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Union Presidential Elections: The Tab interviews Andrea and Maria

They talk Paris Hilton, stealing bikes and Christmas at the Obama household

Andrea Borbely is a 3rd year Engling at Medwards, and Maria Epishkina is a 2nd year HSPSer at St Catz. They're both running for Union President this Friday, so we thought we'd quiz them both on their manifestos, their interests, and the naughtiest things they've ever done.

What is the biggest issue facing Union, what do you want to do to solve it?

Andrea: I would say the biggest issue is a lack of transparency. If you aren’t involved in the Union, you probably have no idea how we run our events or how the money from membership is being spent. Even if you want to get involved, this information is hard to come by. One of my main policies is raising transparency. I would publish information and I would also like to invite anyone who is interested in attending our meetings to do so to better understand how we do things. I would like to see if more people running for elections.

Maria: I think accessibility and diversity are probably the biggest issues. In my time as Women’s Officer, I’ve also worked with access officers and diversity officers to see how we can tackle the perception of the Union and get more people to join the conversation and, after exploring that for a while, I found that, through Union+, it was something I could do. I don’t think that’s the end, I think as President I would strive to make long term changes because for now we are test driving Union+. By increasing awareness of it and the diversity of the Union, making it relevant to the student body could make a massive difference.

What is your opinion on controversial speakers and how do you go about listening to people who oppose certain invitations?

Andrea: In this election, I unapologetically stand for free speech. When last asked, about 75% of our members voted to host Julian Assange. I personally invite people whose opinions I absolutely despise but I still think it’s important for our membership to hear from them and I would happily do it again.

Maria: I absolutely agree with the free speech policy but my main focus is that it should be about the members. The people we invite should not be invited for controversy’s sake – they should be invited to actually add something to the discussion. I think it’s about working out what truly matters to our members because that’s our role. I think that will make their membership worth it.

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Andrea Borbely. (Credit: Freddie Dyke)

What is your vision of what the Union can and should be?

Andrea: As I said, transparency. I want every member to know what is going on at the Union, whether they want to be involved or not. We should be held accountable for our membership, so I’d like to see a time where more freshers can run for elections – whoever wants to get involved should be able to get involved. The good thing about this election is that it is contested and that there are two women running. I have been really privileged to work under female Presidents before and I’d love to see that continuing in the future, and see women feel they can make a significant contribution to society.

Maria: My vision is one that makes everyone feel truly welcome whether you’re a member or not. I think it has to be a hub for discussion and it’s perfectly placed to do that – we have a building, we have a chamber and we should be able to have discussions about things people truly care about. That’s when I think it will be best, because it will affect the quality of conversation and of speakers, as if people know it is inclusive, they will want to speak there.

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Maria Epishkina. (Credit: Julia Hubo)

How do you want to help continue increasing diversity within the Union?

Andrea: You have to be proactive. Every single President says they want to improve diversity, that they want to improve the gender balance. Does that happen? Quite rarely. I think this term-card is one of the first where we actually have gender balance, and this is something I’d like to continue. You have to tailor invitations, make sure you invite more female, non-binary, disabled, LGBT people and that it’s an active and continuous effort. I would make my committee know of that overarching view.

Maria: I think it’s about listening to what our members want. What I think is a big problem is people don’t want to join the committee because they view it as insular. If we managed to change that perception and have more people join the committee, that would change the speakers we invite because you naturally invite who you’re interested in. It will start from the roots of the Union.

Who is your dream guest?

Andrea: Paris Hilton because I want to be her BFF.

Maria: Michelle Obama. Imagine Christmas with the Obamas.

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Which three items would you take to a desert island with you?

Andrea: Chanel No.5, because I can’t live without it; Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows and The Hills DVDs but then I wouldn’t have a TV, so it doesn’t work. Mac and Cheese. If I had to choose a last meal – it’d be that.

Maria: A guitar, so I could learn how to play it, or use it as a shovel just in case it didn’t work out, a puppy and a pillow.

What’s the naughtiest thing you’ve ever done?

Andrea: Nearly stole a bike this summer in London with the current Vice President of the Union coming from Heaven at 4am.

Maria: Joined the Union, to be honest.

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Why should people vote for you?

Andrea: I have been involved with the Union, to my shame, for 7 terms and I’ve now worked on standing committees under four different Presidents, so I’ve seen different styles of leadership. I’ve seen what works and what doesn’t. I think it’s safe to say that currently I’m the most experienced person in Cambridge in regard to the Union and I want to leave a legacy of protecting all the things that are great about the Union but also changing the things that are not so great.

Maria: I like to think I make people feel welcome. I can talk about the things such as leadership positions I’ve had, but at the end of the day, most people applying for this role are competent on paper. What matters is what drives you. For me, it’s about making a change and making it a nice place for people in Cambridge to be. With our lives here, being hectic and difficult, you want a place where you can go with your friends and be happy and be wholesome. I think I could really do something for that.

Voting will be open to Union members on Friday 24th November.