A historic referendum for the influential Sheffield Students’ Union council will be held next year, after an impassioned student petition campaign reached 1,000 votes this morning.
The landmark referendum will decide whether two new roles – a Societies Councillor and a Sports Councillor – should be introduced on SU Council to represent societies and sports clubs.
A first in the history of Sheffield SU, it is expected to be held in February, alongside the election for next year’s SU Officer team.
SU Council is currently made up of 46 Departmental Councillors and nine Representative Councillors. It includes no direct student representative for societies or sports clubs and instead the SU’s Activities and Sports Officers are expected to represent them.
‘SU democracy works’
Matt Shadrack, Chair of Societies Committee, said: “This proves that SU democracy works and working together as student groups we can influence change and make the SU work for students.
“I’m so excited to continue to promote this hugely beneficial change for Societies and Sports at referenda!”
“It’s incredibly satisfying seeing something that so many people have worked so hard for come to fruition”
Societies Committee argue that the importance of societies to students’ lives at the University of Sheffield means there should be a dedicated representative for them on the SU’s highest decision-making body.
A Societies Councillor would “provide an engaged, independent representative to hold both the Activities Officer and Societies Committee to account,” they say.
Mr Shadrack added: “It’s incredibly satisfying seeing something that so many people have worked so hard for come to fruition. It’s been a full team effort from both Societies Committee and Sports Committee.
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Victoria Wensley, Chair of Sports Committee, said that passing the 1,000 vote mark “demonstrates the demand from the students for this kind of representation for Sports clubs and Societies at the highest level in the SU”.
Proposal rejected ‘without due consideration’
Societies Committee and Sports Committee joined forces to petition for the referendum last month, after a proposal to create the roles was was rejected at an SU Council Meeting on Thursday 15 October.
Councillors expressed concern around who would be the electorate for this position, and how many more positions may be created on Council as a result. But Societies Committee felt the proposal, which was considered for 10 minutes, was rejected “without due consideration” and decided to petition for a referendum.
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The petition reached 1,000 upvotes – the threshold needed for a referendum to be organised – just before 10am this (Monday) morning, just three weeks after the petition was announced. This has never been done before in the history of the SU, making it a landmark achievement.
In a last attempt to secure their final votes, the committees took to roaming around the SU in shifts to engage with students in person, and were even joined by sports mascot Roary McTaverstock.
“Roary noticed our excellent memes and just couldn’t resist getting involved,” said Shadrack. “The final few votes were easy. The challenge was sustaining the momentum through the middle. We found talking to students around the SU the best way to engage people with our idea.
“It’s immensely impressive. The campaign has been supported by a wide range of Societies and Sports teams, showing the unquestionable demand for more representation for Societies and Sports teams in the SU!”
‘Hugely positive change’ on the horizon
The deadline to reach the 1,000 vote threshold was the end of the academic year, but the committees set themselves a deadline of this Friday, 14 December, so the referendum could be organised alongside the SU Officer elections.
“We are planning to request [the referendum] takes place in line with the Officer Elections,” said Shadrack. “This is the time of year most students are engaged with democracy and we want as many students as possible to take part in the Society/Sport representation discussion.
“We are very positive. The demand for more representation for Societies and Sports teams has already been proved. With the number of students engaged during the officer election period, we are confident we’ll meet the quorum and achieve the final step of our vision – making a hugely positive change for Societies and Sports Teams in the SU!”
Wensley echoed Shadrack’s optimism, adding: “We are extremely hopeful that we will gain a positive result from the referendum. With a large number of students engage during SU Officer elections and the demand already shown for these positions, we are very positive that we will see a positive outcome.”