We cannot be who we cannot see – Exploring the extent to which Students' Union officers can be truly representative of an increasingly diverse student body.
The last few decades have seen an increased diversification of the student body in higher education. Simultaneously, the collective representation of students through student representative bodies has become a central component of the higher education culture in Ireland, the UK and Europe. This paper aims to explore the challenges that student representatives, often known as student officers, face in effectively communicating the views of the entire diversity of students they represent.
In exploring this issue, the paper outlines some of the key demographics typically referred to as ‘hard to reach’ (Shaw et.al, 2017) or ‘non-traditional’ (Smith, 2008) who tend to engage less visibly in student representative activities. In identifying some of the key student demographics that this issue tends to affect, the paper outlines some of the practical and cultural barriers that prevent them from fully engaging with student representation, and how this impacts the extent to which student representative bodies can effectively advocate on their behalf. In concluding, the paper identifies some existing practices that may warrant further exploration by student representatives and higher education institutions in order to ensure the diversity of the student body is effectively heard through representative structures.
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