Home Social Justice Opinion: America, where are your student unions?

Opinion: America, where are your student unions?

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Student power, student unionism, student activism…all considered extremely radical concepts and at times “dirty” words across the campus at OU. Why do students not realize that without organized activism, they will never truly have a voice on this campus?

For many, the UK does not present a world far removed from the USA; indeed, there are similar educational systems, comparable universities and relatable student populations. Why then are American students so far removed from having any influence on their campuses? To open dialogue in this area, we can look to the nature of student politics within the UK to engage a population of activism in America.

Let’s start with the word “union.” First, understand that without a union there can never be a true change and student voice on this campus. Student senate does not represent in a true fashion. Unionism is something inherently different, something that promotes change and advocates for the fair treatment of students. In the UK it is a legal necessity for every institution of higher education to have a Students’ Union, run by student for students. Note that apostrophe—the union belongs to the students. These are obviously political in nature, but they do not have to be radical, though one might advocate they should be. Debating the language of student representation challenges many issues that currently exist on the campus here at OU. “Radically” in the UK, every student, upon enrolling in a higher education institution, is automatically a member of their very own Students’ Union. Students in the UK are given an individual voice in the processes that occur within the very institutions they attend.

Examine the supposed voice students at OU have. Once a year, they get to vote in a student senate election. That is it. Democracy in action right there. Because, naturally, one should trust elected officials to make decisions when students are at their most active, their most questioning and most rebellious point in life. In contrast, the UK requires members of the student body to debate and vote on all legislation and issues concerning the student body. So instead of attending “student speak out,” students in the UK actually get to vote and question the issues that matter to them. Importantly, students also have the ability to impeach members of the union leadership they previously elected. Imagine the power in that. Trustee voting rights? All student unions in the UK elect trustees, who must have a voice to debate and a vote on the highest level of the governing body of the institution. Further, this is not a political game, but seeks to be an accurate representation of the students that elect them. 

Unionism seeks to engage students rather than to add to their continued oppression and disenfranchisement. Further, it provides opportunities for political expression, actualized change across institutions and a continued voice on top-level college committees. Without it, the student “voice” becomes nothing but a box check called on by the institution. A Students’ Union should create constant change, become a voice for all students and stand up for issues to the university governing bodies. They are organized, they create a viable platform for activism, they seek to involve all students rather than just a majority voice, and actively move towards a better university environment. Student unions across the world have effectively created protest for change, mass strikes, social justice movements and radical activism. This might not be what the OU student body wants, but currently there is no way of telling. By engaging in a Students’ Union model, students are given a voice, and that is as good a place to start as any.

And just as a side note, this article wouldn’t be considered particularly radical in the UK. Doesn’t that say something very important?

Charlotte Bassam-Bowles is a first-year Masters student studying College Student Personnel. The Ohio University Student Union meets Thursdays at 8pm in Baker 237. 

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