomable to me. We were given access to 3 semi professional cameras; a studio, complete with blue screen and gallery to edit videos in yet the society would often unite in moaning about the Guild, usually on a weekly basis. Now this negative spiral of anger only assisted in embedding this culture within the society and eventually escalated when our one computer died 3 weeks before the deadline for the National Student Tv Awards. (Not aided by staring enviously at the 6 macs used by Redbrick across the corridor). Now as Station Manager at this time I’m not going to pretend that I was happy with the Guild or that I’ve never criticised it, or that I haven’t been jealous of Redbrick, god knows I have done, many a time. Although one thing was for certain; the shouting and venting of the frustration definitely didn’t achieve anything apart from a short term release. By working with the VP(S)AD at the time we managed to not only get a brand new i-mac, but another computer, the old one fixed and a refurbished gallery.
Reflections of a Committee Member
On reflection, GTV was just as much to blame as the Guild. We had failed to communicate our problems and need for a equipment in a way that other media groups had so it was no wonder that we were in a position where we couldn’t function. I’m not letting the Guild off scott free here – arguably they haven’t, and I would say still aren’t, fully supporting GTV to realise their potential but one thing is for certain, communication has improved and I think the effects of this is showing with the higher output of the society and better equipment! (Something the current committee should be taking credit for rather than myself!)
It’s easy to comprehend why a communication meltdown can happen though. Sometimes when you are working so hard to run a society and you are working with people so closely who understand your problems and share your frustrations it becomes unbelievable to you that the Guild isn’t really aware of them. You become trapped in the bubble of your society and the negative feeling shared by your colleagues, at least that is my experience. For me, this only became broken down when we started talking to the Guild and found that there were actually less barriers than we thought in terms of getting things fixed! I became prepared for a battle that I never had to fight.
The lack of communication between societies and the Guild (or more broadly students and the Guild) is something my colleagues in Student Development have commented on from time to time. It is only really when something goes disastrously wrong that we hear about it – a ‘snapping’ moment like the one I had experience with above. I would love to see as many of those avoided as possible. Work with me. Come and tell me your frustrations and what is wrong. Don’t just chat amongst the committee but channel those feelings upwards. You never know, the negative vibes may be baffling new members in the same way I experienced a few years ago and there may be less barriers than you think. The Guild is awful at communicating why it makes certain decisions and is something I have been at fault of time to time but I am working on it – so come meet me halfway.
As a Sabbatical Officer
Now, having moved over to the ‘dark side’ or to that of the ‘enemy’, I have seen sadly more instances of a negative attitude that I would have liked. My opening sentence to this section is something that I am often made to feel by some of our engaged students in the Guild and for me is something that is not conducive to making change.
Now you may think I’m being oversensitive with that opinion but I don’t think the sarcastic language and swearing that is so often banded around on the Guild Open Forums will allow you to instantly form that conclusion. Tonight has seen some of the worst of that. Too many times had political ideology got in the way of working together to make real change. Too many times has unconstructive criticism got in the way of discussing the real issues at hand and too many times have personal attacks been made. This is something that I would say is worse on the online forums than their physical counterparts or Guild Council, but are definitely not restricted to them. I’m not sure if it’s because hiding behind a computer screen allows people to forget they are offending ‘real’ people or if they just don’t have the courage to come across like that in the physical meetings.
I am not here to comment on what actually took place today, for one I was not present due to a prolonged period of illness which I am only just recovering from but also because I feel it will undermine the point of this post. What I will say is that if a more positive attitude was adopted before the protest was carried out, would we even be in this mess now? If people thought the route was ‘too tame’, then why was the Guild and University not questioned as to a longer route in a more prominent position? If the idea was to do an occupation to protest against the injunction, why was that not made explicit in the mandate passed through Guild Council? If the idea was to surprise the University, then why was this not communicated to the stewards? As a Guild led protest the stewards were there to help and from some of their comments, have been made to feel not welcome on a student protest. Also, the Guild is liable for things that happen on its protests and as a Sabbatical Trustee I feel very uncomfortable that some of our students didn’t feel that they could communicate their frustration at the plans before the event took place so we could ensure our Risk Assessment was relevant. The law, even if we disagree with it, should never be disregarded without full consequences taken into consideration and is something that flippant comments have often been made about in Guild Council.
I’m nervous about posting this blog because I don’t want this to appear like I am ‘hating on’ students. There’s been enough “sabbs vs students”, “sabb-bashing”, whatever you want to call it and this post is not about that. I will not defend some of the posts made by the sabbs, and the officer team is just as guilty for not always working with a positive attitude as some of our students. But it is about time it stopped, particularly if we ever want a hope in hell’s chance of engaging more of our students.
It has put me off from engaging in student democracy. The Reclaim the Guild Campaign is something that I want to know more about but I am put off attending the meetings, rightly or wrongly, purely because I am a Student Officer. Now again, this may be my oversensitivity but if you are involved in the campaign then please ask yourself why I might feel this way?
Equally I have made some controversial decisions this year but I feel that my biggest critics have not come to question me on this in person or via email. If anyone is unhappy with anything I’ve done then I hope they will feel comfortable enough to question me but if not, they should be able to voice their opinion either to other Officers or Student Development. I am disappointed that some students have felt they have had to go through Guild Council rather than being able to come and speak to me about things they are unhappy with. Some of those present at the last Guild Council will know how much this upset me and I believe is probably one of the reasons I have been run down and ill for the past few weeks.
Ok so I’m aware this post is not a happy one, especially considering it’s supposed to be about positive attitude but I felt it had to be said. I felt it necessary to give an open and honest account of my feelings in the job at the moment if I’m going to create a better working relationship with students. I have been honest in my communication and I hope you all feel you can do the same to me. My door is always open. Especially for anyone with a positive attitude…
…And I want to end on a positive now. I am really looking forward to being back at work, I’m hoping to make it in tomorrow. Apologies to anyone I am yet to reply to by email, it’s been a while because of the time off ill. I’m especially excited to visit some more student activities, the truly loyal work of the committees to their members never fails to astound me. I am also going to enjoy taking an hour or so to read through everyone’s Guild Award nominations and hear about more of the fantastic work that you guys are doing!
See you back in the Guild,