This was originally published in The Student on 25th September.
During Freshers Week I overheard someone ask what EUSA is. The answer given back was that they’re the people who run Teviot and Potterrow. This is of course true; EUSA does run Teviot and Potterrow, along with KB House, Pleasance and various other outlets. However, it’s a very narrow understanding of a students’ association to define it by its buildings alone – there’s something far more important and exciting going on.
At its very core, EUSA is 30,000 student members joining forces to decide how they can make changes in their lives, and the lives of others, and implementing those decisions. Sometimes we are able to make the change ourselves directly: we think that students should have an independent source of advice on accommodation, money, and health and well-being, so we run the Advice Place. We believe that it is important that we have an affordable, pleasant and safe space to hang out or have a drink, so we run the union buildings. We value the principle of people coming together to organise on their own behalves for cultural, recreational or political aims so we support the 270 odd societies at Edinburgh with funding, promotion and rooms.
Of course, a lot of the changes that students want to see require others to agree with us. This is why it’s so important that we campaign to make even bigger changes. These can be strictly university-focused and academic, like the overnight ‘work-in’ of the Main Library in George Square, which led to dramatic increases in opening hours. Or they could reach into the wider community like last year’s ‘Reclaim the Night’ march – which demanded safer streets and an end to gender violence for everyone, not just students. Very often we campaign alongside other students’ associations and external groups, like our ongoing campaign for a fairer education system, free for all and paid for by taxing the richest in society. Critically, whether we are providing services or running campaigns, it all boils down to the same thing – we as students are coming together to democratically decide on, and strive towards, changes in the university and wider society.
In practice 30,000 of us aren’t physically able to come together to debate issues and make decisions all the time. This is why we elect Sabbatical Officers and other reps and entrust them to make many of those decisions on our behalf. Elected reps, like myself, have direct mandates from our manifestos and democratic structures to make various changes. We also sit on the Board of Trustees, along with other democratically elected members and together we form EUSA’s governing body. This is what makes EUSA so special, there is student engagement and influence at every level. The people who are ultimately accountable for EUSA and its services are elected democratically and can therefore be challenged or ultimately recalled by the student members. This gives our 30,000 student members influence over EUSA in all its forms, which takes me back to my original point – EUSA isn’t a group of buildings or a small group of elected reps, it is 30,000 students acting collectively.