If you’re at NUS conference over the next few days, or know anyone who is there, please remember this: conference is really intense: it drains you emotionally and physically, you’re bombarded by campaign supporters, political parties, factions, fringe meetings from the moment you arrive. Conference floor is exhausting, as well as exhilarating. Debates, whilst largely stimulating and insightful, can often descend into petty name-calling and be (sometimes intentionally) racist, homo/bi/transphobic, classist, sexist and ableist. People underestimate the impact those kind of things have on others, and whilst folks are always eager to hop up to the megaphone and call others out on their bullshit, the damage has been done – to both conference hacks and conference newbies.
I’m only saying this to make a point: when you’re at conference, practise self-care.
My experiences at NUS conferences were some of the best moments of my time as a student officer, but they wouldn’t have been if I hadn’t practiced self care, which is a difficult thing to do. If you need to take ten minutes off conference floor, if you say that you need to go home rather than attending an election party then DO IT and do not feel guilty! It is far more important for you to look after your own health and mental well-being for a few minutes, rather than sacrificing them for the whole of conference. Respect everyone’s access needs, support each other, stay hydrated, eat, SLEEP (I’m looking at you Vicki Baars and Colum McGuire!), take time out if you need. Your impact on conference will be all the better for it.
Finally, it’s often really easy to direct your anger at the people at the podium, or on the stage, or behind the scenes at NUS, or at each other. Just remember that there is a difference between holding someone to account and holding someone hostage for something that they did or didn’t do. I have disagreed with a lot of people at conference – but treating them like crap isn’t a productive way to unite a movement and I really hope folks at conference remember that every delegate – whether an NUS officer, sabb or student – is human. If you criticise someone, be productive about it. Ask yourself, “How can we move forward from this? How can I challenge this appropriately in a way that will make a difference? How can I support this movement?”. I’ve been guilty in the past of getting sucked into rhetoric about factions (I think everyone remotely involved in NUS has!) but it’s more valuable, in some cases, to build bridges where there is common ground to be shared. No one agrees on everything, but sometimes you will agree on something, and that’s valuable. Don’t forget that.
Although I’m no longer in the student movement (I’m still a student, but a full-time teacher!) I am invested in the power that conference has, because I’ve seen how activists change and shape each other over the course of a few days. That’s pretty powerful. Take care of each other and that power will be used to shape the future of education.
(cross-posted on my facebook account)