In the beginning of my period as GSU President, I had frequent meetings with the Union’s Managing Director, Jarlath O’Hara, and some of the Officer Trustees, particularly Rob Tomkies [Union President] and Alejandro Luy [Deputy President (Education)]. Damn, we had really good plans! For the first time, we would try to work together and orchestrate our efforts to work towards the needs of PG students. Maybe for the first time in many years, Union representatives have not only admitted that PG students are largely neglected by the Union, they went even further and promised that they would support us (the GSU) in our activities and strategies. The goal was that the Union should work with the GSU as their executive arm to address PG needs. Direct key contacts were identified for every GSU officer, as well as sub-committees set up to work together more effectively. We agreed on a timeline of actions and events, and the PG Black Tie Ball would be our highlight project to trial and optimise our cooperation. While the first few months were quite successful, with a full review of our GSU governance structure, the Union’s efforts to hold their promises have drastically declined over the last 6 months. On paper, our sub-committees looked great, but words need to be put into action to turn into reality.
The most disappointing experience was the Union management’s attitude regarding the PG Black Tie Ball. During the one (and only) meeting in 2019 concerning the ball, the officers and the Head of Student Voice & Communication reaffirmed their promises to turn the Black-Tie ball into a flagship event for PG students. Help with the marketing campaign and the organisation of the event and financial administration were all pledged. For the GSU, this was the first Ball; for the Union, one of many.
Counting on the Union’s support, we aimed big and put plans in place to make the event happen. Unfortunately, we were left feeling underwhelmed by the support we were given. The promises that were made, for support with organisation and advertising, were left unfulfilled, with nobody from the Union even being involved. The Communications team declined to help with advertising until all the tickets for the Summer Ball, scheduled to happen three weeks after the Postgraduate event and mainly aimed at attracting Undergraduates, were sold. This, combined with poor advice from elected Officers, has meant the flagship postgraduate event, which had such promise, almost failed to happen. Despite this seeming abandonment from the Union, our GSU committee has managed to pull together as a team to provide what looks to be a fantastic event. Most tickets have now been sold and we can be proud that, for the first time, we are bringing PG students from every campus and faculty together as one Imperial Postgraduate community.
The people at the Union did have good intentions, and there has been help along the way that has been welcomed. What may have been underestimated is that for a change in long-lasting traditions, we need to fundamentally change the way we work. We need extra care, effort and allocation of resources to engage a community that has different needs to the Undergraduate population. We hope that, in the next academic year, the freshly elected Union officers will turn those promises into actions. Luckily, we have our PG representative Ashley Brooks starting as Deputy President (Education), so our hopes are up!