Running for the union elections is one of the best experiences that you can have at Southampton. It’s not only about the campaign you can run but the ability to make your voice heard to a large audience. The support from friends and voters who genuinely believe in you is overwhelming. Students admire many things about the election process, least of all the sheer courage it takes to run, and mount a credible campaign.
However, in this year’s Spring Union Elections, most of the people who were running for sabbatical officer roles within the union were white. It is interesting to note that this year in Southampton, BAME students tended not to be interested in sabbatical roles that involved larger-scale leadership, with the exception of the position of SUSU President. Ethnic minorities were more interested in being leaders of smaller union groups.
All the elected sabbatical officers at the time of writing are all white, and there must be an issue that we have a white student union that supposedly unites the interest of the multicultural University of Southampton. This point concerning identity is key. How well can, for example, international students identify with these sabbatical officers? Can they really tackle the issues that affect us all? This white union may be a problem for student representation as Southampton does have a large number of international students. The exclusion of those from different countries or even just a non-white individual can affect a lot of issues within the union and among the students as well.
In terms of student representation, the effect on international students of their lack of representation cannot be overstated. This is because the experience of international students is so vastly different from non-international students. There is a massive cultural upbringing that international students essentially have to learn when they go to another country. As the newly-elected union is all white and as such, does not feature any international students, there are massive issues as there won’t be a full representation of all students. This all-white union doesn’t have any international experience and so the lack of representation of international students as sabbatical officers may not be viewed as a satisfactory situation.
Happily, the situation looks much better the further down the pecking order you go. The Union had plenty more BAME and international students applying for and succeeding in the roles of Student Leaders or as they’re now termed, Student Officers, than Vice-Presidents. This does show that it isn’t an institutional issue with the Students’ Union. Rather, it seems that students who are of an ethnic minority have not managed to climb the Union ladder and become full-time elected Vice-Presidents.
Admittedly, this is partly down to the demographic nature of the University of Southampton. The University tends to be more white than the actual city. This is due to its status as the best University on the South Coast. As such, prospective students from the Home Counties, traditionally very white areas, look to Southampton for their educational pursuits.
Yet there is still a considerable international and non-white community at the University, and having non-white students at the very top of the Students’ Union could be a great win for student representation.