Election Interviews 2018: Democracy and Education

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.

Dhruv Shreyas Ramnath

Describe SOAS in three words

A spy enclave

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

I spend very little money. I am not spending a penny on my campaign. I would rather feed the poor and not take photographs of myself doing so.

What do totalitarians do when they realise there is social media? They waste taxpayers’ money for unnecessary campaigns meant for blind followers so that they can upload visual and aural messages that entice the childish.

My poster speaks for itself. Democracy and Education are wedded to the Arts, which deserve a chance. As the English themselves gave me a wise idiom: Actions speak louder than words. And when it comes to painting walls, remember that rain washes paint off walls so it is not as though we are committing harakiri. Graffiti for the Summer, that is Cliff Richards speaking to us from his grave.

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

  1. Their own inner demons
  2. Lack of humour
  3. The frequent use of the word ‘like’ by assorted children who suffer from The Friendship Syndrome (not considered a disability these days)

What are your three top priorities for in this role?

  1. Direct a film on the pension scheme, this will be by SOAS students (in case anyone thinks I want my name typed out at the end as Director) through a democratic process online whereby everybody brainstorms, puts in different videos that they have taken, that we have taken, and we collate these for a one-hour production.
  2. Paint the walls outside the Main Building and Brunei Gallery. There are collectives around the world who paint walls for social change. Our art could be on the pension scheme, on minority and women’s rights, on disability. What goes on the walls will have to be of course politically liberal/progressive, and nobody can say we have ‘damaged property’ unless we are denied permission beforehand. Painters amongst us can guide us, and the weather will refute the higher-ups.
  3. Help with SOAS’ Internet presence by assisting employees/editors/writers of our blogs and newspapers (print and digital) with editing, writing, photography, film, and not to mention – academics, as papers are published by students on various platforms.

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

If anything, the Union has done enough! It has a solid body of work to its credit. Its history shows that all sorts of identities seek social justice through its activities. It is the politics of the union that represent all of us. It fights for a liberal and progressive world. So it does not need to improve on anything at all, for the Union almost always gets it right in the end.

What is the most important quality a Co-President for Democracy and Education can have?

A Co-President needs to fancy himself an intellectual and therefore understand scholarship. People join colleges to study, not to play hide and seek and turn into crybabies when they leave. Scholarship is about guts without stating your real intentions. The agenda of such a person is indisputably obvious: to contribute to wider academic goals as politicians are born in classrooms.

How would you like to increase student participation in union proceedings?

By praying to the Queen perhaps? Participation in a democracy is not compulsory. There is nothing I will do to increase it. I certainly do not want students who do not want to participate in proceedings to be dragged by the hair. Plus, there is an email system in place. The ones who want to participate will, and forcing people against their wishes or persuading them too much is a characteristic of divisive regimes.

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

As you have said, ‘with’ them. I will do what they do outside manifestoes: I will stand by the doors to give them a break from checking identification cards; I will clear books from the desks in the library; I will give the cashier a break for a few hours or more; I will swab the toilets; I will clear up the mess in the JCR; I will do what I can to serve the management as a true leader is a servant; and there is much more than a poster. It is about doing.

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

A spy who studied at SOAS. I find that very sexy.

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

 

Christian Douglas Dixon

Describe SOAS in three words

Frontline of change

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

I am a fourth year BA Arabic and Study of Religions student and during my degree, I’ve been focusing on minority religions in North Africa and West Asia. During this, it became clear that little was being done to help minority communities in Iraq (Yezidis, Christians, Shabaks, and others) rebuild in the aftermath of Da’esh. I spent last summer in Iraq researching how local religious communities in the UK can practically help them, in a way that maintains the dignity of these minority communities and doesn’t treat them as helpless victims. I’m currently in the process of setting up networks between communities to facilitate this.

At SOAS, I have been involved in the Christian-Muslim Dialogue Society, various sports at SOAS and am currently in the process of starting a show on SOAS Radio called Decolonising Christianity.

I think I would be a good fit for this role because of the real world experience I’ve had, in stressful environments and working in other languages. A lot of what I’ve worked on has involved taking personal risk and making sacrifices for what I believe is right.

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

  1. The most pressing issue at the moment is obviously the strikes, particularly for postgraduate and year abroad students who will have missed about a quarter of their teaching time.
  2. Cuts to the course that makes SOAS unique. Africa is already underrepresented in courses available here and this has been exacerbated by ongoing cuts.
  3. Low-level discrimination and intolerance. The kind of things that don’t always get reported, but hurt mental health and damage the experience of being in SOAS.

What are your three top priorities for in this role?

