In an earlier issue of Concrete, the front page bore the headline “Union Elections Open to Abuse” and Editor-in-Chief, Geri Scott wrote an article reporting on an error on the UEA SU website and explaining for lay people like myself what that meant.
In case you missed it, here’s what all the kerfuffle was about: due to a technical glitch, students’ records had been reset so that they could vote for representatives in the student union elections for groups within which they themselves did not self-identify. For example, those who did not self-identify as women could, due to the glitch, vote for Women’s Officer, and those who didn’t self-identify as LGBT+ (like myself) could vote for the LGBT+ officer. The elections have since gone ahead.
I honestly had to read about this a couple of times before it sunk in. I understood what had happened but could not for the life of me figure out why it was a mistake. Why was a man being able to vote for the Women’s Officer classed as an accident, rather than the norm?
In my opinion, we are all part of this university and all deserve a say in what goes on. We should be able to choose people for each position within the union who we believe have every student’s best interests at heart. Sound familiar? It should: that’s the basis of democracy. Saying someone isn’t allowed an opinion because they’re male, or they’re not LGBT+, or they’re not disabled…this seems to be running into very dangerous territory in which certain people’s rights are taken away from them because of how they self-define. While I recognise the bye-laws are there for a reason, this particular aspect seems worryingly backward and exclusive.
The concept of a constituency is understandable, and if certain people feel, as some were previously quoted to, that they should not vote in a certain category because they can’t see that it affects them, this is acceptable but in my opinion, a personal decision. I would go on to argue that some decisions can affect you a lot more than you realise.
I am straight. I am also an Irish citizen. This summer, Ireland will hold a referendum on marriage equality to decide whether homosexual couples should be allowed to get married. (A referendum must always be held on changes to Ireland’s written constitution where every citizen gets the chance to vote.) If the union’s bye-laws were put into practise on a national scale in Ireland, I probably wouldn’t be able to vote because I am not homosexual. However, of course I have the right to vote and absolutely intend to utilise it. Just because the issue of gay marriage doesn’t affect me directly, I will still be voting in favour of it not only because I believe it is the right thing to do, but because it might affect me in many serious indirect ways. I don’t want my friends or relatives not to have equal marriage opportunities because I wasn’t allowed to vote. I also feel that if I told you all I don’t intend to vote in the referendum because “I’m not gay so that doesn’t really affect me”, many of you would be judging me harshly for wasting my civil rights and not standing up for what I believe in in order to make the country a better place for all its citizens. You would be right to do so.
Furthermore, how can a union officer expect to gain the support of the entire student body when only certain people were allowed to vote on their election? It should be obvious in this day and age that feminist issues need the support of both men and women, and the LGBT+ community needs, as can be seen in Ireland, the support of the straight community—I use the term need, but there is also of course a case of deserving.
I will end by wishing the newly elected officers for 2015/16 the best of luck in representing us and continuing to make the University the best it can be, academically, socially and in every other way. I would also like to ask them to consider the way we elect officers in the future, and perhaps to ponder how then can guarantee the support of each and every student, by making individuals feel valued and maintaining our democratic rights.