York: Vote No to a Working Class Officer | Dominique Samuels

The University of York is voting on whether or not to introduce a Working Class Officer, which would be an elected role at YUSU (York University Students Union).  This is part of a wider movement to introduce Working Class Officers at Student Unions across the country, and universities including  King's, LSE, Manchester and St Hilda's Oxford already have them in place.




It’s not easy for working class students to make it to York. Unlike 20% of our peers, we didn’t attend elite fee paying schools, our parents couldn’t afford tutors to get us through exams, nor could they decide our fate in an opportunistic postcode lottery which ensures only a small minority get into the best state schools — we had to earn our right to be here through sheer grit and determination. The odds were stacked against us, but we made it. Having already achieved so much, suggesting that we need someone to speak for us, someone to shield us from York’s ‘sneering middle class elite’ is not only patronising, it’s condescending and quite frankly, paternalistic.

We working class students aren’t alien to the rest of the student body; like all students we face challenges, but isn’t this why we all came to university, to test and challenge ourselves?  Lumping us all into the same arbitrary box and bestowing us with a spokesperson (who an overwhelming majority of the ‘network’ won’t even bother to vote for) is not going to improve anything. It’ll only exaggerate class divisions which universities like ours were founded to tear down. Unlike at Oxford or Cambridge where outdated traditions still serve to disadvantage those from less privileged backgrounds, York has always been a bastion of inclusivity and social mobility.

Marking working class students out as somehow disparate from the rest of the student body will achieve nothing. The vast majority of working class students I speak to want to excel and succeed here at York.

Here lies another problem with introducing a Working Class Officer: they would be totally ineffective, a blunt instrument. As is always the problem with YUSU politics, only a tiny percentage of students would engage in the network, inevitably capturing it to further their own political agendas. It’s not a coincidence that a sizeable number of both full and part time YUSU officers are heavily involved in party politics; they collect these positions to build their personal brands and résumés, treating them as vehicles to bigger and better things — cards they might whip out to signal some virtue at a parliamentary selection meeting? A Working Class Officer would be no different. Their active network would be minuscule, and as is inevitably the case with YUSU, the needs and perspectives of the majority of students would be neglected in favour of a vocal and politically calculating caucus.

 Having already achieved so much, suggesting that we need someone to speak for us, someone to shield us from York’s ‘sneering middle class elite’ is not only patronising, it’s condescending and quite frankly, paternalistic. 

Support networks for disadvantaged students are already in place: hardship funding is available, the Union President negotiates with the council to achieve favourable rental contracts and alike. The presence of another officer acting in this area will confuse students, disrupt existing support networks and weaken the negotiating hand and credibility  of our President (normally the only YUSU officer with anything that can be considered close to a mandate). We need the university to make these services more clear, rather than adding another officer to further confuse the matter.

There’s no place for paternalism on our campus.  Let’s send a clear message to the ideologues who seek to divide us and vote No to a Working Class Officer.

Students at the University of York can vote at www.yusu.org/evoting_referendums.



Article by Dominique Samuels, leader of the No campaign.
York: Vote No to a Working Class Officer | Dominique Samuels York: Vote No to a Working Class Officer | Dominique Samuels Reviewed by Unknown on 13:40 Rating: 5

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