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Election Interviews 2018: Welfare and Campaigns

This year The SOAS Spirit decided to go further in our election coverage. The SOAS Students’ Union elections can be intimidating, whether you’re a candidate or just a regular student voter. Campaigning is intense, with much of candidates’ success being weighted on who has the widest friendship circle or the best ability to produce a fun video, catchy hashtag or flashy poster. With all of this considered, we decided that the best way for students to get to know their Co-President candidates would be through interviews.

To watch the questions put forward to these candidates at Hustings, click here.

Voting opens on the 1st March.

Dinah Yaqub

Describe SOAS in three words

Like no other

Tell us about yourself and why you are a good fit for the role

This year I’ve thrown myself into being as involved with the university as I can. As a Masters student, I don’t have long to enjoy the amazing environment of SOAS and I really wanted to make the most of it. Although I commute daily from Birmingham, I have participated in many events at SOAS and was even chosen as Student Rep for my course. Being student rep allowed me a special position as I was able to participate in regular meetings with staff on the course to relay any concerns from students. I feel that I have really excelled in this role and managed to be an effective in between for staff and students. I would love to carry this on by being Co-President Welfare and Campaigns. I am passionate about helping students, even during my undergraduate degree at another university I constantly campaigned for better services for students. I think it is important that students’ voices are heard by senior management in university, but more than that I think it’s important that management actually changes things for students. We’ve had enough words; we need action and constantly evolving and reforming to provide students with the university services they deserve. SOAS gives us all a unique experience to be involved in campaigns for more than just students, it’s about a radically different university system. We see this in the student support for the UCU strikes and have seen this in the support the cleaners strikes were given by students to demand and get change.

What do you think are the three most pressing issues faced by students on campus?

1) Lack of decent support services. Having tried to access support myself this year I was extremely disappointed to see how difficult it was to get a proper appointment. No student should be told to seek help elsewhere, especially paid help, which was offered to students by the wellbeing services earlier this academic year. There needs to be more funding for the department, and more staff, it’s unacceptable to have so few staff present for so many students.

2) Increasing marketization of universities. The current UCU strike just further shows how universities are at breaking point. The current model cannot take much more of this constant marketization. Something has to change, and as students, we need to demand that change. We have the chance to make a difference not just for us but future generations, and we have to ensure future generations can benefit from good quality teaching and services. If our lecturers aren’t looked after, how will they be able to give us the education we want and should receive?

3) Lack of funds – as we have found out thanks to the work of two amazing black female students on campus, grants are not being allocated to the students it should be. And there is next to no help for MA students to receive extra grants to help with their education. When SOAS charges a higher fee than the postgraduate loan, this is unacceptable. There should be more financial support available from the university for students who need it.

What are your three top priorities for in this role?

1) Better and more accessible wellbeing/counselling services, I think this is the most important thing we need to keep fighting for. I am passionate about transforming the way it currently is.

2) Fighting against measures like the prevent agenda, and the surveillance of all students, but especially mandatory surveillance of international student attendance in order to abide by visa compliance.

3) Cross-department networking and campaigning for a truly transformative experience. I want to work with lecturers at SOAS and other universities; students at SOAS and other universities; support staff in universities; and senior individuals in the university such as our vice-chancellor Valerie Amos, to create a better space for all. As the UCU strikes and other strikes before this prove, it’s not just about us students, we have to fight for all if we want true change.

How can the union improve as an organisation representing such a diverse group of students?

I truly think SOAS is much better than most other universities at being able to effectively represent a diverse group of students. I think we need to continue working collaboratively with the liberation officers, and help them create regular focus groups to hear from students how they want us to improve. I would love to have online forms that are sent to all students to fill in regularly to hear how they want us to change, and what they want from us. Accountability is important, and students should feel like they can meet with all of us officers to address any concern they have.

What is the most important quality a Co-President for Welfare and Campaigns can have?

EMPATHY. I mean there are so many qualities a good Co-President for Welfare and Campaigns should have including, passion, patience, good communication skills etc. However, I think empathy is the most important of all of them. Without empathy how will you be able to relate to concerns brought to you? If you don’t have empathy for the circumstances students are faced with how will you be able to ask for important change honestly? It’s so important to be empathetic and doing so even if you have not been affected by something a student brings to you, you will still have the same passion to go and change it.

