Difficulty Engaging: Challenges Faced by SU Reps

Priscilla Obilana examines some of the challenges faced by Student Union class reps.[br]THE job of a Class Rep is so vital in theory. Therefore, why is it that when talking to students about their Class Reps, a common response is that they don’t know their own Class Rep or if they even have one?This is a huge loss to students. The purpose of a Class Rep is to yes, represent their class, to speak to lecturers on their behalf, to try and help them with deadlines, give them information and if they can’t achieve that, to find them someone who can.Trying to win us over with witty, two minute speeches at the start of a lecture has been hijacked recently by all the hopefuls running for SU sabbatical positions. Our reps can get lost in the crowd, if students missed them at the start of the year. And if students don’t know who their class reps are, how can they help them?Stephen Crosby, a second-year Class Rep for the School of Politics and International Relations, acknowledges that there is an unbridged gap between students and the SU but that Class Reps are intended to be the go between.“I’m supposed to be... the connection between students and the union” said Crosby “When it comes to the SU and students sometimes there’s a bit of disconnect and that’s sort of why reps are really important”.Thomas Fitzgerald, a second-year Class Rep for the School of English, Drama and Film, believes the lack of student engagement is a big problem.
“When it comes to the SU and students sometimes there’s a bit of disconnect and that’s sort of why reps are really important"
Fitzgerald believes that using Facebook is the optimum way to get in contact with students. He added that reps having to keep track of the students they are supposed to represent and being required to interact with such large numbers by themselves, would be unimaginable if not for social media. For Fitzgerald, employing Facebook, after a few shaky starts, resulted in less pressure and more collaboration.Fitzgerald posts information on Facebook ranging from where the polling stations are for SU elections, to when assignments are due for his course. Information about events, as well as changes to things specific to his course like when assignments are due. “That’s basically my job and helping them [the students] with any problems as we go” he said.For those students who steadfastly do not want to ask questions, it would be easier to scroll through a Facebook group and find that the question they’ve been worrying about has been asked and answered. This may also boost their confidence to ask questions after finding a commonality with their peers.Another obstacle for reps is that not only can students feel disconnected from the union, but also from people in their own course. Crosby pointed out how, in a class of hundreds, some students can feel alone. “They might feel as though they might have to deal with issues on their own” he said.Speaking of the sabbatical officers, Fitzgerald said “they’re like some of the friendliest people I’ve met” and yet he added that people still find it so difficult to get involved. “I think it’s just a problem with everything these days, a lot of people just feel disengaged” he said. Fitzgerald goes on to try to explain the disconnect that exists between students and the Union, saying that perhaps if people got more involved themselves they’d understand the roles of the SU better.
“I think it’s just a problem with everything these days, a lot of people just feel disengaged”
Despite meaning to be the remedy to this gap between students and the union, it is evident that they are influenced by it as well, making it hard for them to accomplish anything for students. When many students aren’t even aware of their Class Rep the quest of engaging with students becomes a real struggle. Speaking of student engagement in the union, Crosby said “I think what we do do could be done better but that’s all about trying to drive engagement as much as possible.”Fitzgerald also highlights there can be a false sense that the SU isn’t doing anything. As a cure to this, Crosby suggests that student perception of the SU would change if there was more of an evident exhibition of their efforts. “I mean sitting on fifty boards is one thing but actually getting out and doing demonstrations and that kind of stuff might be a better way of letting students know that we’re actually there, we’re not just sort of in the SU corridors”Furthermore, Fitzgerald also admits that there are reps that do not put in much effort into their positions due to a lack of information about the position and the responsibilities that come with it. “A lot of people sign up and they don’t really know what it is” said Fitzgerald.Both Fitzgerald and Crosby seemed to believe that making the role of the Class Rep clear and concise would allow people to know what they are getting into and understand how they are supposed to fulfil their role.Both reps however expressed how their favourite part of the job is helping the students. Classifications can often divide but when it comes down to it, as Fitzgerald said, “the Student Union is everyone you know what I mean... But there’s just people in charge of like classes. Because, everyone is a student here, so everyone is in the Student Union and everyone can vote”.