Election Interviews 2018: Activities and Events

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 Husting, click here.

Voting opens on the 1st March.

Sophie Bennett

Describe SOAS in three words

Tenacious, creative and  ambitious

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

For me, SOAS is not about what you learn in the classroom (being taught by world-class lecturers is massive bonus). To me, SOAS is about what you experience and learn outside the classroom; it’s the skills developed through running societies and setting up new ones, it’s the parties you attend, it’s getting up on stage for hip-hop karaoke, learning a new sport, gaining justice for workers, learning how to fight through the crowd to get to the bar, standing up for what you believe, knowing the right time to get in the Hare Krishna queue and understanding that we are all different but all special here at SOAS. It is this knowledge, gained beyond the lecture theatre, that gives SOAS students the power to create change and what makes SOAS, SOAS. In my time here, I have been lucky enough to sport many different hats (or more accurately, t-shirts), and in doing so, have experienced many of the above statements. I’ve struggled through the room booking form, jumped through the hoops of risk assessments, hosted parties where the venue simply stopped responding, I’ve set up a new society, stood up against sexual harassment on campus and stood in the Hare Krishna queue for an hour and a half. I’ve been a student rep, an Enough is Enough facilitator, a student ambassador, a trustee of the Students’ Union, the football captain, the hockey captain, a welfare contact and this year’s co-Sports Officer. I think it is safe to say, I have immersed myself in the culture of SOAS and in doing so, gained a deep understanding of both the positives and the improvements we need to make in order to continue and grow the diversity of opportunities SOAS provides. If elected I can promise relentless positivity, boundless energy, and enthusiasm.

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

1)  London Living Costs – The recent fight for bursaries highlights the need for SOAS to address the financial issues students are facing. I plan to contribute to this by providing the space and resources for students to campaign and facilitate support (both within the student body and externally). Further, I intend on pressuring the SU shop to commit to a price freeze, working with the catering consultation to ensure affordable food becomes accessible on campus and maintaining the high number of free events here at SOAS.

2) BME attainment gap – though not directly related to the position I am running for, I believe I can assist in helping to organise open meetings/forums, panel talks and pressure groups by giving my time, energy and resources to those passionate about changing this.

3) Visibility – We all know how diverse SOAS is – and how special this makes our institution – but how much do we really know about these other cultures, faiths, and communities? Do we know the struggles they face or the traditions people uphold? I intend on making the SU a platform for all SOAS students – ensuring all views are listened to and that we are accountable to every student.

What are your three top priorities for this role?

1) To streamline the event organising process – SOAS students are full of incredible ideas, but putting these into action is time and energy consuming. I would like to streamline the process to take on more of the work (e.g. contacting venues, booking spaces, helping with risk assessments etc.); enabling students to focus on the important parts.

2) Ensuring diversity in the events we offer – Something I think has been achieved well over the past year is the range of late licenses and events we have had – centred around different cultures, faiths, and communities. I would like to continue these as I believe every element of our diversity is as important as the others.

3) Communication make-over – My pet hate is hearing about an amazing event the day after it has happened; If elected, I intend on working with the other co-presidents and the exec to re-organise how and when we communicate information to students (Did you know we have a SOAS Students Union App? Me Neither…).

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

I would argue that identification, communication, and facilitation are the keys to improving our Students’ Union’s ability to represent such a diverse group of students. Different students have different priorities and needs from us and it is our role to ensure that each and every one of these is given time, attention and resources. I intend on maintaining the open-door policy of the SU and creating a more centralised system of collating ideas and issues presented to the co-presidents and exec members (these are your elected part-time officers) to ensure that core themes are identified and addressed promptly. Having identified these through improved communication, I will work endlessly to ensure the Students Union facilitates or initiates a solution; regardless of how big or small the affected group is.

What is the most important quality a Co-president for activities and events can have?

Being a good facilitator – For me, the job is about DOING – making things happen – real, tangible things. SOAS students have a plethora of ideas and issues which can help make SOAS a better place for us all – my role, if elected, will be enabling these things to happen. That means knowing when to take a back seat and knowing when the Students Union needs to be the driver. I believe it is crucial that it is the student voice that leads the activities of the Students Union, not my own.

Describe a flagship event we can expect if you are elected?

‘Creating Alumni’ Series – this would be a series of events designed at giving people the skills and contacts needed to leave SOAS ready and able to secure the future they desire. I would utilise the knowledge (and funding!) of the careers department to help create this. The series would include:

  1. Networking events (separate events for first and second years centred around summer internships and final years and Post-grads centred around graduate and entry level jobs).
  2. A panel discussion on emerging industries; the jobs of the future.
  3. ‘Ideas of tomorrow’ – A mentoring scheme for students with business ideas.
  4. ‘Solutions competition’ – Working closely with industry specialists (technology, investing, development) to create a competition (Dragons Den Style) for students to pitch their impactful business solutions to local, regional or global problems and win funding. (Other universities have similar competitions – I intend on meeting with them to work out the best approach – I also currently work in a company who provides the ‘specialists’ for such an initiative). The ‘ideas of tomorrow’ mentoring scheme could feed into this.

