From a particular perspective, Imperial College Union is an organisation which has always been defined by negativity. After all, students wouldn’t be motivated to make things better if they thought that things were already good enough. Usually, this negativity is channelled into productivity; the drive to improve things has been at the heart of virtually every positive change the Union has brought about at Imperial. Volunteers and sabbatical officers have always worked together for the common good of Imperial’s student body – even if they often disagreed on details or didn’t get along particularly well.
“This year the atmosphere in the Union has grown completely toxic”
This year, however, something has changed. Whereas previously the atmosphere amongst senior Union officers has been fairly polite, if not exactly always friendly, this year it has grown toxic. Personal animosity has been allowed to dictate the agenda; proposals are voted down purely because of who proposed them, without any consideration of their merit. Hard-working volunteers are sniped at and openly undermined in meetings, and partisan emails are sent to society mailing lists – one described Union Council members as “people who care very little about students, and are using their seat on Council just as a stepping stone to more senior Union positions.” Worse statements have been made in private.
This toxicity is not limited to one or two prominent individuals. Rather, two distinct factions have emerged, which together account for virtually the entirety of the Union’s senior officer cohort, from Constituent Union committees all the way up to the Officer Trustees – who at times in the year have happily contributed to the ever-worsening atmosphere. Every action and every proposal is viewed almost exclusively through the prism of which faction the individual is more closely associated with; no more does the Union’s senior officer community accept – even begrudgingly – positive steps proposed by those they don’t get along with personally. Instead, flimsy excuses are cobbled together to make sure that ‘they’ don’t achieve anything. After all, isn’t it best that nothing at all happens, just so long as ‘the other side’ don’t get the credit…?
“The Union is doomed to failure in everything it does if its culture does not improve”
I have always, throughout my time holding volunteering roles, been particularly optimistic, despite the Union’s negativity. I have always believed the Union could achieve great things, if only we could work together, and have worked to try to bring about that unanimity and find common ground on difficult issues. However, the working atmosphere has been so bad in the Union this year I have several times seriously considered simply walking away. It may be that this year has been an aberration, a bad bunch of people incapable of working together. I sincerely hope so; the Union is doomed to failure in everything it does if its culture does not improve. Every single student with an elected role next year must do everything they can to make sure that it never gets this bad again; to fail to do so is to doom the Union.