Ben Bryant, gair rhydd editor and an English Literature graduate explains what he thinks makes student life at Cardiff University unique
Cardiff is the only city that I’ve ever visited and felt, “This is a student city”. The vibrance of student culture throbs in every street, and saturates every shopping centre and arcade. And the sheer density of students at the heart of Cardiff is the key to our influence: it’s victory by numbers.
There is unquestionably something enviable about being a student at Cardiff University. As the editor of the student newspaper, I spend every minute of every day trying to pin down exactly what it is to be a student, right now, in Cardiff. With a population rolling into tens of thousands, and enormous variation within that, it’s a dizzying, impossible struggle to say exactly what student culture is.
If you stand on Park Place in term-time on any day in a working week, between the hour and ten minutes past the hour, you begin to get an idea of how diverse student culture is. Student culture reaches far beyond typical media stereotypes of the 18-21-year-old, apathetic, lazy, binge-drinker. The result of this should be the loss of a common student identity. But even as the ties that once united students become increasingly tenuous, the community remains, tangible in the physical presence of the Students’ Union, but also indescribably felt in the student body.
In fact, the more I try to figure out exactly what it is that made me feel such a strong sense of student identity that first day I dropped into Cardiff, the more it eludes me.
This is partly why I ran for editor in the first place. I wanted to present student culture to people on paper. It’s one of the few media through which I think student identity can begin to be communicated, and it relies completely upon the intuition of its contributors and editors.
I remember picking up gair rhydd and Quench in my first year and feeling that these were publications which really represented me – things that stood apart even from the University and the Union. They seemed to embody the essence of student life at Cardiff: they were fiercely protective of the University and the Union, but at the same time they held them to account, always snapping at their heels and making sure that they were delivering for the students. Of course, they were also irreverent, subversive and occasionally scrappy and poorly put-together. But the care and passion that went into them was undeniable.
I went on to edit the student magazine, which I always thought would take second place to my first passion – English Literature at Cardiff University. But it soon took over my life, and before I knew it I was campaigning for a second time, hungry for gair rhydd editorship and a chance to finish what I’d started. A campaign week of 6am starts and 2am finishes was actually a pretty good warm up for a job that consumes at least 60 hours of my life a week… and all for the love of student life.
Because Cardiff, in many ways, belongs to the students. From the grandeur and elegance of the University buildings, to the diversity of its nightlife, to the ugly, grassroots appeal of the Students’ Union, a whole infrastructure is built around us. The student community, despite being enormous, is tightly knit and curiously independent, moving freely between lectures, the Union and the city. And the reality is, if you have to ask what it is to be a student at Cardiff, you’ll never know.