Written by Miranda Imperial
As a one year Master’s student, my time at LSE has been short. My experience of the university cannot be compared to that of undergraduates. I know I cannot hope to be as familiar with the university as they end up at the end of their degrees. However, it is my position as a graduate student that leads me to consider what I see as LSE’s most considerable struggle: encouraging an environment where the university and students alike collaborate to improve the student experience, and, particularly, student activism.
Being a graduate student, I cannot help but hold LSE accountable to my previous university’s standard in this regard. LSE has created an environment that does not foster collegiality and striving to make student life better. In Cambridge, society life was the core of my positive experience in a small university town. I thrived on the sense of community and activism that pervaded the university. Cambridge University’s Student Union (CUSU) supports a series of ‘liberation campaigns’, both financially and logistically. These campaigns exist to fight for the interests of students from marginalised backgrounds. This opportunity boosted my confidence as an 18 year old. Being a queer woman in Cambridge, I came to understand, was perfectly fine.
I lost this vibrant atmosphere of empowerment when I graduated, and I could not find it again at LSE. I rushed to become involved in LSE’s Pride Alliance to reclaim that feeling. Rapidly, my disappointment grew as events we would run lacked attendance, and that my ideas for new events were not feasible given the generalised apathy towards activism that seems pervasive at LSE. I came to understand that initiatives like the Pride Alliance receive no more support from the School and the SU than sports or careers societies. We rely largely on self-sourced sponsorship money -and, due to the political nature of queer activism and companies’ wishes to remain apolitical, this number is unlikely to increase.
Too much is left on the plate for individual students to shift paradigms within the school; in practice, bureaucratic impediments are the main cause for this. I am still unfamiliar with some of the procedures surrounding student society involvement, and it baffles me that students need 3 years at LSE to create minimal tangible change. One year Master’s students cannot hope to navigate this cantankerous arena of paperwork in such a limited time frame. And, since postgraduate students constitute almost 60% of LSE’s student body, disengagement out of complication might be at the crux of LSE’s low student satisfaction.
“LSE is a world class institution,” the words from my LSE Welcome Presentation ring in my ears. But I ask myself: how can an institution that does not allow for students to fight for their own rights, that does not actively foster community and engagement, be great at all? Students from marginalised groups are already particularly at risk of isolation and of mental health issues. For LSE to remain a “world class institution”, LSESU and the school administration must work together to reassess the organisation of student activism.