"Abandon the idea that the only thing that matters are huge movements; not everyone can be a power player."

Starting university is no small deal. It is often exciting and difficult in equal measure. First year in itself is a steep learning curve, wherein I found the biggest lessons were often not subject-related, just by-products of a new type of living. 

Last week, about 2000 wide-eyed first years arrived at our university. For some, an entrance onto Cambridge’s political scene will be high on the list of priorities. For others, it won’t even be a consideration – consumed by the other infinite experiences this year has to offer. 

For most Freshers in their first few weeks, it will be less hitting the ground running and more trying not to fall over. There will be deadlines to manage with the mammoth task of finding the people that fit you. Supervisions and socials will have rolled into a tangled mesh by the time Week Five comes around.

Asking for further degrees of political involvement in this environment therefore seems somewhat unrealistic. In Michaelmas, I was largely preoccupied with making friends and handling the jump from micromanaged study to individual learning. Anything else on top of that would have seemed like a timetable overload. For the majority that didn’t arrive with activism already adopted as a way of living, adding it to the plate might just be too much too soon.

We have to be brave enough to sacrifice our vulnerability for the potential rewards engagement can bring

My own hesitancy to get involved stemmed not just from a lack of understanding, but a conviction that established student activists would be able to detect me as a fraud. Imposter syndrome isn’t new, but it is pertinent and played a considerable role in my disengagement. It took me a term to realise that college friends engaging in intense discussions after union debates weren’t inherently more deserving of their place. They simply had slightly different areas of interest and engaged with provoking material in a manner separate from my own.

Plenty of people encouraged me to try new things at university, and I stand behind this advice wholeheartedly. But there’s a difference between getting involved in a college sport where the emphasis is light-hearted and inclusive, and entering the world of activism in which much more is at stake. Political image is increasingly tied to identity and the choice appeared to me to be totally informed and committed, or not risk the hazard of exposure by avoiding the matter completely.

We must disregard this mentality. Investing in all-or-nothing too often risks the threat of nothing at all. We have to be brave enough to sacrifice our vulnerability for the potential rewards engagement can bring.


Mountain View

We must abandon our fear of ignorance if we are to achieve meaningful student protest

My own resolutions for this year start small; an attempt to bridge the gap between my lack of knowledge and the vast wealth of political campaigns currently running in Cambridge. So many operate at any single time it can be difficult to know what to engage with and whose opinion to trust. That doesn’t mean we shouldn’t try.

Read up on the things that interest you. There is no obligation to find purpose in every single campaign. I’m endeavouring to attend more talks and study the articles that pique my interest. A little effort to stay informed can go a long way.

And while the activist community can seem insular, students can hope to benefit from recent efforts to make political campaigns more accessible. The creation of The Disorientation Guide this year is an effort on behalf of activists to increase the collective’s inclusiveness. Produced by a variety of groups in Cambridge, it aims to provide students with information about the type of activism that occurs here, organisers, events, and the means to get involved. Donated funds currently stand at 127% of the intended target; when distributed, the guide hopes to use the momentum of the past year to better connect ‘the institution and wider social organising’.

We need to have the courage to sacrifice individual insecurities for the benefit of greater change. Abandon the idea that the only thing that matters are huge movements; not everyone can be a power player.

Small contributions matter. If sitting quietly in a talk, absorbing information and gaining the confidence to engage in wider movements later down the line is a route that’s more comfortable, then that’s just as valid as somebody who chooses to dive straight in. Student activists shouldn’t say anything different.