I would like to preface this article by making something absolutely clear, I am as unhappy as you about the way the Union went about this rebrand. The consultation process was patchy, the student body were ill-informed about the sweeping wide-scale nature of the changes being proposed, in general there was a severe lack of, well to put it bluntly, democracy.
A lack of democracy not in keeping with the oft-stated aims of this group of Sabbatical Officers is a pity because it will forever be a blot on the legacy of a team which has worked hard for all students and worked to improve accountability and transparency. The lack of democracy is epitomised by the fact that this rebrand was passed by all of 40 people at Union Council. As for the design of the new logo and brand, I will leave that to you to decide, there are both pros and the cons of the concept.
Nonetheless the rebrand is a positive step. SUSU has always needed to improve its image, our Students’ Union has become too tied to this cliquey stereotype that it is a case of (excuse the first of many puns in this piece) “us and them”. Representation is consistently undervalued and dismissed by the student body at large. Turnout is so poor that 15% is considered fantastic. SUSU’s attitude to representation was simply to dodge the problem, to pass motions at an Annual General Meeting with a turnout (both in person and online) of just over 500 being a ‘record level of engagement’. Realistically, these motions cannot be considered representative of the student body at large. I do fundamentally believe that our Sabbatical Officers have our best interests at heart, but the apathy that surrounds student politics is a problem.
Most students genuinely don’t believe student reps can make a difference. But they can, and they do. That students are switched off and disengaged from that process helps to perpetuate the perception that our representatives can’t do anything important and don’t care about us when they do. The truth is that this rebrand has been done with the best of intentions, on all the information available, and the problems with it are a two-way street. Yes, SUSU did not do enough to keep us in the loop, but equally, the majority of the student body heard the word ‘rebrand’ and gave a collective shrug.
SUSU failed to be accountable, it failed to be transparent, and it failed to bring about the true democracy and engagement its officers have always worked for. This is not the fault of the people but the organisation. The rebrand is a classic example. Yet we are moving in the right direction, we are seeing more transparency and more accountability. We are seeing genuine candidates from across the university being listened to at elections, being given platforms.
Let’s put SUSU behind us. Let’s build a Union that represents the students. Let’s build a Union which represents everyone. Let’s leave our mark on the Union we love. Let’s do it together.
The rebrand gives us an opportunity for a fresh start, a fresh image, a new Union. Many of you will know the initiatives I have been pushing for some time: better systems of recall for representatives, more transparent decision-making, initiatives to empower our representatives to do just that – represent Us. Rather than allow the copious amounts spent on this rebrand to go to waste, let’s embrace it; let’s embrace a new Students’ Union, a better Students’ Union. We can harness this new-found engagement in student politics and drive our Union forwards.
Union Southampton can achieve that goal. The SUSU brand has run its course, together let’s build a Students’ Union to represent Us.