NO matter your opinions on the Students’ Guild, it’s an organisation you have to really go out of your way to avoid on campus. That is unless you forego societies, DH1, or (God forbid) the Lemmy and the Ram. It acts as the hub for many essential campus services, and as we have seen in the last academic year, it is also a means through which student activism can happen. It also has a democratic system of representation which any affiliated student can engage with; in short, it’s our student union. So why on earth is it called the Exeter Students’ Guild? Why can’t we be like everyone else?
There are many rumoured reasons why it’s called the Guild, not the Exeter Students’ Union. Some state that it’s because of the political leanings of the University when the organisation was founded, where others (such as one user on popular student website The Student Room) assume it’s just Exeter being ‘extra’.
A popular rumour for the name ‘Guild’ usually goes along the lines of “something something Queen visit, something something royal charter.” The University of Exeter was officially chartered in 1955, or in the words of the royal charter itself: on the “21st day of December in the fourth year of Our Reign”. There is no mention of a Guild of students within this document, or even a reference veiled behind its old-timey language. The much more boring reason for the name is in the founding statutes claiming there will be a “Students’ Guild of the University and there shall be a Guild Executive which shall have a President and other such officers.”
Now we know why it is called the Guild, and that it is not tied to Queen Lizzie’s personal wishes upon her visit to Streatham. We can go through why Exeter Guild should join with most of the rest of the country’s Unis, rebranding as Exeter Students’ Union. While this is hardly the most crucial debate of our time, changing the name may finally put an end to the confusion.
The label of ‘union’ conjures up images of solidarity, causes such as fair pay for workers, and people banding together for a common goal.
Unionism, as an ideology, is inextricably tied to the role of student organisations like the Exeter Students’ Guild. Earlier this year, the Guild acted as a student union when it backed the University College Union strikers in their fight against changes to pension schemes. A union is an overtly and inherently activist organisation. Regardless of a student’s left/right-wing political alignment the ideas of unionism, protest, and campaigns are a significant portion of student life when it comes to the organisations of a student union.
Contrastingly, the label of ‘guild’ has its roots in craft groups who would join together for the purposes of protection from government regulation. This label also connotes profit and industry, which is a far cry from the purpose of the organisation as a support structure for students and their campaigns — be it standing in solidarity with the UCU, standing against anti-Semitism and racism on campus, or any other cause. Arguably, the name of ‘guild’ is not quite accurate for the purpose of the modern student union, given that these organisations are more about campaigning than escape from legislation.
Exeter already has a reputation for being posh; changing the name to ‘union’ may be a step towards alleviating this. Aside from being a pointlessly pretentious distinguishing factor against other university student organisations, here is the way the Students’ Guild introduces itself on Facebook and even its own website: “The Students’ Guild is the students’ union for students at the University of Exeter’s Streatham and St. Luke’s campuses.” The mere fact the Guild feels the need to begin by clarifying that it is, in fact, a students’ union suggests they are no different to any other organisation, but just have a special name… because it’s Exeter.