Bring back the T-shirt tyrants

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The JCR is no longer cool. To many, this issue may not seem a problem; however, given the current caliber of candidates applying to be a member of the JCR executive, it seems that this is in fact a problem. Things were not always this way – the exec used to be exclusive, idolised, a symbol of power, faces of the college and above all, envied.

I am not a naïve fresher, nor am I a passive, lethargic college member – far from it. I have been on the JCR; I have been involved in the union, in the organisational side of university events and above all I am a normal student. Although, now nearing the end of my education, and, seeing the current state of affairs, I have formed a critical and hopefully inspiring debate for your consideration.

Firstly, let’s rewind to 2008. I can remember standing in the queue to Sugarhouse on a grim Friday night. Despite it being 11.30pm, the queue was already backed up to the entrance by the smoking area. With arms crossed to help with the shivering, I hear voices and a blur of green shirts streak down the left-hand side – the JCR. Direct from their large taxi they strut straight past the queue, laughing all the while, and continue into the club.

“Pricks” my friend commented. I added: “If I ever became JCR, I would never abuse the power. Or wear the shirt out. Everyone thinks they’re just dicks.” It seems this mentality was shared across campus, sparking the ‘t-shirt tyrant’ debate in the first place. The following Tuesday, I’m paying £3 at the Cuba front desk. As we walk into the club, the area on the left has a velvet rope across the sofas along the wall. Inside the VIP area is bucketed champagne guarded by a bouncer, with everyone inside wearing a primary coloured polo shirt. Everyone looks incredibly attractive – power has that effect. An extremely similar conversation to before is played out by many that night: “Just because they organize the night, doesn’t mean they’re above us”.

Now the rotation has gone full circle, now those moany freshers are final year students, and sticking to their guns, not wearing their shirts, just doing their jobs properly – the exclusivity of the JCR has died. Despite how much they were hated for being the self-appointed bourgeoisie of Lancaster, this created an arguably necessary clique. It was because you could strut straight into a club; that you could organize a roped-off alcohol-filled area; that you could only mingle with one another; the authority those poorly nicknamed t-shirts contained – that’s why you wanted to be in the JCR.

I do not believe that a student would hust and campaign just to sit in an empty office for an hour a week to discuss welfare with no one. EWD officers are imperative, but few JCR members went for these sorts of roles with the raw intention to fulfill that position. The same goes for Chairs: they do not want to take minutes, they want to be in a position of power. People want to be that person in the bar that sighs at the ever ongoing disasters.

Two years ago the Comment Editor of SCAN wrote an article on these T-shirt Tyrants which noted: “Every JCR on campus contains CV hunting, power hungry ego merchants who don’t know their arse from their elbow.” This is what we need in healthy doses, we just didn’t know it then. By being exclusive, with the shirt being an icon of this ego, it became something you want to be.

Each generation of JCR has been drilled into not being a dickhead, and have consequently steered clear of this. But by doing this, the new freshmen of 2010 have no desire to want to be a part of a stressful, low-key and unglamorous executive. The clique is what gels the members, what reduces the bickering and what strengthens the new concepts.

Over the years, the JCR has been set on a loop. It goes from the cool and the beautiful who made the role appealing in 2007. The following year sees the rise of the t-shirt tyrants; all power, all talk and nothing done. 2009 saw the peak in the tyrants, the popularity contest at its climax. Next year and a majority of these characters have now left, paving the way for that shivering fresher who wants to do it by the book. Freshers do not see the perks in the JCR and go for a position just for something good to do, a chore. Fewer strong characters join, leading to less cohesion as a unit – even less gets done.

We then come to 2010 where JCRs hit rock bottom, and theres no competition for a position, so the “I might as well go for that if no one else is” mentality occurs. So freshers get voted in, they get arrogant, they get an ego and this cycle resets.

Take Pendle for example. A fresher president combined with only one continuing member of the JCR is quite possibly the strongest piece of evidence for all of this.

I am not suggesting that the tyrants were in the right. I am simply implying that it was for this reason that in previous years there has been a higher caliber of candidates. Bring back the tyrants. Well, some of them.

