Vote Fest: Insights from a former FTO

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Courtesy of LUSU

Lancaster University Students’ Union (or LUSU) is a divisive topic. What do they do? Didn’t they try and ban YikYak one time? What do the Full Time Officers do? WHO EVEN ARE THEY!? Well, let me try and explain. It might start off boring but I promise it’ll get more interesting as we go on.

I was a Full Time Officer last year, 15/16, Vice President: Union Development. I worked a full working week, it was a ‘proper job’ all year long, and straight after I’d graduated as well. I was the lead on everybody’s favourite nightclub, The Sugarhouse, which is run by the Union, and it was really exciting and rewarding seeing all the refurbishments come to fruition. Good stuff so far!

I was also the lead officer on Democracy, the JCRs, the now redundant Cross Campus Officers (replaced by Part Time Officers), and overseeing all of the democratic structures. Not so good stuff. Sounds boring, doesn’t it? I found it interesting. I don’t even care.

So, what’s the draw of being a Full Time Officer? Well you get paid for it, it’s fantastic experience that can be translated into almost any career avenue, and you get a pseudo-university experience for another year because nobody, not one of us, really wants to go into a world outside of campus. The world outside campus is the same one that left the European Union, elected Trump as President, and changed the size of Toblerone Triangles. I’m not sure that’s a world I want to be a part of.

It’s a great year to trial being an adult, if anything goes wrong you’re still surrounded by the University safety-net. Oh, and you’re also a Trustee of the LUSU charity, how many other students can say that? Less than 10 a year, out of a potential 15,000! And probably most importantly, I was part of a team that quickly became some of the best friends I’ve ever known, and I’ll remember the year fondly for that fact alone.

But, like anything in life, there are some aspects of the job that were just a bit shit. It’s hard to leave the job in the office when you’re working at a University you were formerly a student at. If people know you and see you out in Sugar for example, they’ll talk to you about work and it quickly gets tiring. Often people would vent their frustrations, but not always to my face.

YikYak – remember that? – had a brief thread questioning my sexuality that was all very bizarre. One time, I was on the receiving end of the weirdly abstract chant of “LUSU! LUSU!” over and over again whilst playing darts. (Little did they know, chanting the word ‘LUSU’ only fuels my darting ability). I was tired a lot, and even worse, I felt disconnected from the student experience I’d come to love, instead becoming a strange spectator on the periphery of everything. But boo-f*cking-hoo right? That’s just the working world, isn’t it? Sort of, but not entirely.

That was one of the more bizarre things about it, maybe the most difficult to come to terms with. For every friend you met, you’d find about 2 or 3 people who just didn’t like you. They didn’t like your face, or the way you talked, or the fact you worked for the Students’ Union, which in some cases is fair enough.

I completely understand that LUSU makes decisions that affect things people care deeply about; sports teams, societies, student discount cards, and whether or not people can sell Yorkies on campus or not. Big decisions like that are often a result of incremental change over years, so when new FTO’s come into the fold they usually have no idea what’s going on (or at least I didn’t), and the learning curve is incredibly steep. So when people would come up to me on a night out, understandably vexed about something that mattered to them, I sometimes wouldn’t have a clue what was happening.

People who work for Students’ Unions often get stereotyped. They do it because they’re “keen”, or they’ve got sneaky-secret political ambitions, or because their over-inflated ego means they need to get themselves into a position where the most people can hear them. But that’s the thing about stereotypes; we all know they’re often wrong.

Sometimes LUSU does some pretty dumb things, they recently organised a demonstration to London without actually checking if people wanted to go beforehand. Whoops, money down the drain… Probably pays to ask first! But they also do a lot of great things. Extravs, Grad Balls, JCRs, Welfare and Advice, sports teams, societies. These are the things that make a positive impact on people’s lives, that add value to people’s experience at University! And they’re so easy to take for granted. After looking at that list, I feel like a couple of blunders are understandable.

And speaking of University experience, the Higher Education sector has changed massively! Education is one of the biggest commodities on the market, and the perpetual Government narrative of “you’d better go to University otherwise you won’t get a job ANYWHERE EVER” means that now more than ever, the global marketplace is that bit more competitive. It seems like every person and their dog has a University Degree these days, so what sets any of us apart from the crowd? It’s everything we do in our spare time, captaining sports teams, being involved in societies, churning out articles for SCAN, literally everything you do will help steady the waters of the turbulent job market waiting for you on the other side.

But ‘The Sector’ aside, if I were to be honest, I worked for LUSU because I wanted to. I didn’t do it to go on stereotypical ‘student union-y’ marches to overthrow whatever political party was in power, or because I wanted a soapbox to stand on and shout my opinions at a crowd of people who aren’t really listening. I did it because it looked like a good opportunity and I thought I’d be alright at it. It was fun and it was challenging, but it was also one of the most difficult years of my life.

The point I’m trying to make is that LUSU (and the FTO’s) aren’t this weird cloak-and-dagger organisation getting one over on you for shits and gigs. They’re an incredibly hard-working, dedicated, and warm team of professionals who work for a Students’ Union. They’re (not always) egomaniacs, out to fulfil their own agenda at the expense of students. And, like us, they’re just people, they make mistakes. They have good days and they have bad days, and sometimes that’s okay.

If you want to run to be an FTO, for whatever reason, then go for it. The worst thing that’ll happen is that you’ll lose, and losing is a big part of life. You’ll be surprised by how many people will support you through the whole process. And best case scenario? You win. You have an amazing year, make amazing friends, and realise your potential that little bit more.