Lessons I Learnt From My Time As A Student Union Member

Posted by Sreya Salim in Campus Watch
October 26, 2017

Two years ago, I remember sitting alone in my living room, happy and excited, but mostly anxious. The college election results had just been declared, and I was elected as the chief student editor of the college magazine. I was to spearhead the magazine committee for one academic year.

Contesting for elections had been a difficult decision for the introvert that I was. Writing had been more of a personal interest and a solace for me rather than a serious pursuit. Though I had a rough idea of the terrain ahead, I knew careful mapping would be necessary.

The magazine named “Thudal” (leash), had freedom as its central theme and explored various realms of gender equity, body politics, religious beliefs, caste discrimination, campus issues, etc.

Our first activity was a wall magazine named “Sarga” on the gruesome Paris terror attacks. We received numerous entries voicing protest, concern, hope, anger and fear. Amidst mosquitoes, hunger pangs and a clock ticking fast past midnight, our team of about 10 spent an entire night sorting out and editing the submissions. Numerous thermocol cutouts were made, including that of a four foot tall Eiffel tower. The entries were rewritten on half-burnt cardboard sheets and pasted on the board.

By the time we completed the wall magazine, a board we decorate and write on once in every two to three months, there was a half-finished case record and an almost untouched textbook by my side. I had an exam the very next day, which the clock told me was less than three hours away. Someone got me a cup of coffee while I scribbled in my record book and tried to flip through some notes, all at once.

I remember scurrying to the exam hall, unbathed, tired and hungry, but with a strong sense of accomplishment and newfound confidence. Who knew that would mark the beginning of a journey with many nights of juggling studies, campus politics, social life and what not.

Being an ill-focussed worrywart and a habitual procrastinator, I often found myself struggling to multi-task. The college blog was one such instance when I had a tech-savvy friend burn the midnight oil trying to create an online blog. It was intended to serve as a platform to publish the students’ work. The unrealistic perfectionist in me serially found faults with his works, many times getting into arguments with him. Though it took a few months for the blog to be launched, the fantastic response we got, was indeed worth the effort.

A number of events and activities followed, each of them being preceded by weeks or months of discussions, planning, getting on each others’ nerves, and of course, the unavoidable last minute hustle and bustle.

Often, seemingly absurd ideas discussed over coffee and cutlets in our canteen unfurled into pathbreaking events when everyone chipped in. “Haiku” was one such event. The challenge put forth by my friend Karthika to walk through the college garden with a pack of sanitary napkins later initiated a massive discussion on menstruation. It eventually led to the launch of a micro tale competition on the topic – ‘Happy To Bleed’.

Entries flowed in from different parts of India, west-Asian countries, and even Europe. What we thought would be a small event in college later became a successful campaign which got covered by The Guardian, Al Jazeera, NDTV, Times Of India, The Hindu and many other acclaimed news portals. Even today, the team is very much active, conducting awareness sessions for students in different colleges and schools across India.

Though “Haiku”, “Xray” (the college newspaper) and “Ezhuthukootam” (writing workshop) helped me widen my perspectives and gave me training in teamwork, it was the college magazine that had me pushing beyond limits. We wanted a comprehensive take on different issues which demanded the participation of all team members.

We interviewed people from different walks of life, went around coaxing students and staff to write and contribute ideas, searched for suitable pictures, and went through old magazines looking for inspiration. The work often got delayed due to technical issues, throwing all of us into a frenzy. A lot of the work was done during my night postings in the labour room. The 12-hour duty at night and hectic magazine work at day made sleep a precious commodity.

But help flowed in from unexpected sources in the form of duty exchanges, lecture notes, kind words, and new ideas. I found myself enjoying the busy schedule in spite of occasional burnouts. I remember one particular occasion when the tight schedule had started strangling me, and a dear friend sat with me for hours, just holding my hand and talking until I felt better. The magazine received excellent reviews. The happiest moment was when our magazine was selected the runner-up for the prestigious Basheer Award.

When the tenure of our union ended and I was asked to address the students on the college day, all I could utter was a big thank you. One year of being a student representative had taught me how much teamwork, passion and confidence could achieve, how small ideas and a handful of people could create huge changes, and how words could work wonders. Years down the lane, wrinkled and worn out, these lessons will be treasures I hold on to.

 

Youth Ki Awaaz is an open platform where anybody can publish. This post does not necessarily represent the platform's views and opinions.