  1.     Improving mental health at SOAS: This would include workshops that deal with mental health in general, as well as its intersection with colour, gender, religion, and sexuality. It would also include getting SOAS to provide counsellours that reflect the diversity of the student body, so students can receive support from someone with a lived experience closer to their own.
  1.     Closing the attainment gap: We live in a society that claims to be egalitarian and provide equal opportunities, but research from has shown that colour of a student’s skin still impacts their likelihood of achieving a first or a 2:1. This has to change. As this is such a complicated issue, there is not going to be one standalone solution. Amongst other things, I think it will include improving mental health services for BAME students and working with lecturers to provide alternative forms of assessment.
  1.     Setting up a School of Revolutionary Studies: As so many students come to SOAS with a desire to make a positive impact on the world, I plan to set up a society to help facilitate this. This would involve regular workshops on practical advice, issues like white saviourism and how to secure funding. I also want to involve alumni who are working in related fields, so they can provide advice and guidance.

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

By strengthening the pre-existing channels for representation, such as class reps. I think that involving society and sports team presidents in the running of the SU would also help bring in students who are less part of the SOAS politics in general.

What is the most important quality a Co-President for Democracy and Education can have?

Being available to students. There’s no point in being elected by the student body only to not be around to hear their concerns and issues as they come up. This makes the Co-President accountable and means that they can respond to issues as they come up during the year.

How would you like to increase student participation in union proceedings?

In terms of elections, having separate full-time and part-time elections may help improve voting numbers. It’s quite time-consuming going through each manifesto, so having fewer people to vote for each time might help with this. In terms of general proceedings, such as the Union General Meeting, SU officers visiting classes before lectures to explain how and why it is important for students to get involved.

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

I would open up a dialogue with management as soon as I start the role, after the handover period, and discuss my manifesto with them and the ideas I have for making it into reality.

On issues like mental health and the attainment gap, I would bring students directly affected by these issues to meetings with management, so they can talk in person. This would also help put faces to issues that can be abstract, so hopefully, this kind of emotional impact on management would help bring about even more positive change.

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

Oscar Romero. He was a bishop from El Salvador who stood up for the poor against the Catholic Church, armed groups (from all ends of the spectrum) and the government. Because of this work, he was publicly denounced by colleagues, harassed, received death threats and was eventually assassinated in church. Inspirational doesn’t begin to describe him.

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

 

Rachel Hau-Yu Tam

Describe SOAS in three words

Born wrong, change.

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

As in my manifesto, this is my journey in terms of expressing myself so far: Writing/Documentary, Education, Acting/Theatre, Politics, Community work, Law. Years of growing up working with my parents in their takeaways and chip shop in Kent – it makes you into a hard worker and a believer in education, I’ll say. I’ve grafted on so many different projects outside of SOAS, and now on campus as PGT Officer, where I’ve coordinated the reps, planned PGT-wide socials, issued newsletters, taken charge on sharing info about the Strike, etc. I can bring tested depths of experience and maturity to SU. As I studied my UG at St Andrews (a very different kind of bubble to SOAS, and no, not for me!), I know I can also bring something fresh and critical to the Co-pres role.

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

  1. Divorcedness/detachment (students are taught by lecturers whose stances are very detached from, or even contradict, their work; vast numbers of students are not engaging with political mechanisms, becoming detached from their own health in the study process etc)
  2. Financial disparities (our working-class officers have raised the question of inadequate bursaries support. This urgent matter must be investigated, the scope of focus widened and reach of self-care made a focus. We can learn from the striking academic staff and J4W campaign – and meet oftener)
  3. The nature of the knowledge being circulated – what are we learning, where does it come from and where does it go, and take us?

What are your three top priorities for in this role? 

  1. More intellectual (cerebral) and historical perspectives on representation and communications, meaning use of archives and human experiences to fight and discuss
  2. Translation – making SOAS more genuinely multilingual
  3. A more personal touch to the role – high levels of student body engagement from me

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

We can start by reviewing our communications and representation systems. At the beginning of my office (as PGT Officer), I asked to pair up with a full-time member to staff so I could have a consistent contact and mentor for my role. I’d look into this again next year, and expand the same principle for personal advisors, dissertation supervisors etc.

What is the most important quality a Co-President for Democracy and Education can have? A Co-president must be able to have long sight and short sight on every matter where possible. A Co-pres Democracy & Education must be for open access education – be able to bring people in, and radically challenge other participants.

How would you like to increase student participation in union proceedings?

There are prevailing views that the SU is “too political” or its own bubble. If I was Co-pres I would also go out of my way to talk to people, and to air out differences of opinion and action. Secondly, students need support. As well as your friends, SU and Student Advice & Wellbeing, that’s also the job of staff. All staff need more support and training, particularly on financial support and health support, to be able to recognise and look out for students.

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

I would come prepared to engage with their arguments and well-versed in the students’ side of the matters. At risk of sounding too lawyer-like, independence, accountability, and transparency are the key here.

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

I’m more of a words person. I’d like to have more quotes about love, resilience, taking the good with the bad, that James Taylor song. But you asked ‘who’ so I will say we should paint a child. The little one from Ruiko Yoshida’s book ‘Harlem Black Angels’ was one I thought about, a ‘mixed’ child.

Missed Hau-Yu’s speech at Hustings? Want to watch it again? Click here to watch it

Post Author: SOAS Spirit

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