I ran for Welfare and Rights Officer on a platform of centering the rights of all students, planning to link up with local and national campaigns and to ensure that the work we do as a union on welfare is not viewed in isolation but tackles the structural causes of these issues. Some of the things I’m most excited about for this year involve linking up with local unions, supporting student activism and ensuring student welfare is at the heart of the University’s response to Covid-19.
The myth of a Cambridge “bubble” falsely divides students from the other people living in the town; this isolationism only places more pressure on students to make academic achievements their sole concern, while disregarding the good they could do locally. This new sabbatical role that explicitly focuses on linking the work of the SU with the community, will allow Cambridge SU’s work to become more embedded in the Cambridge context.
Student unions were created out of a specific context: students realised that they needed a body to represent them, to lobby and campaign on their behalf and to advocate for their rights. They organised as unions; inherently political groups of people that come together to improve their working situations through collective bargaining. The power of Student Unions to make real change comes from their power as a collective, and by standing with other unions we only make ourselves stronger. The importance of this has been highlighted in the context of a global pandemic, where the University and Colleges are making plans and organising for the return of students.
At the moment, the SU is fighting for the University to provide essential support for students and staff during the pandemic through the #DemandSafeCambridge Campaign. I have also become the contact for unions like UCU and Unite, which has allowed us to work hand in hand when pushing for a safe return to work and study. Additionally, a brand new coalition of students and staff across the University and local community have come together to fight job cuts in the University, meeting weekly on Wednesdays.
Additionally, I will be working alongside student campaigns which impact student welfare and rights such as dealing with the climate crisis, opposing marketisation and campaigning for better mental health provision or re-evaluating the way we are expected to work at Cambridge. It is incredibly exciting to hear the news of Cambridge committing to divestment last week, an announcement which the University has been dragging its feet on and actively opposing for the last 5 years. This commitment is a testament to the incredible student organising which has gone into this over the years, and proves that organised and energised students and staff really do have the power to make change in the University.
Cambridge University life is going to be incredibly different this year, but I hope all students feel as though there are support networks in place for them both on a College and University level. If you do have any concerns or feel as though you need extra support, do not hesitate to reach out. The SU also has the Student Advice Service, that can offer free, independent and confidential advice to any student who needs it. They can support you with any issues or problems you might experience as a student, from making friends to working relationships, from exams to intermission, and from welfare concerns to finance.
It is, however, going to be a really exciting year, with lots of campaigning and interesting projects to get involved in. I hope you all enjoy discovering societies at the freshers’ fair and feel as though there is a community of students, clubs and societies to become part of during your time at Cambridge. As always, feel free to reach out if you need anything from the SU, and hope you all have a lovely term!