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SOAS Decides: The New Faces of the SU

Jude Omidiran BA Economics and Development

After a season of hard-fought campaigns, the Students’ Union’s new executive team has been decided. The student body chose Maxine Thomas-Asante as their co-president for Democracy and Education while Peadar Connolly-Davey won his campaign for Activities & Events. The Welfare and Campaigns role went to Valeria Racu, and Youssra Elmagboul succeeded in her re-election campaign for Equality and Liberation.

Voters also chose fourteen representatives for the SU’s part-time executive positions. The new team will be in office for the 2019/2020 academic year. The four new co-presidents will be taking a year out to dedicate themselves to their roles full-time, while the part-time officers will volunteer time alongside their studies.

The campaigning window opened on 25 February, as candidates rushed to plaster the JCR with alliterative campaign slogans and photos of their most electable smiles. The hustings on the 28 February offered them the opportunity to deliver polished speeches and take questions from a packed JCR. All SOAS students, as well as students here for a year on exchange, were eligible to vote and could cast their votes online and at a voting desk in the main building. Turnout for this campaign reached 1364 voters, surpassing the 1207 votes cast in last year’s campaign, but falling short of the SU’s all-time record, which remains at 1807 for March 2017.

Though previous years have seen their fair share of controversies, this election season has been celebrated for its calm and respectful tone; all candidates accepted the results and there has been no suspicion of overspending by any parties.

A tie between Lyndon Nana Yaw Opoku Appiah and Giulio Grilli Cicilioni in the second round of the Activities and Events race was arguably the most eventful occurrence of the campaign. The 310-310 tie threatened a possible need to consult the SU’s constitution in an unprecedented outcome. As it emerged, no matter which candidate was determined to have passed through to the final round, they would have been pipped to the post by Peadar regardless, who gained 339 votes in the second round.

The new co-presidents will spend the coming months learning about the intricacies of their new roles during a handover period before they officially enter their roles on 1st August. As with past co-president teams, they will be accessible through email or by visiting their office in G8.

A motion for a new full-time Black officer position was passed in the most recent Union General Meeting on 27 February. The process for determining the new position’s remit will take place over the coming year to allow the first holder of the position to be selected in 2020. Some student’s unions already have similar paid roles in place, including at UCL, though it is yet to be decided whether SOAS SU will have an elected officer or a full-time member of staff.

Maxine Thomas-Asante was successful in her bid for the Democracy and Education role. Well-known for her dedication to the hugely important campaign Bridging the Gap, she has spent the past year fighting to eliminate the Law department’s racial attainment gap. Previously, she has also worked as vice president of SOAS’ African Caribbean Society. In her new position, she has pledged to make democratic processes more accessible, fight to preserve Africa-focused modules, and continue her work combating the attainment gap across the university.

Music student, Peadar Connolly-Davey, emerged as the new representative for Activities and Events. As the incumbent LGBTQ+ officer, he is perhaps best known on campus as a founding member of SOAS’s Drag Society which has organised eight wildly popular shows, many of which featuring Peadar as his drag alter-ego, Glangela Fever. His campaign pledges appealed to many different sections of the university’s students, with interdepartmental sports tournaments, film screenings and a more balanced freshers’ week in the pipeline for next year.

The student body has said “Yes to Youss (again)” by re-electing Youssra Elmagboul as Equality and Liberation Co-President. In her first term, she brought school-wide anonymous marking, unconscious bias and confidentiality training for all academics, as well as organising the past year’s celebrated liberation months. Her plans for next year include greater mental health support provision from the SU, decolonising workshops, and an inclusive reworking of the SU’s BDS and Enough is Enough policies.

Valeria Racu’s victory in the Welfare and Campaigns co-presidential election represents an endorsement of her work campaigning with Justice for Workers, Crisis SOAS, and Enough is Enough as she sailed through with the largest margin of the four new co-presidents. In her new role, some of her campaign pledges include support for collective campaigning, gaining student representation on mitigating circumstances panels, and engaging with the ongoing reforms in the university and the SU to ensure that they lead to greater democracy and support for students.

The victors for the SU’s part-time positions have also been chosen, though two roles have yet to be filled: Mature Students and Postgraduate Research Officer. These remaining positions will be reopened for candidates to self-nominate in the October elections.

Interviews with all four of the new co-presidents can be found inside this issue, along with a list of results for the full new executive team.

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