The Student Union of the University of Helsinki turned 150 years old this year. The Student Union has now reached a mature age, but it also has an eventful youth behind it. As early as the 19th century, students were involved in building this country, creating its standard language, flag, identity and the Maamme national anthem. Students fought on both sides in the Civil War and did their part in establishing the country’s political and economic system after the war. In the 1950s, students started to become worried about the situation in developing countries and were involved in bringing development cooperation to Finland.
Student radicalism flourished when the Student Union turned 100 years old. The Old Student House was occupied because the Student Union was considered to have become disconnected from students’ everyday life. The Student Union was considered an important but remote community. Unlike 50 years ago, during this Anniversary year the Student Union has emphasised the need for strengthening communality and the need for equality. Different ways of keeping all students involved have been considered.
The Student Union is like a small municipality within the city. It gathers students from all around the country and the world together and provides them with a community, a safety net and fun activities. Communality can also be thought of on a larger scale, as part of the urban community and Finland: social exclusion and deprivation are challenges faced by growing cities. Mental health problems among young people have increased, loneliness has become more common and the segregation of residential areas has begun. There is a pronounced need for communality and, for this reason, it is important that students’ communality in our city expands outside our own community, too.
The new era does not call for us to isolate ourselves within our communities – we need to do things together and take responsibility for problems that are not in our own backyard or just around the corner, too. This requires us to redefine neighbourliness and what is considered common. Communality must be viewed on a larger scale than as just a feature of our own community. The new era must be seen as readiness to take action against injustice in society and as people power used to defend education and human dignity.
The Student Union must continue to boldly be radical and ready to both cause disapproval and shake up existing power structures if they are in the way of progress. It must have the courage to act for those in the weakest position in society and those whose lives are characterised by a lack of prospects and deprivation. The Student Union must participate in common activities aimed at building a better city for all and dare to have grand visions, demand the impossible and realise it.
When I imagine the next 150 years, I see a Student Union that uses its communality as a resource for promoting equality, sustainable development and education. I see a Student Union that actively defends values that are important to students in the city and in society. I see a Student Union changing the world.
The writer is the Chair of the Student Union of the University of Helsinki. She has studied sociology and politics of education at the University of Helsinki and was active in various organisations and in the Student Union during her studies.