If you have any comments to make about this piece please either leave a post on this page or address them to the Editor at scan@lancaster.ac.uk.

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5 Comments

  1. As one of the JCR Presidents, I feel as though this article is unfair and completely lacks evidence for much of what you?re saying. We?re in the first week of a new JCR Exec being in place in each college and you?re already talking about the ?caliber of candidates? and yet you haven?t had a proper opportunity to see them grow and develop in their roles. You also haven?t had a chance to see them in action.

    Personally, I think my JCR Exec is brilliant and full of hidden talents. There are some Officers with true passion and great ideas, they work well in a team and I?m confident they are going to be good this year.

    As for being ?T-shirt tyrants?, somebody writes an article about how bad they are and then somebody writes an article about how they?re necessary. This year, we?re going for a middle ground. T-shirts are to be worn when JCR?s are on sober duty for the night and we?re not afraid of using the queue jump privilege we get for Sugarhouse, we work damn hard for it and it?s one of the few perks we do get. However, we don?t flaunt it. Arrogance is not an attractive trait and we don?t want to be portrayed negatively, who does?

    You imply the EWD Officers simply do their office hours and that?s it, but I can assure you that they work an awful lot harder than that. We?re currently renewing our EWD strategy, compiling feedback on LUVLE, organising a Chinese New Year event and setting up two campaigns which we hope will be taken on by all colleges.

    And you?re right; Chair?s don?t run for the position to take minutes. The handful of JCR Chairs that there are sit on Elections Subcommittee to help run and facilitate elections, a big job. They also have to chair their own JCR meetings and help out in other events.

    You talk about a lack of competition, yet in some colleges there are huge contests over certain positions. Look at Lonsdale, they had 10 candidates for Social Secretary. Pendle also had 3 people in the contest for President, so I don?t believe your comment about having a fresher President is relevant to your ?no competition? comment. Go and have a conversation with him, he?s level-headed, clued up and ran a very successful campaign, not just an ?arrogant? fresher.

    I don?t ever believe that JCRs should be considered as exclusive or important because we?re not. We?re students who are simply representing students, not royalty.

  2. EWD officers run because they want to make a difference to students lives. They campaign, they put themselves out for those who are struggling. Spend some time watching them, and THEN make your judgement. Some officers, whatever position, might be as poor as you suggest, but the majority are stellar examples of an enthusiastic and passionate youth. Generalisations such as the ones you have made are unfair and offensive.

  3. There are a few parts to the article that are not backed up, you mention that there is now a problem with the exclusivity in jcr’s, that it’s open for anybody who wants to make a difference. Is this a bad thing? The fact that jcr’s are not thought of as a popularity contest doesn’t in any way push people into doing the role because there is nobody else to do that role, it’s because they care about the collage, the cause they have applied for regarding their remit and want to put extra work in, not because they want to be the ‘popular’ one but actually desires to make a difference. Is it such a bad thing that people who actually are best at doing what they are doing are aloud to and not pushed out by just a giant cock who cares only for himself?

    The statement:.
    ‘Freshers do not see the perks in the JCR and go for a position just for something good to do, a chore. Fewer strong characters join, leading to less cohesion as a unit ? even less gets done.’

    The connection you make to fresher’s joining the jcr for something good to do, something which they want to put their time and energy into, and possibly help their collage, combined with that few strong characters join is not simply crazy, but also a completely false and insulting accusation. Who has the right to judge character on a whole year group of people? is the fresher’s at this time any different from fresher’s in any year, the answer to that is a resounding no.

    The role of the jcr in the past to present might have changed slightly, with more glory seekers some year, and maybe more people who actually give a damn the next, but the majority of people who joined this year do give a damn. The result of signalling out a collage and president and yet not saying what he actually has done wrong was in my view bad journalism, you have to be able to support your accusations with proof in an argument. I did not read a single bit of evidence that the calibre of student’s who are now on the jcr’s in your report, where is the evidence.

    I do hope that every jcr reads your thread though as it is an insight into how the mind of an elitist works. The jcr is there for the students, they are not above or below, but are the students, hence why your accusation (not a debate as you previously put) is in my view wrong.