How would you work with management to achieve your manifesto commitments?

I would work on getting support from lecturers and students, there is power in numbers. I would create statistical breakdowns for why the change is needed. One of the best ways to work with management anywhere to achieve change is to show them proof of why the change is needed, and how the change will be good. They have to have some idea of how it will also benefit them; they’re unlikely to change things if it will only be a cost to them. I will prove to them that by realising my manifesto commitments, they will, in turn, create a better learning environment, a better university, which will benefit them too.

If we repaint the bar and the JCR who would you paint on the wall?

This sounds super cliché, but I honestly would paint our lecturers on the wall – the ones who give permission anyway. I think we have such great talent teaching us and we should celebrate them more. On a personal level, a number of my lecturers have truly transformed my way of thinking and had a huge impact on my life that I will carry with me forever and I am so thankful for that. I can’t 

think of a better way to show them that than by making them a permanent feature of the university.

For a mildly less cliché answer, I’m not sure of any one specific individual I would want to paint on the wall, there are too many to list. The wall should be filled with faces of those who have fought for change, people like: Malcolm X, Martin Luther King, Muhammad Ali, Rosa Parks, Harriet Tubman, Sophie Scholl – a German student who took part in the resistance to Hitler, she was executed for treason – Malala Yousafzai, Marsha P. Johnson, Jo Cox, to name just a few.

Missed Dinah’s speech at Hustings? Want to watch it again? Click here to watch it


Jess Kumwongpin-Barnes 

Describe SOAS in three words

Frustrating, inspiring, community.

Tell us about yourself and why you are a good fit for the role

So, I’m a third year, I’m QTPOC (queer, trans person of colour), I’m Thai-English. Besides these labels, I’m someones who has been actively involved in the SOAS community for years now. I started out being cynical about student politics but then realised that if I wanted certain changes to happen, I’d have to be a part of them. I think I’m a good fit for this role because I’m stubborn and a hard worker, which is what you need when dealing with some of management’s nonsense. Also, I’m in a position now where I know what work I want to do in this role, and the steps to making those things happen.

What do you think are the three most pressing issues faced by students on campus?

In no particular order:

  1. Accessing support from the School
  2. Navigating the bureaucracy – from mitigating forms to module changes to knowing the relevant people to raise issues with
  3. The expense of university in general, which is tied to mental health and the pressure we are all put under

What are your three top priorities for in this role?

  1. Mental health – I want to improve provision of mental health support and work at the same time with various students and societies to destigmatise talking about mental health
  2. Financial support – the UK, and London especially, is one of the most expensive places to study in
  3. Working against borders – this is at the heart of my politics, we need to organise in a way that acknowledges the racial, gender, economic-based violence that disproportionately targets members of our communities.

How can the union improve as an organisation representing such a diverse group of students?

I think we need to focus on working with each other in a way to not prioritise any one struggle over the other, on practising intersectionality. How to get better at this is to be aware of whose voices are being left out and listen to those voices. We need to be open to being held accountable – no one’s perfect but we can take on board where we to improve. Also, we need to encourage people to take on liberation positions – several ones were left open this year in the first round- e.g. Womens’ officer, POC officer, Working class officer. These positions need additional support and we can share that labour by increasing student participation via liberation networks. Also, we need an interfaith officer, which was a past-years manifesto promise that was never fulfilled.  

What is the most important quality a Co-President for Welfare and Campaigns can have?

To be active in a continual process of learning. I don’t assume I know everything about anyone/their struggles. I think this is incredibly important when campaigning for things that don’t directly affect you.

How would you work with management to achieve your manifesto commitments?

So, management claim to have the same welfare concerns that I do, so what we need to do is hold them to account for these promises. This basically means seeing where they aren’t meeting that promise, organising with the general student body to put pressure on our concerns. That means rallies, emails, open forums, student representation on different boards. It means challenging them over where they have let students down. A key example to follow is the Working Class Officers and the POC Officer who have been working on the failure around student bursaries.

If we repaint the bar and the JCR who would you paint on the wall?

Paru Raman – she’d probably hate it, but I think we should acknowledge those people whose work has changed SOAS directly for the better.

Missed Jess’s speech at Hustings? Want to watch it again? Click here to watch it

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