Jack McCann explains why each college has a Students' Union, and breaks down some of the roles that feature in a SU.
Where’s that theatre? What’s a module? What on earth does extenuating mean?
These are just some of the questions and thoughts that come into the mind of a student as they start a new college year in earnest over the next few weeks.
However, one thought that may not pop into a student’s head while they think of the million and one things to successfully pass, ace or survive the coming year is, where can I go if I need to talk? Where can I turn to for some advice or even just somewhere to have a cup of tea, chats and a sit down with someone who is very happy to help you in any way that they can.
That place that I speak of is your Students' Union (SU). They were elected by you, for you. However, just saying you have a Students' Union is like telling someone that there’s a hospital in their locality - they may not know if they can go there for x, y or z as you didn’t say what said hospital actually did.
So what is a Students' Union?
A Students' Union is there to represent the interest of its members, you the students, on a myriad of matters from disability rights, the environment and gender equality to campus accommodation, mental health and entertainment.
The people who make up the Union in a college, are usually the President, Welfare Officer, Education Officer, Graduate Officer and Campaigns and Communication Officer. Those are the names given to the positions in UCD, other colleges have different names but the fundamentals are the same no matter where you go.
The main position in the Union is the President. They are the main voice and face of the Union for the year and they are there to represent the student voice on all the aforementioned issues on campus in academic board meetings, and off campus through interviews with politicians, local councils and others.
If you are feeling stressed, overwhelmed or are having issues for whatever personal reasons, the Welfare Officer is there for you. Whether it is to vent, or even if you just want someone to listen to as you try to get your head around things, the Welfare Officer can offer advice and tips.
The Welfare Officer can also help you to seek further help, like counselling, should you require it.
If you’ve spent six hours wondering how on earth your timetable looks worse than Dublin Bus, don’t worry, that’s where the Education Officer/s can help.
You can go to them and they’ll sit you down and help you organise your timetable, set up study timetables if required and other bits to make sure you can get through the academic year as smoothly as possible.
If you feel like your college could be doing more on equality, sexual harassment, the accommodation crisis, or any other issue that is important to you, then you can get onto the Campaigns and Communications Officer who will help you kick start a campaign on campus.
They are there to make sure that the student voice is heard during campaigns for or against issues that have an effect on students in some way, shape or form.
If you are having an issue in college, no matter how big or small, don’t be afraid to reach out to any of the aforementioned people. If you want to get in contact with your Union, there’s a number of ways to do so. You can google them and find the website that has all the contact information. You can locate your Union on a variety of social media platforms if you want a less formal method of communication.
If your matter is of an urgent or sensitive matter, then you can just pop by their offices on campus. If you don’t know where it’s located on campus, make it a priority to locate it as soon as you can.
Personally, I never used the SU services in first year, however I ended up using them a lot during my second year, and I can say without doubt that the support I received was of great benefit to me and I was so grateful that I took that first step and asked for help when I needed it.
I certainly won’t hesitate to contact the Officers in my SU over the coming year if I need anything. Asking for help isn’t a bad thing, it’s to be admired, and your SU will make sure that you don’t regret the decision to reach out should you need to at any point over the next nine months.