As the Covid-19 pandemic unfolded earlier in Easter term 2020, the Cambridge Union swiftly pivoted to live-streamed virtual events on Youtube. Imagine the hassle of rescheduling speakers, resolving technical difficulties and rearranging student press coverage! This time, in the new academic year, the oldest debating society in Cambridge has not shied away from these messy complications, coming up with a highly anticipated dual term card of both virtual and physical events. The former will be live-streamed from the Union chamber while the latter will continue as normal, with Covid-19 precautions and balloted access.
All Union events are accessible to all members of the university during the Open Period till Friday 16th October, a strategic endeavour to attract new and current students alike to invest in life membership. Debates on pertinent subject matters continue to run every Thursday, ranging from issues on regional peace, American Supremacy and religion. Bringing together academics, political leaders, journalists, activists and students, highlights include the motions “TH Has No Confidence in Her Majesty’s Government on 8th October and “TH Would Stop Talking and Start Listening” on 22nd October. Auditions for student speakers are open to give students a chance to speak alongside the guest speakers.
The mix of speakers both in-person and on virtual platforms promises a greater diversity of voices as conventional geographical boundaries can be transcended. A stand-out that will certainly appeal to many members is Jameela Jamil, who played Tahani on The Good Place. A “feminist in progress” known for her outspoken activism on social media, Instagram and more recently, Youtube, Jameela launched the social movement iWeigh in 2018, a community ally ship platform with over 1.2 million followers that seeks to spark conversations about mental health and inclusivity while amplifying diverse voices.
Politics remain a cornerstone of The Cambridge Union’s events. Members can expect to hear from several prominent political figures, such as former UK Prime Minister Theresa May, US Senator Ted Cruz and former Australian Prime Minister Julia Gillard. It would be interesting to listen to them weigh in on Covid-19, a pivotal moment of human history. Unconfirmed speakers also include Dr Jane Goodall, a primatologist widely respected as the world’s expert on chimpanzees and the former Brazilian President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva.
There will be a series of fascinating panels that endeavour to uncover the changing domestic and global contexts of society, such as the politics of Yemen and sex education. One to watch is the panel on class and access to higher education on 4th November. Educational influencer and Youtuber who graduated from Cambridge in 2019, Ibrahim Mohammed, more commonly known as Ibz Mo, is part of the line-up, as well as academics Professor Lee Elliot-Major, Professor of Social Mobility at the University of Exeter, and Professor Kalwant Bhopal, Professor of Education and Social Justice at the University of Birmingham.
Following a string of well-received events featuring singer-songwriters Sigrid, Ellie Goulding, Ben Platt and Dua Lipa over the last two years, Union members can also look forward to visits from Tinashe, Noah Cyrus, Emeli Sandé and Rita Ora.
In uncertain times like today, the only limit is one’s imagination and creativity. I am incredibly excited to witness what The Cambridge Union will bring to the table and the Cambridge community as a leader of political inquiry and free speech.