7 Things I’ve Learnt From Running (and Losing) to be to an SU Officer

I’m Elle, a 2nd year Politics with Economics student, and I just ran a campaign to be SU Community Officer next year. I came second out of three – only around 70 votes behind the winner, Freya Jackson. Here are some of my reflections on what it was like to run my (very pink) campaign, and ultimately lose the election.

1) Thankfully, it’s not like the horror stories you hear. I am so pleased to say that overall, campaigning was a hugely positive experience. Having had friends involved in SU elections before, I’d heard the stories of the 2017/18 year of 38 complaints and 6 sanctions (!), but Freya and Milan (my competition for the Community role) were so lovely throughout the whole process. This meant that by the end of elections, it felt like, despite obviously being in competition, we had become a little team – a strange dichotomy, but one I am so grateful for. Additionally, among the other candidates across all positions; it felt like there was a real sense of solidarity, brought on by the shared experience of the intensity of campaigning. Results was filled with gracefulness, a lot of hugs and congratulations, and a sense that we had all achieved something great, regardless of whether we had won or lost. 

2) Campaigning will show you parts of your personality that you didn’t even know you had – for me, I realised I am more ambitious than I ever thought. I have always been the kind to make plans that can be a bit out there, but typically within a few days I’ll realise that, for example, yeeting to Greece in the middle of term, or starting yet another YouTube channel is not a viable option. However, once I set my mind on this campaign I knew I was doing it, and I don’t think I ever really looked back. I also really surprised myself by how, after losing, it only took a moment of emotion before my first thought was ‘What next?’, and I started making more ambitious plans for the future of my involvement in the SU and as an activist.

3) ‘It’ll suck for an hour, and then life moves on.’ This was the advice offered by a friend who had previously been defeated in SU elections. Suddenly hit by the fear of having put myself out there for the whole university to both decide and watch live whether I got my dream placement job or not, I called her up and asked her what it felt like to lose. In reality, the suckiness is not quite as short-lived as an hour; mine was more a strange fluctuating between the sadness of losing my dream job, the happiness at how well I’d done as only a second year, and the stress of now not having any idea of what I was doing with my life going forward, over a period of around 48 hours following the result. However, the sentiment was right; life does just go back to normal, you make new plans, you finally get to see your friends and do non-campaign things (see below for spontaneous glitter tattoos) ,and you begin to reflect on the success of what you’ve achieved in your campaign rather solely on the disappointing outcome. 

Post-campaign, going back to (semi) normal life by seeing friends and doing rainbow tattoos

4) The Elections Committee has your back.  As someone who’s suffered with mental health issues in the past, the real focus by the team on candidates welfare from the outset, meant that I knew that if I did have a problem, I would be supported to the best of their capacity – in my experience, that made all the difference in preventing anxiety. They went above and beyond to make sure that procedures were put in place in case we were struggling – such as a room we could go to in results if we needed some space (very much needed in the hot crowds of happy hour), and regular check up texts from Alisha to all the Community candidates – which provided a much needed forum to rant when I got sick halfway through the week.  Elections Committee this year also really reinforced the idea that there should be a positive atmosphere among candidates; that spitefulness, rudeness or negative campaigning would get us nowhere. They also made sure to be really clear about the rules and answer any questions when we were unsure, and I’m sure these two things played a large part in why this year there were no sanctions imposed on candidates, and only 2 formal complaints made (a big improvement from 38!).

5) Campaigning will show you who the people that you can rely on really are. In making a campaign team, I was told that tactically I needed people from different societies or demographics (e.g. a postgraduate, an international student) to be on my campaign team. However, at the end of the day it ended up mainly consisting of my closest friends rather than these tacked on categories – and these people turned out to be the ones who were really there during the week. It’s also incredible to find how much your friends really believe in you. To be willing to go around with your name plastered in nasty acrylic paint in the same t-shirt for 4 days, and yell at strangers to vote for you, is not something you should take lightly. I am so unbelievably grateful and overwhelmed, that those people had enough faith in me as someone who they believed could make positive change at the university, to make that commitment of their time and energy. 

Celebrating elections being over with campaign team members, current officers, and people who’ve run in the past.

6) It is scary. I like to think I’m pretty good and experienced at public speaking; in sixth form I used to give assemblies to 200+ year groups on mental health awareness, and I deliver presentations to LGBT+ a few times a term. But Questions to Candidates is still scary; standing up in a lecture in front of 300 MechEng students who don’t want to be there, and even more so don’t want to listen to you, is scary; approaching a stranger on parade with a flyer is scary. But this meant that as soon as I had finished the first day of campaigning (which ended with the ever-dreaded Questions to Candidates), I knew that whatever happened from that point on, I would finish this week being proud of myself.

7) It is a momentous achievement. I am not the kind to big myself up, but this campaign, whatever the result, is something that I cannot believe I have done. The amount of work it took, the co-ordination and organisation it required, and the perseverance it took to keep going through thick and thin, is a bit overwhelming just to even think about.

It feels weird now that life will go back to normal. I will carry on going (or failing to go) to lectures, over-prioritising committee work compared to my degree, drinking too much 4W or Starbucks coffee and finally be able to see my friends and not talk about campaigning. It’s been weird to see campus stripped of pink and return to its grey self, to not have YMCA playing constantly in my head, to not have to run to CB every hour to try and capture a crowd of hungover freshers to repeat the same virtually memorised spiel to.

However, the one thing I can say out of all of this is that I am so goddamn proud of myself, for standing up for what I believe in, for doing something perhaps not really expected of a person like myself. If you’d told 16 year old me that I would have done this, I would have laughed in your face – but I know that girl always had it in her. It’s just about building yourself up – to the point where you can take that massive leap of faith in yourself to pursue something you want. 

And I did it. 

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