With yet another election season passing us by largely without notice, Heather Reynolds asks where everyone’s audacity has gone?
It seems that Covid has been the great confidence killer of this generation. Not in a personal sense, per say, as people seem to be more comfortable playing music without headphones on public transport than ever before - instead, it seems to have killed any confidence people seem to have had that they could ever be in a position of leadership.
There are so many reasons for this - lack of opportunity for leadership over Covid, lack of familiarity with the spaces they would be attempting to lead, lack of confidence that society won’t shut down again the second you take up a role. It’s all very deeply understandable (and likely subconscious). That being said, you do all need to get over yourselves.
When I started in UCD for the first year of my undergrad, all the way back in 2016, when everything was in black and white still, freshers ran for things, and they ran for them often. Engagement wasn’t just a buzz word, it was a way of life. People ate, slept, and breathed their society of choice, regardless of what else it starved them of. This time is definitely not above criticism, a lot of the culture was better off done away with, but it was also very much not a time dominated by apathy, indecision, and insecurity. I’m not sure the same can be said of now.
Engagement wasn’t just a buzz word, it was a way of life
When I was in second year, half of the societies I was in were ran by fellow second years, with people having run for auditor at the end of their first year, often having beaten out “more experienced” candidates - second and third years, who already had experience on committee, but who had no new or interesting ideas. And while yes, many of these auditors were still green around the gills, and were learning as they went, but they ran good societies. They ran events people found interesting, they sold out balls, they drummed up so much engagement that committee sizes doubled the year after.
Now, I’m hearing from friends of mine - the people I trained into societies down through the years, friends I made through them - that people with multiple years committee experience aren’t running for auditor because they don’t feel that they have the appropriate amount of experience to do it right. This is, in my experience, absolute hogwash on two accounts. The first being that no society auditor has ever, in my view, “done it right.” They’ve done the best they can, and avoided setting anything on fire. That’s the best case scenario.
People with multiple years committee experience aren’t running for auditor because they don’t feel that they have the appropriate amount of experience to do it right
The second is far more important. In college life, prior experience should never be taken as a metric for future success. Everyone’s far too young for that.
As a matter of fact, the idea of “not having enough experience to be a volunteer in a college society” flies in the face of what these societies are for - they’re there for people to make friends and decompress between classes and assignments, yes, but they’re also a training ground for the adults you’re in university to become.
In my long and storied time in UCD, I’ve seen people use their society experience to go on to events management, to management, to political organising, all through their work in societies, all without any experience prior to their work in societies. Society work is multifaceted and often stressful, but it’s also often incredibly flexible and low stakes. In essence, it’s the perfect training ground, and perfect for anyone who wants to have fun while bulking up their CV a little.
All this being said, new UCD students still all seem to be lacking the big thing that qualifies them for leadership roles - believing themselves capable of it. Every second society I encounter these days has a committee heavily populated by those who were there prior to Covid - either in a year of grace after graduation, or as postgraduate students. This is fundamentally unsustainable. Society committees pre-Covid generally had massive turnovers year to year for no shortage of reasons, but the big one always was that committee members who were starting to get burned out, or were looking to focus more on their degree, felt that there was someone there to pass the torch to if they were to take a step back. That confidence feels entirely absent on campus these days.
Society work is multifaceted and often stressful, but it’s also often incredibly flexible and low stakes
Where are all the first year students powered by nothing except SU coffee and audacity? Where are the people with zero skill but the confidence they’ll have learned it all by September? They may seem delusional from the outside, sure, but they’re the people student life lives and dies by.
This problem extends outside of just student societies as well - while the SU has seen a notable uptick in class reps, and a notable increase in students running for Executive Officer roles at the end of year elections, it still is not able to secure students to run for sabbatical positions - particularly for president. Way back when, it was uncommon to not see a society auditor, or particularly diligent Law student looking towards a career in politics, run for SU President without ever stepping foot in an SU council meeting. Hell, in my tenure we’ve seen Presidential candidates win on very little more than a nice smile and a promise of more microwaves. Unfortunately, I genuinely feel it would be remiss to put the blame for this entirely on the shoulders of current committees and sabbatical officers. They genuinely do seem to not only be doing enough, but actively more than their pre-Covid predecessors.
The problem does really seem to be that of a lack of confidence in one's own ability. And unfortunately, no amount of Rolling Donuts and roadshows can fix that.