A Tap on the Shoulder

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Everyone knows how the Stupol conversation normally goes.

It’s the one that often starts with a pained looked in response to the fact that it’s being discussed at all, followed by some general grumblings of discontent at how dire the state of affairs is, and culminating in the inevitable question, which is more often than not awkwardly phrased, “You’re not running are you?”

For me, the answer has always been a curt “No”, which, a couple of moments later, is usually followed up by a tentative response of “Why not?”

Up until now, I have never had a particularly good answer to that particular question, beyond the true, but incomplete, response that I’d never really been offered a spot on a ticket. The fact that the question is asked in the first place is, I think, revealing in itself. Amongst a student population that many claim is broadly uninformed of, and disinterested in, the goings on of ANUSA, any mention of campus politics or the elections themselves is taken as a sign that you are, to put it simply, ‘one of them’.

There is a real and present disconnect between those who spend their time and energy campaigning for a position in our student association and the rest of the student community at large.

The disjunct is so great in fact that for years now, the entire process by which interested students could become involved, was itself dependent upon such students being recognised as ‘interested’ by those senior enough to be forming their own tickets. The whole game relied on being close enough to the inner circle to be eligible for a shoulder tap to begin with.

There is, of course, nothing inherently wrong with picking people you know to join you on a ticket that you are forming. Like most endeavours, student politics is more about who you know than what you know. But in terms of shaping the attitudes of the student population towards ANUSA, the recent state of affairs has had a hugely damaging effect on the credibility of elections and the association. The very act of being chosen to run on a major ticket is, in this current climate of hostility, seen as a sign of being ‘one of them’. Rather than being seen, as it should be, as a representative student body, you are considered by many as an “elite”. No matter how hard they work, those within ANUSA are fighting an uphill battle – a battle fought largely over the reputation of ANUSA within the wider student population.

In such a context, the recent move – first by ANUSA itself, then by the Amplify ticket – to cast a broader net in the search for candidates, would at first seem like welcome news. Undoubtedly, it is positive that there has been any effort to break down the barriers between motivated students and the tickets which are the gateway to student politics. Nonetheless, there are reasons to be cynical. Not only has there been no real indication that the ANUSA expressions of interest initiative has achieved its goal of diversifying tickets beyond their currently limited range of “inner circle” students, but many sources have indicated, to myself and others, that alongside the open application process, many students were approached by members of the Amplify team to run as Gen-Rep candidates anyway, seemingly on the basis that any application by these students would be highly likely to succeed. They were, in other words, shoulder tapped.

This is not to say that any one ticket is better or worse in this regard. Given the broader lack of action on this issue, the very fact that Amplify has tried something different deserves credit in and of itself. It does indicate, however, that the issues which plague our student politics are not merely baked into the culture of the election season, but also inherent in the very nature of the ANUSA elections. With so little engagement by many students with the political process, and thus a distinct lack of knowledge on the issues that motivate differences of opinion amongst the candidates, finding or reaching out to a broader coalition of like-minded students is nigh on impossible. If tickets themselves are meant to join together those of similar values, despite the fact the voting population has no sense of stupol values in terms with which they can empathise, then maybe a ‘tap on the shoulder’ selection process is the best way forward.

It’s hard for myself, someone who has no experience of the inner workings of ANUSA, to propose possible solutions here. Nevertheless, it seems to me that the issues themselves are clear. Until tickets can relate to the students that they will go on to represent, and until students can trust that their favoured ticket is, broadly speaking, made up of students similar to themselves, the distinctly despairing tone that pervades conversations of student politics is unlikely to go away any time soon.