UQU Series: Gus, the guy behind the free food

In some inconspicuous chambers above the food court, a group of passionate students are working week in and week out to improve student welfare.

As a UQ student, you’ve likely come across the student union in some way or another. While many students see them as the flyer-bearing candidates you attempt to outrun during election week, they have an enormous job behind the scenes.

Gustavo Pazo is one of these students, advocating for UQ student rights from a small desk above the food court. He is a third year Arts student, majoring in International Relations and Political Science and also one of two Student Rights Vice Presidents.

Gus’s role mostly involves promoting community cohesion through volunteering and welfare programs – in Gus’s words, ‘the free food and so forth.’
I spoke to Gus about his experience in the Student Union, from how he got involved to his advice to future students.

“I started volunteering in my first year and then that's how I met most of the people who were involved that year, and then I realized that this is what I want to do. Last year I was asked whether or not I wanted to run and I said yes,” he said.

While his goals for the year were unsurprisingly affected by COVID-19, Gus has still managed to make significant progress towards building community cohesion and supporting current students.

“At the start of the year before COVID, the plan was just to expand the volunteering program - we were planning to incorporate the free dinners that we do into our exam support stalls and bringing more variety to the menu, like the food options that we have,” he said.  “We have achieved that - the other two have been hard because, you know, not enough students at the campus. So, we've had new volunteers coming in but not as many as we expected.”

While Gus is making strong strides towards volunteer engagement and supporting students, there are still many students unaware of the extent of the support that the Union can provide.

“Every day I still see people who come [to the free dinners] for the first time and don't know or didn't realise that we do things like this,” Gus said.

In conversations with Gus and other Union members, it was clear that there are a number of misconceptions about student politics.

‘Most people think it's just a popularity contest when it comes to getting elected, or just people from young political parties. If you are a member of a club, as long as you are well known, anyone can run for a position.’  ‘We are separate from UQ. A lot of people think we’re the same, but we’re not.’

When asked about advice for incoming students, the Union members all gave reiterations of the same sentiment – Get involved!
“Just be prepared to meet lots of people and find out the different things you can do because there's a lot of things that no one knows are there unless you seek them out,” Gus said.

By Rosey Bensley