Tragedy and comedy with a cast of ridiculous characters

Reflections on a record-breaking year for York student politics.

Another year brings with it another barrage of events and non-events, from YUSU’s farcical opening act of sexist goody bags, to the news story curtain call of cocaine. Now, it seems, is the appropriate time to stand back and see what will really affect students, both current and prospective, at the University of York.

Student reactions alone put two particular stories near the top of the news pile. These are of course the vote of no-confidence in one of our own sabbatical officers, Academic and Welfare officer Grace Fletcher-Hackwood, and the election of Mad Cap’n Tom Scott, the joke candidate, to the YUSU Presidency. These are both stories which we voted on, we made happen, and so they are in some way our legacy.

The Presidential campaign was record breaking in terms of turnout, not to mention distinctive in terms of candidates. Mad Cap’n Tom Scott swept to victory with 40.3% of an incredible 2,986 votes. But the precedent for high voting turnout was not set by that election; it was set by the UGM which ousted Fletcher-Hackwood. UGMs tend to skulk by with one or two paltry motions, but this one really raised the bar. 1400 students voted and a wave of lesser motions swept past the usually intimidating quoracy level, riding the coat-tails of the furore caused by the Chav D debacle.

But what have we, the students of 2007-8, really shown by our record-breaking interest? True interest in student politics? Or a keen eye for big personalities and fancy dress.

Neither the Fletcher-Hackwood story, nor the rise of the Mad Cap’n, make it feel as if the student body echoes with reverence for our illustrious leaders in YUSU. We lust for the blood and the chase. Personalities dominated: the fierce feminist, the ogrish Tory-boy, and later the pirate king of YUSU outcasts. They captured our imagination, perhaps admirably, and stirred up some support, if only for a little while. But around us bridges fell, bars stood empty and un-ethical merchandise was purchased again and again and again. All these things, which supposedly stir disdain within the student population, stand unattended to without a comical cast of principals.

When alleging blame for the pitfalls of this year, perhaps we shouldn’t be so quick to damn YUSU or curse the faceless suits of Heslington Hall. We have made things happen. A pat on the back for everyone who voted. It must have been tough opening a new window (never close Facebook) and clicking the boxes at yusu.org. But far larger congratulations are in order for anyone who took a stand on all the things the rest of us persist in whining about, but cannot be bothered to take action for. The student who dresses up as a duck and becomes the bridge mascot will be the student who solves all our problems. What an unimaginative bunch it seems we can be.

Perhaps I have sounded a little critical. I am sure many York students are trundling around broadly satisfied, protesting about nothing in particular, and that’s fine. But spare me your whining if you answer only to the call of our more eccentric political activists.

All in all it’s just another year, but it is due time to consider what we can and can’t achieve as a student body. Above all else let’s remember to keep everything in context. Together we can exert fantastic diplomatic force, but life goes on. This year a man stood on a bridge and threatened to blow it up, a student was driven to cheat and to court by the pressures of his degree, and another was found drowned in the Ouse. Take forward the good times and the achievements of the year but remember these events, as these, the ones we cannot control, are the ones that punctuate our time here.

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