Advocacy work for the good of the student’s city

15.10.2018

Helsinki is the capital of Finland as well as the living room of all Finns. Helsinki is the city of those working, studying and living here. Helsinki is our common city.

The Student Union of the University of Helsinki has always had a close connection to the city. It should be obvious to everyone today that universities increase the appeal of modern cities. Our business life, research and culture would all be much poorer without the University of Helsinki. In addition to this, students bring about changes in the way our city is managed.

I was in the Representative Council myself as a representative of the HYY Greens. I was an active member of HYY’s Social Policy Division where we influenced matters such as the social situation of students with a family, family services, student housing, subsistence, mental health services, psychosocial support, disabled students’ opportunities to get about and the accessibility of the city. We organised events, brought up issues and wrote.

It has been a pleasure to note that these kinds of ways of influencing have not disappeared anywhere. Influencing matters in the Student Union is pretty similar to the advocacy work I currently do from the perspective of the entire Helsinki. Work done in the Student Union has become more efficient, and the management of Helsinki hears the students’ message ever louder and clearer, too. These messages have a lot of influence on the shape our city takes in the future.

What does the recipient of students’ messages think of them, then? That they are well thought out and the result of good decision-making. The issues have been debated and deliberated. And, most of all, that students care about the issues.

When you receive a message from HYY, you can be sure that they come from people chosen to represent the diverse voices that students themselves represent. We know that students care about who represents them. We should take such parties seriously. Receiving the messages is also made a lot easier by the fact that a large portion of the current decision-makers are also products of HYY.

Please indulge me as one such decision-maker reminisces a bit: I remember when I returned from an Erasmus exchange in Berlin. I had separated from my cohabiting partner during the exchange and returned to Helsinki without a home where I could go to. Studies were not going all that well either, and I decided to apply for a job as a project researcher to get something else to think about. HYY soon won me over. I made HYY a report on students’ wellbeing and subsistence. Similar reports still have an important role today in sketching out students’ situation.

As I walk to work through the Senate Square this autumn, I see groups of freshers who are just beginning their studies. Before that, I have walked past my old department of sociology on Unioninkatu and the building of the Faculty of Social Sciences where I worked at a clinic for dermatology and venereal diseases as a general upper secondary school student. I started my studies in sociology in Franzenia, which today is a city-run day care centre. The city has changed a lot, but HYY’s activities remain strong. It is good that some things change while others do not. Students themselves, however, are on the side of change – and that is good.

Sanna Vesikansa

The writer is the Deputy Mayor for Social Services and Health Care in Helsinki. In HYY, Vesikansa acted as a project researcher in 1994–1997, a member of the Representative Council and a member of the Social Policy Division.

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