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‘In a lot of ways uni is failing liberation groups’: An interview with Grace Thambyrajah

She’s running to be Women’s Officer

Grace Thambyrajah is one of the candidates for Women's Officer in the current Sheffield Students' Union officer elections.

Having been involved in the BME committee and also established herself on the DJ and club night scene in Sheffield, Grace told us more about her experiences and prospective plans for the officer position.

Why are you running for Women’s Officer?

I’m running for Women’s Officer because I have a lot of experience with a similar role, so I’m campaign leader on the BME representative committee. That's what the university goes to for reference about anything to do with minority groups in terms of policy or campaigns. So I’m quite passionate about it, very passionate about it to be honest.

I really think that I understand what liberation groups on campus need and what university is lacking in terms of how to support them and give them visibility on campus. I feel like visibility isn’t great at the moment especially for LGBT+, non binary and trans people. I feel like in a lot of ways the university is failing them at the moment. So I think I’d be a good, good person for the role to be honest.

What else have you got involved in during your time at uni?

So I’m a DJ for Cheese On Bread, the event organisers who put on a lot of nightlife in Sheffield, so one thing that I’m passionate about that I brought into my campaign is using the platform that the SU has. We have an amazing social scene at Sheffield – the SU are very lucky to put on some amazing events that not a lot of other universities can provide.

So I’m very passionate about using that platform to raise up female artists, especially women of colour. As a woman of colour and a DJ, I’ve experienced people not taking me seriously and trying not to pay me. If I’m playing with a man, they’ll try to pay him but not me. I’ve worked with the events team at the SU, they hired me to play Vibez (the event I’ve organised) and they asked me to play as well. So female representation in the DJ scene is a big thing for me.

Intersectional policies are the heart of your campaign – tell us more about these.

They are, so obviously Women’s Officer isn’t just a voice for women, it’s obviously a voice for every single liberation group on campus so I think a lot of people don’t necessarily realise that when they hear the term. I believe that every major issue you’re going to encounter at university, I think every aspect of your identity is going to affect how you experience that.

Especially in the mental health services at university, I don’t think the counsellors are trained to understand how being a woman of colour is going to affect how you experience a sexual assault, or how being non-binary. And the sensitivity training just isn’t there at the moment. I think the counsellor are quite traditional at the moment and I don’t think they’re quite aware with how racism intersects with sexism. So I feel definitely with our external staff, we’re failing a lot of the students by not making sure everyone’s on the same page.

How can the SU better protect its female students?

I think in a number of ways. I think if you can look at your university and you can see yourself reflected, you’re automatically going to feel more safe and more visible as a student. If you’re looking at your lecturers and you’re seeing they’re a brown woman, you’re going to feel like you’re belonging more at your university, so I think we need to increase how we attract women and especially women of colour to stay on for masters and PhDs, as that’s the only way we’re going to diversify our faculties. Once again, with the counselling, if we just put in basic sensitivity training, that would do wonders.

Anything else you’d like to add?

Just that if there’s students out there who feel like they’re not safe at university, or feel like university isn’t accessible to them in the ways that it should be, as Women’s Officer I would really make sure not only that I would listen to what they have to say, but also that I know a lot of these things firsthand. I feel like that really puts me in a better place to put into place changes that are actually effective and improve what life is like on campus.