Welfare & 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

Candidates running:

  1. Valeria Racu
  2. Hugh Bendor-Samuel

Candidates manifestos can be found at the bottom of this page.

Our questions:

  1. What are your three greatest priorities for next year?
  2. A lack of transparency has been a major criticism of the SU exec. What will you do to keep students informed and involved in decisions made by your team at all levels?
  3. As the university faces down a financial crisis and large-scale restructuring, what role do you see yourself playing in making sure students’ interests are represented through the process?
  4. What campaigns by your predecessor are you continuing in your term?
  5. If you could add any position to the SU exec, who would it be? 
  6. Why should we choose you over the other candidates running for your position?

Question 1: What are your three greatest priorities for next year?

Valeria

First of all, to continue the work students in the Art and the African Mind society have started and fight hard for the creation of a black students support position in the SU and for mandatory unconscious bias workshops for all students and staff. Even if that means using SU money in the beginning and then making SOAS commit to investing is such essential services. 

Second, finally acknowledging and tackling the SU’s and SOAS’ incompetence in dealing with gender-based violence, as the Account for This campaign has been calling out during the last months. This is part of a broader need to improve the way our institution deals with complaints and disciplinaries, as the protocols and available support for different scenarios are blurry and non-accessible, which ends up leaving students unattended and coping by themselves most of the times.

Thirdly, to make the SU as accessible, approachable and representative as possible, being an actual union that supports its members and fights collectively for the improvement of our rights and conditions. In my opinion, this would be possible by increasing our visibility as representatives, and the access students have to our resources, information and support.

Hugh

Overseeing a Mental Health Awareness Week in Term 1 after Reading Week.

Organising Decolonise Your Mind workshops for all students to run alongside Enough is Enough.

Setting up a Borders Off Campus society to support a Sanctuary Policy for our campus.

Question 2: A lack of transparency has been a major criticism of the SU exec. What will you do to keep students informed and involved in decisions made by your team at all levels?

Valeria

A lack of transparency comes along with a lack of representation. I believe lots of students have become disenchanted by the SU, seeing it as a merely bureaucratic student organisation rather than a political tool to fight for our collective rights at SOAS and beyond, and do no longer feel represented by it. That’s why I believe it is essential to create awareness within the student body about how caring about the SU is caring about our individual university experiences and needs, but also about the wider picture of white supremacy, sexism, ableism, imperialism and neoliberalism in the global structures. 

We learn about this things in our classrooms, and we should use our SU to demand justice outside them. Hopefully moves such as increasing the number of policy-making caucuses for liberation groups, pushing for a SU Governance Reform that increases non-exec student participation and makes the Exec more accountable to the student body, and improving our information-sharing systems will get us started on the long journey towards gaining trust back. But first of all, we need to make students vote: we can only claim we represent students if turnout has been high enough. Remember sabbs get paid with your money!

Hugh

Continue to invite students to attend exec meetings as has been the case this year.

Set up a conference in the first term of the year to meet up with Society Presidents and raise awareness of the SU’s open door policy.

Run a Welfare Clinic twice a week rotating between locations from the JCR to the Senate House for the duration of one hour each time.

Have a half-termly update on manifesto promises and other initiatives.

As the university faces down a financial crisis and large-scale restructuring, what role do you see yourself playing in making sure students’ interests are represented through the process?

Run jargon-buster workshops to educate students of the changes happening in the new term.

Make a joint statement with the other Co-Presidents on our stance as an SU towards the restructuring at the beginning of the year.

Confront the University at a board level based on policies agreed to by the student body at  UGMs.

Question 3: As the university faces down a financial crisis and large-scale restructuring, what role do you see yourself playing in making sure students’ interests are represented through the process?

Valeria

SOAS management claim that the proposed changes they are planning on implementing are for the benefit of students and an improvement in our student experience. However, we are being used as an excuse for cuts, compulsory redundancies and increased precariousness in the workplace SOAS is for many, as well as for cuts in specialist courses – the ones that made people come to SOAS. That’s why being silent in such moments implies compliance with their decisions. It will be essential for us as sabbs to ensure students’ interests and voices, as well as workers’, are centred in those decision-making conversations. 

