With UCD students being so rarely passionate on the issues affecting them, Michael Bergin examines the possible sources of this indifference.
You’ve probably heard it all before. Cost of living going up, accommodation becoming all the more scarce, and scandalous accounts of how your money is being wasted by the University. In fact, this paper probably told you about these issues. Yet, in the current climate of goodwill, with students returning to campus, and University life finally getting back to normal, there seems to be a willingness to let these issues slip. More than ever, students are willing to give those higher up in the University the benefit of the doubt when it comes to spending their money.
Recently, the University opened its new UCD Village accommodation, which includes a penthouse suite, and the option to choose “gold” standard accommodation. Such a blatantly elitist and unabashedly obvious way of pricing out lower income students should have been met with outright fury. If nothing else, it shows a University management team that is disastrously out of touch with its students.
Such a blatantly elitist and unabashedly obvious way of pricing out lower income students should have been met with outright fury
And yet, UCD attracted significantly less criticism for the move than it should have. There were the usual attacks to be expected fromUCDSU. Then there were the predictably outraged articles in this paper. However, there were no major protests, no demonstrations to speak of. The protest against a 12% fee increase in 2019, which was feeble at best, was made to look like the 1913 lockout.
Students, aside from those few who are active in student politics, seem to be for the most part indifferebt towards how their money is spent. They simply want to get their degrees, and get out of college, without stopping to fix it. This is an understandable outlook to have. UCD is such a massive University, and its administration is such a bureaucratic nightmare, that nothing short of a full-scale armed insurrection could change the time they turn the fountain on at.
As well as this, we must remember the fundamentally transitory stage that college is in most people’s lives. Why would you waste your time trying to change a system, and hold those in power to account, when you’re only going to be a part of that system for three or four years? Many students might cite their status as a class rep as “something good for my CV” as opposed to a genuine way to make real change. For most, it just doesn’t make sense to campaign for change inside UCD, and they see those who do as being trapped in a three-year bubble.
There are a great many students who are interested in politics, from the diehards to those with a passing interest. The concerns of national and international politics, however, have the effect of trivialising local concerns on campus. Students for the most part are far more concerned with the actions of US President Joe Biden, which have practically no consequences for them, than the actions of UCDSU president Ruairí Power, which do.
Why would you waste your time trying to change a system, and hold those in power to account, when you’re only going to be a part of that system for three or four years?
However, indifference is just what those at the top of UCD want. A president who is unaccountable to anyone is a danger, no matter how small their overall powers are. By showing disinterest in the work of the UCDSU, the students are undermining the one group of people who are willing to fight for them. Change must come, or more ludicrous decisions will be made by management. Change, however, is slow.
As with everything else in todays’ world, the pandemic has also greatly exacerbated the problem of student indifference. The 2020 SU elections, which were held online, received a 4% turnout, a record low for the University. Many positions were only contested by one candidate. Intuitively, it seems that students care even less about the University’s actions when they are not on campus every day. There was nothing that the SU could do at the time, as circumstances were totally out of their control. It is now, though, that they must work to rebuild into a stronger, and more active Union.
College may be a fundamentally transitory stage for most of us, but this does not excuse inaction. What would be said if this was the attitude world leaders took when dealing with the climate crisis, the most severe effects of which will certainly not be felt by those in power today? Are we not obligated to leave to those who come after us a University in a better state than we found it? At the very least, we should not be leaving them a University in a worse state.
This is why student activism is important. There is no immediate reward. Valiantly as they may fight, and resolutely as they may protest, the present leaders of the SU are unlikely to see major changes before they leave the college. But their actions may inspire future student leaders, who will continue the fight. So long as the thirst for better is not quenched, nor the longing for fairness eradicated, change can and will be achieved. Those in power are not infallible, and if we wish to make it so, we can call them out on their actions.
But in order to achieve real progress, we must begin the task of reinvigorating our student body
UCD isn’t going to change today or tomorrow. In fact, if anyone in the higher ranks of the University read this article, I would be highly surprised. But in order to achieve real progress, we must begin the task of reinvigorating our student body. This task is an arduous, and by no means straightforward one, but it is already beginning. An in-person UCDSU stall during orientation week was a huge boost. Increased coverage of UCDSU taking on figures such as Owen Keegan also helps. The pandemic reduced the student body’s voice to a whisper in the wind, though we are mercifully becoming audible again.