Wednesday 13-07-2016 - 14:26
It's never been more important to showcase NUS at our best, and to make sure that our students' unions are as inclusive as possible.
So, Students’ Unions 2016 is over and done. My last ever Students’ Unions as Vice-President Union Development. We’ve been quietly working away on this event for a long time, so to see it come to fruition was a particular sense of satisfaction for myself and the members of staff in particular in the Union Development team at NUS.
There’s a reason we did Students’ Unions like this, with our theme, the way we ran the event and what we focused on and I wanted to explain why;
Firstly, for a number of people in the room – it was their first interaction with NUS. These conferences don’t always go so smoothly and its rarely been more important for that first experience to be a positive one. There’s an obvious sense of concern in the student movement about our future, so showing NUS at our best – shaped and led by students’ unions – was critically important.
Secondly, it was a unique opportunity for the movement. Back in December, we decided that the theme for the conference was to be ‘Championing Equality, Building Inclusive Students’ Unions’. This was a bit of a gambit, and done after a fair amount of heart wrenching. Mainly because we knew it would be difficult for students’ unions. We knew it’s a challenging topic, to turn the mirror on ourselves. And we know that NUS in the past has been very much guilty of talking down to students’ unions on this area. But it’s something we’re absolutely committed to evolving and working with students’ unions
Thirdly, we wanted to show and lead by example when it came to inclusion. Because we can all talk the talk, but ultimately practicing what we preach is the way forward. That doesn’t just mean non-gender specific toilets, or accessible venues. It means acknowledging different cultures (be it celebrating the end of Ramadan and the breaking of fast for a number of delegates or ensuring every piece of information we distil is translated into Welsh). Sometimes it means that not everyone gets what they want all the time. It can mean talking about stuff you may not personally care about or have given much thought to – that’s okay.
In this respect, NUS is a bit like a big students’ union. If we hadn’t done a number of those things I’ve outlined above, different parts of our membership would’ve felt isolated and without a home. We would’ve disenfranchised students. And whilst I am in no way saying that NUS is perfect, trying is often half of the battle.
So go forth into your students’ unions and have a think – every time you host something in a bar, who can’t come? Every time you speak a certain sort of language, use specific images and think only of people like yourself; how many students think their students’ union isn’t a place for them?
And if we all #LoveSUS, we want every single student to feel their #SULoves them.
And that’s what students’ unions are about.