“The role of Hall Chair is what you make it” – Cayley Warden 2011-2012. This seemingly throwaway comment has stuck with me throughout my time at University and it certainly influenced the way I attempted to lead Cayley Hall in my first year.
However, the reality is the role of Hall Chair is perceived very differently in every Hall on campus. Its difficulty is often down to specific events throughout the year that are unpredictable.
It could be argued that the role is getting harder. The perception of how well a Hall Chair does is influenced in several ways, and the dynamics affecting how well you do (and how you are perceived to have done) are vast.
In some halls, the Chair will be one who fights every corner for your hall to win as much as they can throughout the year (despite his/her achievements). And other Hall Chairs unfortunately do not have the same get up and go attitude.
Obviously broad generalisations, but it gives you the range. I would argue that it is the attitude of your first hall chair that is important and, in the past year, the word ‘attitude’ has reared its ugly head as students and more specifically committees have become both more engaged with their halls and more and more competitive; the obvious result being more and more pressure on Hall Chairs.
On the surface this may seem exactly what we want, however with this shift in attitude comes an increase in pressure. And ultimately we could see less becoming involved.
However, what interests me here is what is driving the pressure: the students. It lead me to ask more questions about the so called ‘shift’.
What is making people become more engaged? Why are people’s attitudes changing? Although I don’t claim to know the answer to this question I will have a pretty good swing at it.
Having worked closely with plenty of Hall Chairs and spoken to many students, two things are clear. Firstly, the increased influence and penetration of Loughborough Students’ Media has given students an outlet which enables them to engage much more closely with the committees and the Exec which run the union and halls.
This in turn gives them, the students, somewhere to voice an opinion and hold people who are not performing accountable.
Secondly, and this is maybe slightly more contestable, the increase in student tuition fees has meant students will be looking much more closely at what they get from their university experience.
Given that hall committees take hall subs and organise various events throughout the year it is obvious to see why you would want someone on committee who is looking to maximise your experience while keeping down costs.
Bringing my point into context, the end of last term was a very busy term for the Hall Students’ Federation. Aside from normal goings-on, Loughborough saw two Hall Chairs voted off in two completely different circumstances.
Now, although committees initiated the two cases, the student engagement in both was substantial. Is this evidence of the shift?
Fundamentally, the reasons for their dismissal in this piece are irrelevant. Least because the ins and outs of committees in Loughborough University would warrant much further in depth analysis.
What is clear is that in Cayley and Bill Mo students ‘got involved’, albeit at a push, and some may even feel they did not get as much a say as they would have liked. However, though it pains me to say it, this is something new to Loughborough.
Ex Label Editor and now Editor-in-Chief of this very publication, Jago Pearson, explained to me that after the Bill Mo Hall Chair was asked to step down, Label Online received “in excess of 5000 hits, which is the website’s highest trafficking single article in its history”.
Given this figure alone it is easy to see that Loughborough students care about the Hall committee system and not only that. It also demonstrates that we need to have somewhere for students to get involved and ask questions because our system is far from perfect.
On reflection, I would conclude that there does appear to be a shift in the role of a Hall Chair but not a vast one. One major shift is one that runs campus wide; whereby more students are challenging those in power and responsibility.
However, there appears to be slightly more pressure on Hall Chairs, I would assert that this pressure is a positive new kind of pressure, arising in a different form projected by the increase in media coverage in the last year.
This could highlight the latent desire for students to get involved, which I certainly hope is the case. Or, alternatively, the cynic in me says it could just be a sign of the human craving for a good ‘story’.
Whichever, former or the latter, it has certainly played an integral part in the added pressure on the hall system this year and has had an impact on the attitudes within halls.
Without sounding too patronising, people are now speaking up in halls and challenging what goes on in them. And personally, I’m in favour of more questioning as it pushes the system to improve beyond what has been achieved before.