On Valentine’s Day, Kent Dance held a Varsity dance competition, one notable name who attended the event was the President of Kent Union, Aaron Thompson. Taking his seat next to a Kent student, the principle representative of the interests of students here was asked, “who are you?” He suitably replied “Aaron Thompson, I’m Kent Union President”. To this he was asked the extraordinary question, “Kent Union? What’s that?” This query, not to be forgotten, coming from a Kent student. Now, perhaps this was just one particularly unaware student. But it remains true that Kent Union has no reason to be known by the students of this university, as it is not representative of them whatsoever.
To begin, our current officer team was elected by a tiny majority of the student populace. Around 20% of students actually voted last year. Take from this the votes for those who lost out on officer positions and the outcome is a miniature percentage of students who voted for a body that now represents over nineteen thousand people who study here. Our political world today is so concerned with majorities after the Brexit outcome and the 2016 US election, and yet the victors of these received far larger percentages than the victors of our election. As such the Union can hardly be seen as representative of the opinions and concerns of students.
After being elected, by however few students, our Union does not try to listen to the opinions of its students. During the lecturer strikes last spring, while the vast majority of Kent students supported their lecturers and actively picketed with them, Kent Union did nothing to help. Only in the face of such mass support did it eventually come around to lukewarmly supporting the strike and agreeing with its ‘electorate’. Similarly, when President Aaron Thompson announced his plans to deliver his election promise of a full-time postgraduate officer, the Kent Graduate Student Association voiced its opposition, arguing they did not need such representation. Nonetheless, President Thompson ploughed on through the opposition, and here we are ready to elect a representative for people who made clear they did not desire to be represented. The Union therefore cannot be being representative of its students, as it so clearly goes against their wishes.
Alongside failing to properly represent the opinions and wishes of the populace, our current Union officers have also failed to effectively deliver on the numerous changes they promised almost a year ago. President Aaron Thompson has done better than most here; there is now Zero Tolerance policy against sexual harassment in all campus establishments, the college system is under review and, as we have seen, his promised PG Experience Officer will be elected this year. However, though I personally supported it, Kent Union’s refusal to have Carl Benjamin speak at a Union-associated event clearly contradicted one of his flagship policies of free speech; and while delivering on some of his manifesto, it appears to me that our president spends more time representing himself at flashy London and NUS events than the university, where he is needed.
Stuart Lidbetter’s educational reforms have fallen flatter than Gemma Collins on ice. His promise of more seats in the library was fulfilled only by virtue of its restoration completion, and despite his promise to end the practice, I still find myself trekking across campus to get to different lectures and seminars. While he did deliver on common rooms for different schools, I can personally testify that next to no-one uses the History one he so graciously deprived Rutherford of a computer room for.
But the arch-culprit of failing to deliver electoral promises is Sasha Langeveldt, Vice President for Activities. Of the multiple pledges in her manifesto, including greater links with Medway, inter-society events and greater Union transparency etc., Sasha has so far delivered only one, in her challenging of food selling rules. Meanwhile, in my three years at this campus I have yet to meet one Medway student, whilst the Union remains as transparent as a brick, with almost no-one knowing, or really caring, what its day-to-day activities are.
Finally, regardless of its failure to actually listen to and represent student interests and the incapacity of many of its officers to deliver manifestos, do students really know and care about the Union? I defy any student not actively engaged in student media, Kent Union itself or personal friends with the officers, to name more than one or two of them, despite their faces being plastered across the Plaza buildings. Besides being one of the best employers for them, perhaps the only experience most students have of the union is a trip to the SU Shop in Parkwood or the Plaza, and even then a great majority still call it Essentials.
So is Kent Union an effective, responsive and admirable representative of the thousands of students here at Kent? Perhaps the best way of finding out is to ask a friend and see if they respond with the timeless question, “Kent Union? What’s that?”