Who are Warwick Students’ Union? What do they do? And how can freshers get involved? This is a brief guide to the organisation which is bound to play a big part in each student’s journey at Warwick. Crucially, the SU is not some distant organisation removed from student life, but instead functions like a nucleus, a hub around which everything else revolves.
Possibly the most visible way in which the SU is involved in the community is in the support it offers to the vast array of societies at the University. As students will doubtless be aware, there are societies specialising in everything from Taylor Swift to Terikayi Soup (or so rumour has it). Similarly, it is implausible that freshers will pass the year without becoming acquainted with the SU-run Dirty Duck, whose regular social offerings include karaoke and quiz nights. The SU building is also host to the Copper Rooms, where up-and-coming DJs offer up their finest tunes to expectant students.
Getting involved in the community is really important, and Warwick SU provides support to ensure that student life feels inclusive and welcoming. University is a fantastic opportunity, but it isn’t always easy. With students being away from home for the first time, there has been a big push in recent years (nationally and at Warwick) for more awareness and support regarding mental health.
“I think it’s important to recognise that starting uni can often be quite difficult and overwhelming for a lot of people”, Vice-President for Welfare Tomi Amole told The Boar. “But whatever kind of person you are, whatever you are interested in, whatever your background, you will be able to find your people here”.
“Whilst it may seem daunting, it is really worth going around to different society events so you can find spaces where you feel belonging and community.”
Amole then reiterated that advice is always available. “Here at the SU, our advice centre provides an amazing service, independent from the University, which provides free, confidential, and accessible advice and support to students on a range of issues, from housing, finances, to disciplinary process, fitness to practice protocols”.
Less visibly, but just as importantly, the SU represents every student from freshers to fourth-year PhDs, regardless of age, race, sexuality, and gender. Whether you want to fight for principles of justice and equality or if you want to be involved in shaping your campus, your university, there are lots of different ways to get involved: vote, run for positions, attend Student Council.
Although full-time officers have already been elected, the autumn election period is just around the corner. This means that several new part-time officers will be elected. These are the officers responsible for representing sectional interests such as disabled students, ethnic minorities, and the environment. There are, in addition, part-time officers for EU and non-EU international students – a critical role given the substantial numbers of students at Warwick who come from abroad. The cultural, linguistic, and educational diversity means that the chance to represent myriad interests and backgrounds is both a privilege and a significant responsibility; from representing international students in the Student Council, to raising concerns with staff members, studying abroad brings unique challenges alongside the often transformative experience which students can have.
[Text Wrapping Break]The autumn elections will also bring the election of academic representatives. These are important roles, not least because they allow students to shape their course and the strategy of their home faculty. Reinforcing this message, Vice-President for Education, Chih-Hsiang told The Boar that academic reps have “a lot” of influence.
Directly addressing students, Chih-Hsiang continued, “By being an academic representative, you will have the chance to develop invaluable soft skills. For example, by engaging with students and collecting and presenting feedback, you will be able to develop communication, research, and presentation skills. Furthermore, being a representative will look good on your CV!”.
There are three types of academic representatives specific to faculty, course, and department. “As a Faculty Rep you help coordinate Course and Department Reps and take on concerns and projects which are wider than a department”, said former Faculty Rep Sydney Pycroft.
“If there were no academic reps the entire student experience at Warwick would be harmed and we would lack an effective partnership between students and staff… the system is a win-win.”
Pycroft, who also chaired the SU Education Committee, highlighted the benefits of his experience as an academic rep: “My four years in academic representation at Warwick have led me into contact with many staff members university-wide who I never would have met otherwise… if you want to make any change or be of any use to your fellow students, the easiest and best way is through academic representation”.
But let’s hypothetically say that, having stood for election either as an academic rep or a part-time officer, you’re unsuccessful. What then? How can students have an impact, beyond raising issues with elected representatives? This is the importance of Student Council, where any SU member can propose a motion and anyone can speak. The importance of this shouldn’t be underestimated – an articulate plea or a passionate statement can shift the mood of the council and reverberate across the wider community.
Motions proposed to Student Council, if passed by a majority, go to an All Student Vote (a referendum among Warwick students). Of the motions that have passed, many have had a lasting impact on SU policy and the University itself. Recently, the summer ASV – which did not reach enough votes to become policy – resulted in a consensus against the removal of the Residential Life Team. The spring vote raised concerns over climate change, with several successful motions calling for education and accountability on environmental issues. Even motions that weren’t successful had an impact across the community – for instance in highlighting the growing veganism movement.
In recent years and months, there have been a lot of discussion about wellbeing services at the University. During the pandemic, discussion was split between safety – of staff and students – and calls for in-person teaching on the basis of mental health and learning experience. Even in the last few months there have been some big changes implemented by the University, with the Residential Life Team being replaced by a system mainly staffed by students in their third-year or above. Dubbed the ‘Residential Community Team’, the new residential system has received some opposition as reflected in Student Council and the summer ASV. Doubtless, there will be more debate in the months to come.
Whilst the SU does provide wellbeing advice and support, it is finally worth bearing in mind that the University is the primary body responsible for providing wellbeing services, so if you feel that you would benefit from qualified mental health professionals, please use the wellbeing portal. Beyond that, the University of Warwick Health Centre is able to refer students to a variety of mental health services provided by the NHS.
Finally, getting involved in Warwick SU is an opportunity to fight your beliefs, your community, and your interests. There are few aspects of student life where the SU doesn’t play a significant part, where your contribution cannot lead to transformational change. Our Students’ Union is only as strong as the friendships that sustain it, as vibrant and creative as its societies, and as resilient as its most passionate advocates. Get your voice heard.