By making the information available (always question why we should keep information confidential) and accessible (translate the jargon-based documents management use when dealing with such complex issues), in order to then gather students’ opinions and interests. This could happen through wide democratic consultation processes involving online forms, workshops, emails, videos, etc. Once people’s voices have been heard, we’ll ensure we are representative by speaking up and asking the right questions in the school boards we sit in. Also, I will always encourage students to organise autonomously (with access to SU resources), as that’s how pressure on management can be increased.

Hugh

Run jargon-buster workshops to educate students of the changes happening in the new term.
Make a joint statement with the other Co-Presidents on our stance as an SU towards the restructuring at the beginning of the year.
Confront the University at a board level based on policies agreed to by the student body at UGMs.

Question 4: What campaigns by your predecessor are you continuing in your term?

Valeria

Enough is Enough and, particularly, Welfare Contacts have become essential for our community when fighting sexual harassment. However, it will be important to broaden the scopes of the campaign by furthering the training facilitators receive and including sessions on racial harassment and physical and mental first aid. Also, although (most) outsourced workers have been brought in-house during this academic year, the majority of their demands for dignity in the workplace have not been met yet, so it would be essential for me to keep loudly supporting the Justice For Workers campaign, as well as Fractionals for Fair Play. 

A lot of work has been done in tackling the BME attainment gap and Preventing PREVENT, which I am looking forward to taking over and also, in order to keep fighting for a free and anti-colonial education, I would like to bring the Saturday School back as well as support Decolonising Our Minds with their Summer School. Finally, an important conversation on SU’s accountability to students has been started, so I will make sure to continue the work on the SU Governance Reform in order to ensure it creates a more just study place instead of increasing its already existing unbalanced power relations.

Hugh

Enough is enough

Running socials for International Students with the help of the International Students’ Officer

The raising of Mental Health Awareness.


Question 5: If you could add any position to the SU exec, who would it be?

(Please note that candidates were told to have a bit of fun here, and of course, doesn’t reflect their priorities with regards to the new Black officer position or any similar campaigns!)

Valeria

An IT support figure, someone with actual technical skills who knows how to work the electronics in the SU and can help redo the website. I mean, I know it would be controversial as in the end that is SOAS’ specialty: to ensure things do not work they way they are supposed to. But, as the SU is all about challenging management, maybe we could take a step forward and actually prove them that it is possible to have well-functioning IT in place? I know… I’m being too utopian here!

Hugh

Manchester United Fans’ Officer to raise awareness of the plight of not having won the Premier League since 2013.

Question 6: Why should we choose you over the other candidates running for your position?

Valeria

All the ideas and suggestions on my manifesto and on these answers have been inspired by the wonderful people I have had the pleasure of organising and learning with during my time at SOAS, who have taught me that collective action and solidarity between struggles is the way to fight back and defend our rights. Sadly, during the last two years, I have seen how the university is changing its interests, and becoming more open to neoliberal reforms and profit-centered programmes. I believe the SU is crucial when challenging those approaches and ensuring SOAS starts being the anti-colonial radical learning space students want to see here. 

This university has been essential in shaping how many of us look at the world and engage with the realities around us, and we need to make sure it keeps decolonising itself and improving the services it offers for its students and the wider community, instead of increasing the power of hegemonic oppressive structures locally and globally. That’s why I would ask you to please vote for me if you believe in the power of student politics and want to fight against the increasing precariousness around us together!  

Hugh

I have lived on three different continents, speak four languages and I’m now reading an MSc in the Politics of Conflict, Rights and Justice. My upbringing has seared into me a desire to work with those who experience structural violence. Being the Co-President of Welfare and Campaigns would be a privilege and I would take the role on with great enthusiasm and a desire to work with the University for the better of students, staff and academics. My desire is to see a culture change occur on campus where students can once again anticipate that their views will be heard at all levels of discussion in the University and the Students’ Union. Vote for me and I will always keep my door open to your needs. Having graduated from my first degree nearly three years ago, I also believe that I have grown in wisdom and character, be it because of having to battle through anxiety and depression, get my first job, or make life-choices like where to live after graduation! Vote for me and I will bring all my experience and passion to bear on the role of Co-President of Welfare and Campaigns.

Candidate Manifestos:

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Interviews by Jude Omidiran

Post Author: SOAS Spirit

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