Union President Christopher George: “We’re right here for disagreement”

Union President Christopher George: “We are here for disagreement”

Cambridge Union President Christopher George Nordin Ćatić

What first made you need to turn out to be President of the Cambridge Union?

Once I received to Cambridge I didn’t know concerning the Union; I didn’t know what it did; I didn’t know that it even existed. It was solely on the finish of my first 12 months, which had been fairly badly hit by Covid, that I received concerned. Being an undergraduate from a ‘mature’ faculty there are occasions when it may really feel isolating from the remainder of the college. I joined as a result of I needed to satisfy individuals from throughout Cambridge.

I made a decision to maintain going up within the Union as a result of I stored seeing areas that I believed could possibly be carried out higher or have been missing in one thing. Listening to from buddies who weren’t a part of the Union about what they might be taken with, why they didn’t need to become involved, all these chats made me need to change it.

At every stage there felt like there was extra that I may do, so I stored going.

Had been any previous audio system fully totally different in individual to what you anticipated while you invited them?

That’s tough. There are audio system who’re precisely what you suppose they’re going to be like. Earlier than I interviewed Anthony Scaramucci, I believed he was going to be this jovial, huge character, with some controversial opinions; and he was. However he spent a very long time asking about me. It’s not usually you get to take a seat with these individuals when there aren’t cameras or recorders and simply chat. I feel that’s what is most stunning about celebrities, politicians, or any high-profile individual is that they’re, in fact, individuals; they prefer to make jokes (some higher than others), speak about their youngsters, and ask about your diploma. Usually those that are most regularly within the eye of the media are probably the most relaxed when out of it. You get to see a unique facet of them.

What’s the very best pearl of knowledge you’ve heard from a Union speaker?

It’s humorous as a result of there isn’t one quote that stands out. I’ve positively learnt quite a bit from listening to the those that come to the Union – it’s why I’m so enthusiastic about this time period as a result of there’s such a various vary of audio system to listen to from. However in all probability the speaker that stands out probably the most wasn’t a head of state or singer, however the chef Ainsley Harriott; he didn’t cease smiling. He spoke to everybody that requested a query like they have been the one individual within the room, he spent ages assembly anybody that needed to speak to him afterwards, and he was having enjoyable whereas doing it. I feel that complete expertise confirmed me that the angle you are taking to every job actually issues, not only for your self however for others. If you’re having enjoyable, then the expertise is enjoyable and different individuals have enjoyable. If you happen to’re engaged with them then they’re engaged with you. This will look like an apparent lesson everyone knows however seeing it actually in motion is one thing totally different.

Why do you suppose many college students see the Union as an elitist establishment?

I feel a big a part of it’s as a result of we haven’t been clear why we’re right here. If individuals have no idea who we’re or what we’re right here to do, then all they see is individuals in black tie in a fairly constructing. Behind the ceremony, the aim of the Union is to construct up a market of concepts to which all can be part of, take part in, and acquire from. We’re right here for disagreement within the perception that by means of the alternate of concepts, views, and experiences progress is made. It is a area for individuals to problem and be challenged.

You’ve talked about wanting extra Anglia Ruskin college students to affix the Union. How are you going to make this occur, and make the Union extra accessible normally?

An enormous impediment to partaking Anglia Ruskin college students is solely a lack of know-how about us as a result of we haven’t reached out to them. So, a giant push on our finish is simply getting the phrase out, that’s and have to be step one.

By way of accessibility extra usually we’ve taken some actual steps ahead this time period. Becoming a member of with Hidden Disabilities and ensuring the Ask Angela scheme is within the bar will assist make the Union a extra welcoming surroundings. Restarting the debating workshops and operating new speaker workshops will hopefully give individuals the prospect to construct up their confidence and expertise to debate and ask questions. We’re additionally taking a look at methods to broaden our relationship with native faculties. In fact, the largest barrier to entry is commonly monetary, so we have now reopened functions for scholarships, providing discounted membership for these in want, and reducing the general value till the twenty fifth of January. There’s nonetheless work to be carried out and we’re exploring a number of methods to ease the price of shopping for membership. Accessibility is central to increase an actual market of concepts. If we preserve that as our aim and be trustworthy about our flaws, then we are able to and can proceed to get higher.

Congratulations on a wide-ranging termcard, which could possibly be seen as a departure from earlier termcards – maybe much more all the way down to earth? What have been your thought processes when deciding who to ask?

My workforce have been instrumental in serving to me put it collectively and so they need to be given huge credit score as nicely. I used to be very clear that there have been two objectives for this time period. First, ensure that there was one thing for everybody to be enthusiastic about. Second, to usher in new and totally different views that haven’t had a big presence on the Union earlier than.

The result’s probably the most unbelievable line up of debates on among the most topical points we face as a rustic. The primary debate, on the NHS, comes because the Labour Occasion is looking for reform and nurses are on strike. On the speaker facet we have now a spread from celebrities to activists. You possibly can hear about Iranian protests one week, an artwork forger the following, and a musician the week after that. A big a part of the success on this was listening to my workforce, different college students, and trusting them.

If you happen to may solely change one factor concerning the Union throughout your presidency, what would you need it to be?

To alter just one factor…I’d refocus the Union as an area for the alternate of concepts. A society that has a transparent function, welcoming to totally different opinions and actively reaching out to seek out new views. An area the place disagreement is accepted and anticipated. I hope this time period goes a way in making this a actuality. Top-of-the-line issues concerning the Union is when you’ve gotten individuals from totally different sides of a difficulty come collectively within the bar afterwards. They can disagree with each other and nonetheless have a drink with one another. Free speech is constructed upon mutual respect for the significance of partaking with those that maintain totally different opinions and the method of doing so.