How to be socially involved at uni

Here’s your how-to guide for getting involved at university

Feature by Toby Sharpe | 04 Sep 2017

So, it’s freshers, and you’re a hopeful person. Maybe you love the environment and want to bandage its wounds. Perhaps you’re aware that the world is a flaming pile of excrement right now, and you’re keen to try to change that. There’s a lot that needs doing: 2017’s a mess.

Work out what appeals

You could join a political movement, volunteer locally, work in social justice groups, teach and learn skills in societies or fight to clean up our environment. Do your research, and remember that lots of these groups can overlap, and that you don’t have to devote yourself to a single cause wholeheartedly forever. It’s okay to ponder where you’ll be a good fit – or to not be great at world-saving in your first week. 

When you’ve found out what needs doing, join in

This sounds obvious, but many freshers panic and don’t rush in – or show up at university ready to start their own political revolution, not realising there are already societies doing the same work, but better. Don’t assume that you have the answers immediately. And hey, you’ll probably make some friends while you’re at it (I know I did). If you’re not the loudest, that’s cool; hard work is what matters, not booming vocals.

Don’t be a terrible ally

Treat people with respect. Guys: don’t yell at feminists, telling them what you think women should be up to on campus. Listen. Learn. When people respect that you’re not a monster, you might be able to help.

Don’t lose heart when things are hard

As many adults will tell you at the drop of a hat: life is hard. Change happens glacially – but it happens because people make it happen.

Don’t forget the small stuff

While it’s cool to work on complex projects, make sure you’re being a good person in your local community. Give money to charity every so often, don’t treat homeless people like trash, read up on how to not offend minorities around you, and when you have a spare can of beans knocking around, work out where your nearest food bank is.

On that note – keep yourself alive, kid

Self-care is important, silly though it sometimes sounds. You can’t fix the world if you’re collapsing. Take the occasional bath (if you can find one in Student-Land). Eat vegetables. Sleep. Don’t spend all your time studying and fighting crime.

Get involved in student politics

Most universities have student unions, and there are elections all the damn time, just waiting for you. Some folk find student politics tedious, imagining that it’s just a breeding ground for future career politicians. Others consider it useless – a game of play-pretend for pretentious students. Think about it more simply: student unions have money that needs to be spent: decide where it goes! If you get involved, you have a say in whether there’s good, cheap food at uni venues, in union-wide charitable endeavours, or in pressuring local landlords to treat students like humans, not furniture. Some student unions have done amazing work recently, from redirecting significant investments away from fossil fuels, to giving contraceptives and sanitary products away for free. That work wasn’t done by magic: it was done by students’ hard graft.

And hey, maybe you should ignore me. If you have a great idea you can start it yourself, but you gotta get people on board. Don’t be a lone wolf. If you want to shape the university, help the local community, and better the experience of students around you, you must first get involved with the people around you.