  4. Your argument seems to be that offering people a JCR role with perks such as the right to elitism and narcissism, as well as being in a ‘position of power’ as this will attract a higher quality of candidate. Personally speaking, I don’t really fancy having a JCR made up entirely of people who are motivated by these so-called benefits. It’s like arguing that shop assistants should be allowed to be rude to customers and take the odd fiver from the till, because it’ll make ‘better’ candidates apply for the job, when really anyone who applies or campaigns on those perks is completely the wrong person for the role. Crucially, the JCR roles are not positions of power or authority – they are positions of responsibility. Anyone who misunderstands that shouldn’t bother, because they’ll end up just doing a crap job once they realise what work you actually have to do.

    As for the clique thing, it’s a bit of a misnomer. JCRs are a clique by definition, in the same way that societies are. That’s not the problem. People really mean to say that JCRs can be insular and patronising. That’s a separate thing in itself and you don’t really say whether or not that’s true, but you do argue that if they’re not insular and patronising then they should be, because the right to be that is one of the benefits of the job. Where JCRs make a concerted effort to address criticisms of their elitism, you think that’s a bad thing. I don’t really see how people can agree with that and this article certainly doesn’t articulate it in any substantial way.

    Really your problem is black and white thinking. Either JCRs are elitist and detached from their colleges or they’re ineffective. Did you consider a middle ground of an efficiently-run JCR that doesn’t appear to students to be made up of ambition junkies who regard themselves as ‘above’ everyone else? I’ll just add that I personally don’t think that JCRs are made up of the kind of egomaniacs that some people say they are, but if that’s a perception some people have then that’s a problem in itself and addressing it is a good thing. Arguing that JCR officers need to advertise their positions as official rights to act smug and superior is completely ridiculous. The fact that other JCR officers are already disagreeing with this just confirms my point.

  5. As the individual in question who was responsible for the 2008 article on T-shirt Tyrants I felt I had to respond.

    Firstly, at the time I felt my comment was necessary. The college JCRs were not particularly highly regarded that year and there was a great deal of animosity directed at certain individuals and JCRs.

    So, what happened? Then, as now, there was a great amount of hysteria. However, in my opinion the JCRs that came into office from 2009 onwards did make a greater effort to ensure they were not seen as patronising, insular or elitist. Great strides were made.

    It is inevitable that some people resent any form of authority or power. However, some JCR officers do abuse their role and use it as a platform to exert authority and influence over others. That is unfortunately a fact of life.

    With regard to the quality of candidates. From my own experience last year as a Full Time Officer for LUSU and the Editor of SCAN, I found officers to be more dedicated and hard working than ever before. I feel that maybe the opposite effect has come into play, and where I do agree with you is that some JCRs do seem to have lost the fun factor and by time a term of office ends they maybe resent their role or feel it is a chore. Some JCRs also go to much greater lengths to positvely promote themselves to the college which, if not organic and natural, can be very tiring and exhausing. Perhaps, too much time is being spent on PR and if that is a result of the T-Shirt Tyrant phenomenon then I can only apologise.

    You state that there is less competition and perhaps even less quality on offer. I do not think this is because of a fear of reprisal or outgoing and more outspoken people being put off from running. This can be attributed to other cultural concerns. The cost of living is higher, the cost of fees higher, the important of a degree greater. There is far less opportunity for JCR activities and when LUSU has such an impressive volunteering unit plus many other clubs and societies (not to mention the Lancaster Award) it is maybe true that students are expanding their CV by gaining experience that will be more relevant to their career futures. I would determine that any less competition or quality that you perceive is due to this.

    I hope the JCRs continue to be successful, continue to work hard and deliver for their colleges. They have improved greatly in the last 3-4 years despite the tide nationally and at Lancaster turning against the colleges. LUSU needs to do all it can to ensure that the JCR is rewarding, fun and not too demanding as to put candidates off. To my knowledge the present Full Time team are already addressing this and have had initial success. However, cultural change doesn’t happen overnight.

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