Yes – Milly Butters
We’ve all got a lot of affection for the things about St Andrews that characterise it. As the University is spread all over the town, students can’t help but interact with the town itself and its residents daily. In my opinion, however, what makes it particularly special is the cosmopolitan body of people and global outlook that set apart of our little town nestled away on Scotland’s coast and make it distinctive. Far from its size being a reason to argue against the usefulness of student protests, it seems to me it only enhances their effectiveness. Considering students make up a far greater proportion of residents here than bigger cities like London (where a reasonably small student protest is highly likely to be swallowed up by “bigger” news), our protests are likely to have a correspondingly larger impact on the town and its people – thereby increasing the visibility of the cause among residents and students alike.
The power of this shouldn’t be underestimated. Some might argue that unless student protests are large enough to attract the attention of the media and other national sources, they aren’t worth bothering with. This might well be true. In such a small town there is little we students can do to have a realistic impact on any form of national agenda. But national change doesn’t have to be the goal of every protest – making even a small number of people aware of the issue of climate change who hadn’t previously given it much thought should also be considered a win for a student protest. Just because we have to scale down our goals a little in order to be realistic for St Andrews, that doesn’t mean the whole institution is arbitrary. Further, the more intimate relationship between student and resident facilitated by a small-town environment means individuality isn’t lost. Someone might easily feel a group of a couple of hundred people are more approachable than thousands. In this way, one could suggest that a small student protest here has greater potential to invite conversation, and thus persuasion, leading more effectively to real-world behavioural change.
After all, being a student is designed to be your first foray into adulthood, with university serving as a place to experiment with finding and using your adult voice in the public sphere. Student protests are a safe and potentially productive way of exploring your attitudes to issues that will face our generation. They also foster solidarity. As much as university is about “finding yourself” and learning what it is that defines you as an individual, it’s also about finding your people. Student protests build activist relationships, encourage a sense of community in expression and give people the opportunity to network and share ideas. In such a small town, this kind of communication is vital for social cohesion and finding friends.
Secondly, as I have already mentioned, thanks to the cosmopolitan nature of St Andrews, the range of communication opportunities are that much richer and broader, yet remain fantastically easy to access. Considering this, St Andrews is well-designed to facilitate student protests, so why should we not encourage them? As students, we always want better representation of our views and wishes both nationally and through the institutional structures of the University itself. We are clearly a group of people willing to engage positively and constructively with issues our generation faces, and we definitely shouldn’t be seeking to suppress this. In telling students they are the “leaders of tomorrow”, we must give them the opportunity to practice this right – if not for a large impact now then certainly for the future.
Many might consider a student protest of a hundred people in a small Scottish town to be of little importance, or even to be a pointless exercise. I encourage you to reconsider how you define a protest to be a successful one. Does it have to result in dramatic national change? By that narrow definition, I would have to agree that us students here probably shouldn’t waste our time, paint or cardboard on protests. Or are there other ways to measure the success and “point” of a protest? Does local impact matter? I certainly believe it does – after all, local impact eventually adds up to national change. If ten people went home after the climate change protest and thought a little more carefully about how they chose to dispose of their plastic waste and its implications, or felt motivated to write to their local MP to urge them to consider this issue on their agenda, I’d consider that a successful exercise with a point to it.
Maybe for St Andrews we must measure the “point” of student protests in smaller (but no less meaningful) ways. Protests are as much about their immediate impact on the people around them in encouraging and fostering change as they are about national recognition. Keep using your voice to stand up for what you believe in – it really does have the power to change St Andrews and the wider community.
No – Joel J. L. Moore
O tempora, o mores. This rather grand Latin phrase means something along the lines of this: we live in a bad society. It is inevitable that everyone has at some point felt discontent about their situation, and what better way to show your dissatisfaction than taking to the streets and waving around a piece of cardboard for an hour or two?
We all know what these student protests look like: a pleasant morning Latin tutorial is disrupted by the rhythmic chants of an oncoming demonstration. Outside the window, a horde of informed students march down the quaint streets of St Andrews, protesting against the manifold injustices of the world, hoping to change the mind of the fat cats in Washington, London, and beyond. A single question springs to the mind of all those who witness such an event: will this singular protest really make a difference? The answer is simple: probably not. Unfortunately, the assembled voices of the demonstrators are probably not loud enough to be heard by the powers-that-be, sitting in their leather wing chairs many miles from our sunny town in north east Fife. Indeed, it is highly unlikely that the decision-makers will even know that this protest happened, unless they are loyal readers of such a hallowed publication as this.
Despite these practicalities, those that decide to take to these medieval streets have many reasons to do so: it raises awareness, it makes a statement, and it is probably better than sitting at home and grumbling to one’s housemates for the 17th time today. Indeed, to convince a diehard student protester that their fight is futile would take a gargantuan act of persuasion that I am not equipped to undertake, nor does the word limit of this column allow for such a magnum opus to be composed. Therefore I will argue my case based on mundane practicalities, hoping that you, dear reader, will soon realise that protesting, like many other university activities, is simply not worth it due to the amount of time it requires.
As students we can be sure of one thing that unifies above all else: an innate desire to stay in bed. Protesting not only requires you to be out of the house, but it also involves an awful lot of moving and shouting. Some recent demonstrations have taken up the best part of an hour or more! Can you imagine walking for longer than the 5–20 minutes necessary to get to your lecture? I certainly cannot, and student demonstrations do not even count towards your final grade. This is coupled with the excruciating fact that you would have to do a substantial amount of homework; imagine having to find a large sheet of cardboard for a sign, and then toiling for hours over a witty and inventive slogan. All this sounds like an awful lot of effort. Would it not be far easier to simply post a short rant online and be done with it?
The inconvenience does not stop there. All this time taken up by an arguably futile demonstration could better be spent in the library, either eating a spicy meatball panini or working towards that degree that may be costing you thousands of pounds a year. By taking to the streets, precious marks are being lost on the next coursework assessment, meaning that you may not get a first in Greek prose composition, placing you achingly further away from that coveted Deloitte internship. Consider this: if you spend too much time protesting, you may inadvertently jeopardise future career opportunities, meaning that you may never be in the position to enact the change that you desire. With this in mind, student protesting may seem a fool’s errand. Indeed, you might be tempted to lie low and bring about the revolution later on, with a few years of work experience to back it up. This could well be the wisest, and most resource-effective solution.
However, perhaps I paint an overly bleak picture, and perhaps my arguments are unfounded and inconsequential. But would you take the risk? It would seem that it is far better to stay inside, have a lie in, and perhaps find something to put on your LinkedIn profile. If only there was a way to show your frustration with the world while also gaining something impressive to put on your CV. If only there was a well-known and well-regarded vehicle for voicing your ideas that can spread your message across St Andrews and beyond. If only there was a way to combine strong opinions with strong prospects. Thankfully, a path to this utopia exists. And so I urge you, dear would-be protestor, take it.