UCD has a problem with student apathy. Moreover, this highly pervasive problem is affecting some of the core and essential pillars to university life: societies, UCDSU, academia, socialising etc. etc. 

The biggest threat to the student’s experience of university today, seems evident to me, not to be a profit-driven administration, an under-funded mental health service or threats to student finances. Although these are all very pressing issues, I think the grand villain behind it all is student apathy. 

If you’ve ever been involved with a student society, especially a small society, you probably know the pain of hosting events with only a handful of students turning up. Even larger societies such as the Literary and Historical (L&H) society are struggling to fill rooms for there events. So why is it that societies are struggling to galvanise regular members? Why do committees have hard times convincing their peers into running for positions. Shouldn’t there be a healthy competition between students eager to get involved? All the UCD promotional material certainly points towards a vibrant social sphere with over 80 student societies. 

There are certainly many societies thriving this year such as Lawsoc, Foodsoc and Dramsoc to name but a few. However, society life in UCD isn’t a thriving collective of societies vying for dominance, but something less than. I’m not suggesting any definitive answers to the question of apathy on campus but posing the questions I think is enough to get people talking about why society life in UCD is struggling.

It’s difficult to quantify if it’s always been like this in UCD, as students’ institutional memory lasts no more than 4 or so years in most faculties. Furthermore, I don’t want to paint a picture that ‘the good old days were sunshine and rainbows where students were highly engaged with campus life,’ but I think there’s an argument to be made that there was a time in which overall engagement levels were better. 

The Student’s Union is also subject to struggling engagement. If I have to sit through another UCDSU election hustings with candidates talking about how they’re going to improve student engagement levels, I swear I’m gonna start throwing punches. Seriously though, it’s been a campaign promise of nearly every candidate in recent years, and I’m yet to see any monumental change. 

The introduction of the ‘Campaigns and Engagement Officer’ to the SU sabbatical team is certainly a step in the right direction, and I commend the Union for this decision. UCDSU’s recent hosting of ‘The Blindboy Podcast’ saw hundreds turn up to a crowded Astra Hall. I think this is great to see, but unfortunately this event is an exception to the trend. 

Earlier this semester UCDSU held an event called “An Cuas is gone; now what?” Remember it? Probably not. The event tailed on the shock removal of Newman’s communal space ‘An Cuas’ during the summer. The Facebook event says 20 people went, 144 people interested, and was shared 5 times. This is fairly good for a Union event! Would it surprise you to say that the photograph below was taken from that event? Do the online numbers reflect the actual turnout?  

In the initial Class Rep elections this year, 79 positions were filled, while 87 returned uncontested. I don’t think the Union is necessarily to blame for these engagement levels, it seems that something widespread is going on amongst the youth of today. 

I think it’s time to talk about everybody’s go-to scapegoat for the alleged disengagement of us young’uns: Social Media. Boomers love to hate on our generation for our usage of various social platforms. I don’t think it’s overtly misplaced to blame our online usage for our non-virtual engagement levels. Would we be going to a society event if we weren’t watching Netflix? Would we be out in the pub if we weren’t sitting at home texting a dozen friends unceremoniously throughout the evening? Would we be out on the streets protesting about climate change if we weren’t sharing content online occasionally? 

There is plenty of reputable social science journals publishing evidence to prove that social media usage can be damaging to the overall traction of a social movement. 

I frequently find myself looking at old photos in the Tribune office and see hundreds of students gathered for various events on campus in the past, something that seems alien to UCD in 2019. 

I think there is an evident epidemic of apathy sweeping across our generation, something that doesn’t seem to be hastening. Take my opinion or leave it, it’s up to you. Perhaps you’ll find merit in my words or perhaps you won’t. One thing that seems inarguable though, is the diagnosis that engagement levels are scarily low in UCD, and something needs to be done about it. 


Conor Capplis – Editor