Seven days after the University of London celebrated its 181st anniversary with a black-tie reception at Senate House, a more casual party was thrown at the top of Saw Swee Hock to mark LSE SU’s 120th birthday. Close to 70 people turned out for the cake-and-wine reception including students, alumni and special party guests. The price they paid for the sweet and spiritous sacraments was to sing a round of ‘happy birthday SU’, led by General Secretary Mahatir Pasha.
“Tonight’s about celebrating the SU’s history and conveying how influential it’s been over the years. We’re trying to convey the basic message that we’ve helped to shape the discourse here. Sometimes we’ve clashed with the university, sometimes we’ve collaborated with it, but through 120 years we’ve had an impact,” Pasha said.
The party venue featured two-dozen easels, displaying various snippets of the SU’s history, including a clipping from the 1903 yearbook that saw women getting equal representation on committees. Also displayed was a 1963 motion in opposition to apartheid South Africa and a picture of a 1921 fancy dress party.
The reception was attended by several alumni, including Gail Sheridan, General Secretary of the SU in 1964 and Ann McHlae who graduated in 1978. Commenting on the SU building, McHlae said: “Looking at it now, it looks like money. University spending was more discreet when I was here. Nowadays you have to flaunt it as a university. But education isn’t a commodity,” she added, gesturing to the nacho plate on the table beside her. “To market it like a bowl of chips is not a good approach.”
A serious question these days is whether a solid century of student activism has fizzled-out. Recent polling revealed that only 37% of students are proud to be part of the Student Union. Alongside the indifference that shrouded the MT elections at the start of term, many will be looking to the Union to jump-start student engagement once again.
Tuesday’s party was part of the larger 120th anniversary celebrations that ran throughout last week, also featuring a giveaway of 120 free coffees from 9 to 11am on Monday morning. “It’s been a fairly popular giveaway,” said one café worker during the event. If armies march on their stomachs, then university protests probably depend on double-shot americanos. In future, the occasional cupcake and glass of pinot certainly won’t go amiss; yet the SU should probably give away more java if they want to kick-start student mojo.