I truly believe that we need to equip students to leave SOAS ready to pursue their future, regardless of where they intend to go. You meet the world at SOAS, but SOAS needs to meet the world.

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

I would not paint an individual, but rather I would steal my Mums school motto, “Everyone is different, everyone is special”. We are the sum of our parts. Recognising, harnessing and growing our learning community through opportunity, active listening, shared understanding and vision empowers us all to leave SOAS equipped and ready to take on and be a power for good across the world – and perhaps one day, be painted on the SOAS walls ourselves.

Missed Sophies speech at Hustings? Want to watch it again? Click here to watch it.


Jethro Jenkins

Describe SOAS in three words

Conscious. Spirited. Artful.

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

Hi, I’m Jethro, a 3rd year ethnomusicology student born and raised in Hackney, London. People describe me as an easy-going, approachable person with a calming presence – I’m often compared to a teddy bear!

I’ll be a good fit for this role because I’ve really been doing this for the last 5 years of my life. I know the London scene well, and have worked with a bunch of organisations like The Roundhouse, where I helped to run their poetry and music festivals, and also The Doctor’s Orders, who put on hip-hop nights in London, where I gained experience with music promo, artist bookings, and arts admin. I’ve also worked as a facilitator with a fantastic arts-activism group called Shake! on their 5-day intensive courses aimed at young people from marginalised backgrounds, where they produced creative responses to social injustice through film, art, and poetry.

These organisations linked me to SOAS. I was attending events here a while before I applied to study and quickly fell in love with its vibrant community. Since I began my course I’ve taken up roles in the union, including Mature Students Officer and also president of the Spoken Word Society. My real aim in running for Co-President of Activities and Events is to capitalise on the networks I’ve built in London, sharing them with SOAS and of course sharing our incredible creative minds with them too. I want to offer students a chance to make connections with the right people that could be invaluable in later life. That’s what happened to me, and I’m very keen to give back.

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

  1. Access to Education – rising tuition fees have affected many students, particularly those from working class and minority backgrounds, and are symptomatic of an increasingly commodified education system that has seriously harmed the student body. Access to education schemes, including bursaries, are thus of upmost importance.
  2. Attainment Gap – it was also illustrated in the Degrees of Racism report last year that there is a serious issue in terms of the attainment gap between white and BME students here at SOAS. This needs to be addressed by management on an institutional level, and by the university as a whole.
  3. Prevent – The UK’s counter-terrorism policies have been seen to affect Muslim and BME students disproportionately, amounting to racism and demonisation. This is being opposed by the Students Union, but not enough has been done by the university to combat this on a structural level.

What are your top three priorities for this role?

  1. Accommodating the interests of the students by being friendly and transparent.
  2. Strengthening and maintaining our incredible societies.
  3. Throwing massive parties that people remember.

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

We need to come together as a student body, by empowering students with the tools they need to improve and grow stronger. We have quite a small community here at SOAS, so we must make sure that our voices are as powerful as possible. I think the key is the word ‘unity’, opposed to divisive and discriminatory politics.

What is the most important quality a Co-President for Activities and Events should have?

They must be a good, consistent listener. Someone who can put the specific aims and aspirations of the students into action, both by connecting people and working hard to make things happen.

Describe a flagship event we can expect if you are elected

A huge multi-room event with a big live music line-up, featuring both big-name artists and locally sourced talent and representing an eclectic fusion of genres from London and the globe. The whole placed decked out with art created by students. Theatrical drag performances. Poetry and politics coming together as a celebration of resistance. Quieter rooms for reflection and dialogue, and our very own DJs from SOAS Radio spinning their best tracks for the late night dancers. Partying until the sun comes up – and probably after that too.

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

This is a stressful question so I’ll try and take it lightly! Rumi, Sun Ra, Skepta, Audre Lorde, Beyonce, Fairouz… and maybe we could get Jeremy Corbyn up there too.

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


Mohammed Juned Khan

Describe SOAS in three words

Diverse, vibrant and spirited.

