The University of Manchester houses one of the largest student bodies in the UK, meaning the University is also home to numerous international and ethnically diverse students.
The Students’ Union exists to help the student body recognise that there is always someone to fight for them and represent their voices. However, as a brown international student, I do not trust the new shape of the SU to represent me.
I say this for two simple reasons.
Firstly, the SU has removed the post of the International Officer. 37.5% of the University’s undergraduate population are international students. However, in this academic year, this huge fraction of students will not have a representative to look toward in the University and trust to fight for them.
Over the past two years, international students have suffered disproportionately due to confusion caused by Covid. During these times, the UK had categorised every country by a traffic light system, leading to divisions on whether students had been vaccinated or not.
Within their vaccination status, there were further divisions of which vaccine they had received, and from which country. Next, there was the high cost of PCR tests and quarantine for students arriving from red-listed countries and this isn’t even mentioning the multiple forms which only added to the stress of travelling during the pandemic.
Yet, it was nice that we had an International Officer. Although there wasn’t much that they could do, it was at least good to know that someone was fighting for us to be on campus.
Yes, arguably, instances like the pandemic are a once-in-a-century event. The chances of such unprecedented times occurring again anytime soon are unlikely. Nevertheless, out of everyone, shouldn’t the SU be prepared to help its students?
Pandemic or no pandemic, international students still face daily hurdles, such as unfamiliarity with UK norms. Every international student has lived an almost completely different life before arriving on Mancunian ground. Having an International Officer was a promise that we would have someone who would organise events to ease us through the process of settling in.
However, from this year onwards, the job has been delegated to the Activities and Culture Officer. Where is the promise that someone is going to help international students who are unfamiliar with the bare-bones of this country?
The second issue I have is the use of the term “BAME”. During the March SU elections, one of the associate chair positions was titled “BAME”. Year after year, people have picked up on and argued about why “BAME” is a problematic term in conversations surrounding ethnicity. Why is it that anyone who is not white (80% of the globe) should all be lumped together by the 20% who arguably caused the most destruction?
Every one of us has a different upbringing. Our values, education, hair, language, and colour are all different. How can we sit here and pretend that we are not different, and how can that interpretation of race not be racist? Even within “BAME”, the “A” stands for Asian. Which part of Asia? South Asia? The Middle East? Central Asia? Southeast Asia? Or are we assuming that more than 4 billion people are the same?
In our University, 32.5% of people fall under the BAME category, with the percentage increasing annually. Even within that, there are countless ethnicities, all distinct from one another. In several SU posts, “BAME” is further abbreviated as “BME”. This suggests a continuous need to further restrict minorities to be unmentionable altogether.
The SU did, however, split the BAME chair up into different positions: Asians, Black students, and one titled “multicultural”. To be fair, this does address the problematic issue of using “BAME”, just not to its fullest; the reason being that there is also the question of substantive representation.
Substantive representation is when minority groups are given positions to create policies in their best interest. Political theorists argue that this is one of the key forms of representation. The issue with the splitting of the BAME Chair, is that though the representation is divided, it is not to the extent where each gets an individual voice.
For example, the Asian chair overlooks Indians, Pakistanis, and Chinese students, all of whom are different from each other and make up huge portions of the student demographics. So the split has semi-answered the problem, but not wholly.
In an ideal world, I would like for there to be two new executive officers: an International Officer and a Diversity Officer. Under them, I would prefer elected associate chairs for all different nationalities and ethnicities. This might sound like too much, but it is the way for a functional democratic society to acknowledge diversity.
I have always thought that a union is meant to represent its members, to speak up for those who aren’t able to on their own. For me, however, this Students’ Union does not represent any of that.