What I am about to say will either anger some of you, enlighten some of you or have no effect whatsoever. But regardless, let me state unequivocally that this is neither an attack on the current administration nor the integrity of the institution as a whole; but merely an objective take on something relevant to most of you reading this.
Often touted to be the standard for student governance across the island, the University of the West Indies Mona Guild Council is the highest institution of advocacy and representation of the 16,000 students which constitute the UWI Mona Guild of Students. Here at Mona, we the students colloquially refer to this institution as “the Guild”. The Guild is governed by a council of 37 student representatives which are elected democratically each year through a process of election (with the exceptions of Librarian, Guild Legal adviser and Publications Committee Chairperson which are appointed executive positions). By theory, the Guild should be doing enough to invite the participation of ALL or MOST registered students of the UWI Mona campus in its election period and by extension its following year of governance. Unfortunately, it is quite evident that this has not been the case for some time.
To my recollection, the voter turnout for the last three (3) cycles of Guild elections have been no more than 4000 students exercising their franchise to vote; from a total of approximately 16,000 students who attend the institution. So in essence, less than 25% of the school’s population have consistently elected a government to serve them in the last three years. Now some would argue that this is because the UWI administration does not do enough to encourage a climate for voting, particularly with their hesitation to cancel classes in half or full for the actual day of voting; as they do each year for Sports Day. I would imagine, however, the Administration’s rebuttal would try to dispel the misconception that the Guild and the UWI Administration are one in the same; when in fact they are two separate entities just operating in the same space. So the UWI, has no obligation to the Guild as an institution, but only the students within it.
But as a student I want you to ask yourself this question: If you had a choice to take a free day and stay home or go to school and vote, which would you choose? I can imagine most residing students leaning towards giving the latter option consideration; since this would be of little to no expense to them. The same however, I cannot imagine for commuting students; and I think commuting students are the primary reason why the Guild is performing below its full potential. But we can’t fault them entirely for not wanting to participate because political participation should be encouraged by the candidates in the political process; hence why we have a process of campaigning. It is the candidates over the years who have just not been doing enough to encourage and inspire commuting students to participate. The prevailing perception of the Guild by commuting students, frankly, is that it is just a group of people who strive to serve the interests of residing students. But when we look at the facts on the table, can we blame commuters for having this sentiment? Let’s put it in perspective.
Outside of the Commuting Students Representative’s portfolio on the Guild, what other consistent pursuit has the Guild made to directly impact commuting students? Off the top of my head, the Guild Bus system is the only other service I can think of which is offered to commuting students and one I must say is very relevant and efficient; but not enough. If the Guild does not revise its approach to governance to be more inclusive and constituent-oriented, then they will never get the level of participation they truly want; and the Guild as an organization will never reach its full potential. Ever.
Now you might be wondering what then will it take to usher in this change in participation on a whole within the Guild of students, and the answer is simple: Better Representation. The leaders of Council must adapt an inclusive approach to the representation of the Guild of students that actually reflects ALSO the majority of the Guild of students being commuting students; and not concentrated around the needs and affairs of residing students only. This approach must be applied right across the board for the greatest chance of increasing participation on a general level; because even the residing students who are apathetic to the institution may develop an inclination to participate when they see a difference in leadership.
Sporting events for one, should be planned and organized more creatively to level the playing field for all competitors; and not put commuting students at a geographical and financial disadvantage in participating. Staple events on the Guild calendar such as Fresher’s week need to be planned earlier in the day (or necessary arrangements for transportation be made available after hours) to facilitate commuting students who live outside of Kingston and St. Andrew. The current Communication model utilized by the Guild needs to be revised entirely to be a more proactive and engaging means of reaching the people on the ground; most of which are actually commuters. The Council for some time has focused too much on its social media arms to reach its students, and this I believe is mainly the reason why participation has remained at dramatically low levels. The Guild needs to step outside this “the social network box” and do more interaction on the ground. I can guarantee that this would reap great returns for the Guild both socially and commercially.
It is time that we do away with old norms and traditions and adapt to this dynamic space that we are currently in; a space that requires greater engagement of constituents and the kind of innovative leadership that will impact the Guild of students on a whole. I hope, especially, that the candidates for Guild president take heed to my “foolish advice”, and not conform to a current practice of leadership that has been grossly ineffective for some time now. The power is in the people; the choice is now yours if you want it.