The upcoming Students’ Union Elections have, as ever, led to concerns over the Students’ Union’s under-representation of certain elements of the student body – principally ethnic minorities, women and international students. The SU Exec is meant to be a representative body, possessing the right to make decisions on our behalf, as it reflects student opinion and the broader spectrum of students’ needs. But are those campaigning to lead the Students’ Union really representative of the student body as a whole?
The outcome of the 2010 SU Elections resulted in only two female officers within the SU Executive, in contrast with the seven male officers elected. This year, however, 32% of the list of Exec candidates is comprised of women (as opposed to last year’s 25%, and the 16% of the year before), a solid improvement in terms of female representation. Current Women’s Officer Rosie Tressler commented that, “this year’s candidates are more diverse and reflective of the electorate but further improvements can, and should, be made”. In an effort to encourage female candidates, Tressler has held numerous events, including a ‘Women’s Public Speaking Training’ event and a ‘Women in Politics’ speaker event, which may have served to help to boost the number of female candidates in this year’s elections.
Despite the democratic, free and fair nature of the SU elections, those elected into the Students’ Union Executive are often not a fair reflection of the international component of the University of Nottingham’s students. This year, there is not a single candidate running for the position of Black and Minority Ethnic officer – a virtually unprecedented occurrence. A subsequent by-election will be called as a result. The fact that not one student wished to stand for election as the representative for ethnic minorities creates a tricky situation with regards to fair and equal representation of all students. Although the percentage of international students within this year’s candidates has risen to 16%, this is still under-representative, considering that international students make up over 25% of the Nottingham University student body.
It is difficult to know how to deal with this conundrum of representation, which may be something of a vicious circle. For example, perceiving that there are few international student or ethnic minority student representatives within the Students’ Union, potential candidates may feel less inclined to put themselves forward for a position. It is certainly difficult to reverse or combat such a trend, although female representation, at least, does appear to be on the rise.
A factor that requires consideration is the importance of the SU Executive reflecting the diversity of students within this University, and whether an Executive should be considered more able to represent students due to its genetic makeup, or whether its policies and actions are a better indication as to how suitable it is to represent the student body.