It would seem that the hysteria of the USSU sabbatical elections has largely settled down by this point and I should appropriately offer my congratulations and my condolences to all of the candidates who ran. I was present at both the hustings and the election result night in East Slope and Falmer bar respectively, needless
to say the passion surrounding each campaign was truly admirable. However, one such passion struck me rather uncomfortably on the night of hustings especially given the number of people it seemed to be shared by.
It seems to be a well known fact that the vast majority of the hustings crowd are politically minded and as such one would expect politically charged material to be lapped up by such an audience – this was shown to an almost beautiful extent by Tom Will’s opening speech, which had everyone there, including myself hanging from every word. The aftermath though, drew my attention for an entirely different and far less positive reason.
During speeches by the presidential candidates Adam Klug and Ben Carter, both of them mentioned how the union needed to become more widely integrated by involving a wider number and variety of students. The two had slightly different views on the same idea, largely boiling down to Klug promoting outreach programmes and Carter inciting the widespread inclusion of both activist and non-activist students in union business. When asked about priorities within the union Ben stepped up and – perhaps rather boldly, given the crowd – claimed that the union ‘should not have all the focus on politics’ following on from his earlier speech where he highlighted that those without the desire to campaign or protest should also matter to the union. I was shocked when what seemed like quite a noble and undeniably ambitious desire to respect everybody’s views within the union was met with deafening boos from the crowd. Klug was met with similar hostility when he eluded to reducing what he described as ‘unrealistic’ pressure to eliminate tuition fees in light of promoting the address of other campus-wide issues and the inclusion of more people that have remained on the outskirts of the union.
‘Science students I spoke to seemed to believe that the arts subjects were a breeding ground for activism’
To see such malice shown towards a non-political outlook was truly frightening. I found myself thinking that for a group of individuals who cheered somebody who deplored and actively discouraged discrimination, such behaviour was downright hypocritical.
Following this event I decided to see what other students thought of the situation. Two second year biochemists remarked upon how they feel ostracised for not having political views that conform to those expressed by others more actively involved. One continued on with regard to the recent Arts A2 occupation by saying that he was pro-Israeli, but felt he had to keep this secret for fear of lynching. Further to this he told me that if he were an Israeli or even a Jewish student, he would feel utterly terrified at Sussex because of the apparent unwillingness of the politically-minded union members to accept any view but their own. This genuinely disgusted me, I can think of no sound reason for any person to fear being at university, especially for something as trivial as having a different viewpoint from other people.
Similarly, several Sci-Tech students told me that they were not bothering to vote because they feel repeatedly left out of union business, for no other reason than their lack of activist ideals. If I recall correctly, Ben Carter was the only presidential candidate to come from the sciences. Perhaps this sort of attitude that seems rife within the science and technology community was what provoked him to speak so fervently about the importance of the views of everyone, political or not. History student, music student, English student, chemistry student, medical student – the common factor is student, so surely our union should be felt to be accessible to all?
What I found more alarming was how the science students I spoke to seemed to believe that the arts subjects were a breeding ground for activism. Whilst this is clearly a bit of an over generalisation, the number of science students that take this view make it a real and present problem. I can only see great troubles arising if a political/non-political divide escalates into hostility between the arts and sciences.
History student, music student, English student, chemistry student, medical student – the common factor is student, so surely our union should be felt to be accessible to all?
I didn’t wish to appear too focused on the science students so I decided to speak to a few of the arts crowd as well. Imagine my surprise when I found the feelings of bias were not only limited to the sciences. One 2nd year English student told me that because she did not express any overt political views, he felt left out of favour compared to his more opinionated peers. A 2nd year American Studies student shared this view. Is USSU really seen to be this cliquey?
The president-elect of USSU Tom Wills stated how he supports free-speech and condemns the actions of groups like the BNP that promote fear in those different from themselves. Yet the majority of the crowd who cheered him, appeared to boo Carter and Klug for suggesting that the ideas of those with a non-political mind should also matter. There is obviously no comparison between the BNP and any Sussex student (I hope not anyway) but that sort of behaviour certainly struck me as hostility solely based on a difference of ideas. My conversations with Wills’ supporters gave me the impression that they thought they were the noble ones. What I think however, is that perhaps those who claim to be righteous are in fact the ones who fuel the fire.
The kind of behaviour shown at hustings, on top of the seemingly popular conception that non-activists ideas don’t matter to the union both make for a very grim picture indeed. We all know Sussex is famous for its activism, but I sincerely hope that within that title, the seeds of bigotry have not been sown.