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Liberation 101, Part 1: the importance of National Conference for students’ unions

By Vidya Ramesh

Wednesday 8 February 2017 Student journalists

With nominations now open for NUS delegate to the annual conference in April, I thought it was high-time to talk about a particular highlight at my own university’s conference.

The Cambridge University Student’s Union (CUSU) Conference, held earlier this month on 16 January, is held annually and functions as a free training and development experience available to all affiliated undergraduate and postgraduate committees, autonomous campaigns and faculty representatives.

The sessions timetabled were broken up into four streams; change, campaigning and managing people, ranging from topics as broad as ‘supporting students’ in relation to confidentiality issues among others, to the specialised but equally important ‘disability activism’ seminar.

As campaign manager for my university’s Women’s Campaign for female students on campus, I concentrated my attendance on the campaigning stream. I was particularly eager to attend the session ‘Liberation 101’ by CUSUs Women’s Officer, Audrey Sebatindira.

The workshop essentially provided a crash course for elected representatives such as myself on how we can act as allies and accomplices to students who are members of liberation groups. These include not only our campaign for female students, but also BME, Disabled Students’ and LGBT+ campaigns within the university.

But why is this so important? Why should I act as an ally (someone who is directed by these marginalised groups during their campaigns) or an accomplice (a direct challenger of institutional oppression, such as by taking part on the frontline of a protest), when I myself do not identify as disabled or LGBT+?

There are two issues at play here: the ideological and the practical. In principle, owing to our common humanity, we should act in solidarity with other peoples who are undergoing deeper or different hardships to us, helping them access privileged spaces that we can while they cannot.

Looking at the landscape around us, it is particularly crucial at this moment in time that we remember to stand up for each other, whether that just be on campus, within our unions, or acting as a dispenser of some form of student welfare.

The rise of the Right in the West. With Trump clamping down on reproductive rights, the United Nations declaring the UK conducting grave violations on their rights towards disabled people and a rise in homophobic attacks since Brexit, the student generation cannot afford to be co-opted into the same ideological framework that the political elite are fast openly subscribing to.

In my next column I will be discussing exactly what actions you can take on campus to carry out a ‘Liberation 101’ yourself, and how we can act in support of students, and against oppression. 

Hi there, my name is Vidya and I’m an undergraduate student reading History at the University of Cambridge. I grew up in Manchester, the birthplace of the Guardian and Suffragette movement; it was impossible not be continually aware of the power of activism, solidarity, and liberal politics. On campus I try to channel these incredibly charged ideas into practical action, particularly in regards to the welfare of students who identify as women. As a director for a student-run think-tank, The Wilberforce Society, I have overseen events on raising the participation of women in public policy, while also co-authoring a policy paper on sexual assault policies within higher education institutions. As a campaign manager for my University’s Women’s Campaign I am also organising a programme of activities to help female students tackle anxiety. In my spare time I enjoy powerlifting (still at a novice level, sadly), as well as living ethically to the best of my ability, such as by following a vegan lifestyle (#vegangainz). As an NUS Journalist I hope to raise awareness of the events taking place on campus that centre around the three concepts I mentioned before: activism, solidarity, and liberal politics. Whether in the form of an intersectional feminist reading group, to a disabilities rally outside the students’ union, you will be sure to hear it hot-off-the-press from me!