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

I am a fun jolly guy, carefree and always up for new events and entertainments. I want to make students university life memorable for them, making sure it’s LIT, spreading good vibes. I have learned so much from this institute just by meeting people and socializing. However, When I first started university, I was a shy and quiet student and I did not really involve myself with university life outside of classes. Over the course of my time here, as my self-confidence developed and I started talking to a mixture of different people, I was invited by different society leaders to host their events such as the popular ‘Backchat SOAS’. From actively participating in activities and social events I realised how important it is for students to immerse themselves with university life beyond studies, as it is where I met many people and got involved in the creative and political aspects of SOAS. I feel as I will be a good fit for the role and a good representative for all students, especially those who find themselves in the same position that I was in at the beginning of my first year. I hope to make events and activities more accessible and inclusive for everyone.

My experience of working with youth centres in my local communities enable me to provide good service to the SOAS community as I have organised a variety of events and activities for the local youth in my community, helping them off the street and fighting drug abuse and directing them towards further education, jobs and being involved with the wider community. Therefore I believe I am more than capable of holding events as I can effectively communicate the needs and wants of students and project them to life.

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

I felt compelled to take action against the ‘Missing Bursaries scandal’ which we are still dealing with at SOAS. I actively partook in peaceful demonstrations organised in order to question and hold accountable the SOAS management who have remained ambiguous with regards to the allocation of excellence bursaries (2016-2017) as maintained by the Students Union.

I also feel that mental health is a pressing issue especially for students at the university. Statistics have shown that one in four students suffer from mental health issues. I will reach out to those that are in need of help for the counselling sessions. Having had experience in the local community helping youths who were suffering from mental health issues, drug abuse relating to mental health, these experiences have galvanised me to look out for mental health issues.

Finally, the current Teacher/Lecturer strikes which started this week is an action that has taken place because of pension cuts which have affected lecturers and tutors which is having a knock-on effect, which is set back students from their studies. This issue is understandable, however, the knock-on effect it has on students is that there has been a decrease in teaching hours. Given that the exam period is drawing near, students need as much help and support from lectures and tutorials to benefit from the teaching provided. Also, the fees paid by students of SOAS is going to waste if there is a period of time whereby there is no teaching taking place. A better form of utilising this money lost would be to invest it into the Activities and Events department so better organise and promote various activities at SOAS.

What are your three top priorities for in this role?

One priority that I will be dealing with is regarding the JCR and the Bar area, which I propose to revamp. I believe that the JCR and Bar area can offer more to students. Since it is the student hub, I propose new entertainment features inspired by different cultures that reflects the varied backgrounds of our students, such as Carom board and many more. I also intend to better equip the Bar and outside area with new equipment such as umbrellas and outdoor heating. As identified by students, I plan to tackle the hygiene issues in the JCR through the installation of new furniture.

Another priority I will be dealing with is the better use of SOAS’s green space. For instance, the outdoor grass area can be utilised in a more effective way by setting up marquees for recreational events. Moreover, I believe there need to be better prayer facilities for people of all faiths. I plan to introduce new entertainment events such as SOAS Got Talent, SOAS Olympics, SOAS cultural parties, careers festival and graduate scheme events.

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

Our large and diverse student body requires us to meet the sensibilities of students from different cultures and backgrounds. I have strong links with all the cultural societies at SOAS and have listened carefully to their concerns. At SOAS we need to revive and support cultural societies intermingling and co-operating in creating a spirited, diverse and outlandish environment where all cultures and backgrounds are celebrated with a BUZZ! Also Communication between the student union, societies and also the individual, I believe needs to be improved. I believe the student union needs to be vocal and accessible so it can reach all student.

Also, introduce regular meeting with society presidents at the university to ensure that every society’s objective and ideas are put forward thus ensuring inclusivity which each society. Furthermore, send our regular emails to keep in touch with societies about their idea of diversity events.

The student union can be improved by participating in social events, being part of the event which will build a relationship between the SU and the societies.

What is the most important quality a Co-President for Activities and Events can have?

Excellent communications skills.  As the co-president for activities and events is here to serve Your needs as the student body, I think to be a good facilitator of discussion, ideas and communication are essential for this role. I believe that events throughout university need to be more diverse, more inclusive and more frequent. As SOAS is famously so diverse in the different identities, cultures, and backgrounds of its students, I hope to cater to all these different needs and make the university experience more enjoyable and memorable for everyone. I intend to do this by firstly surveying the students and general Soas community regarding what they want to see more of at the university, what they believe could improve and the introduction of new ideas and initiatives. I will then work with the Co-Presidents,

 Student officers, Society leaders and other relevant organisations and people to facilitate this and bring these events to life.

Describe a flagship event we can expect if you are elected.

SOAS Got Talent! This is for all the students to showcase their hidden talents and abilities, I would like to provide a platform for students to express themselves in a creative way. I intend to acquire the necessary funds through internal and external sponsorship in order to provide 

students a prolific event. This is a way for students to appreciate the each other’s background.

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

Michael Jackson

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

Post Author: SOAS Spirit

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