INTERVIEW: VP Student Communities Candidates

As part of our Elections 2013 coverage, The Tab has been catching up with all the sabbatical candidates and hitting them with our own brand of questioning. This instalment features Oli Coles and James […]

As part of our Elections 2013 coverage, The Tab has been catching up with all the sabbatical candidates and hitting them with our own brand of questioning. This instalment features Oli Coles and James Brant (as well as RON) who are contesting VP Student Communities.

susu elections 2013 vp student communities

ST: The VP Student Communities role replaces the old VP Winchester and Sites position. Do you think this draws the focus of SUSU further away from sites students who already feel quite neglected by the union?

James: Actually I don’t, I think this role could really do some great things for sites. By bringing in other disengaged communities, the person who takes on this role has a better chance to see what isn’t working in some areas and what is in others. It also means they would have to be far more efficient and effective in getting to the root of problems with all our sites.

Oli: I don’t think it does, well it shouldn’t do. The fact that someone who has studied at the main Highfield Campus will be elected can only help the students at sites. We can bring our knowledge and experience of SUSU here, and take it out to sites. I originally disagreed with it being ‘Winchester and Sites’, why not ‘SGH and Sites’ or ‘NOC and Sites’? I’ll make sure that all sites share equal amounts of my time, and I’ll listen to them, so that they feel included within SUSU, and not a separate entity.

ST: Student Communities encompasses all of the “hard to reach” groups, including international, postgraduate and mature students. Which group do you see as most challenging to engage with and what would your strategy be for encouraging union participation from that group?

Oli: Throughout my time at Uni, I have interacted with all these ‘hard to reach’ groups. Personally, I think Mature Students are forgotten about. They’re included as part of normal undergraduates, or just assumed to be stuck in the same group as Post grads. There is a huge age range for all Mature students, so I think talking to them and finding about their issues is the best way to understand what they want.

James: To an extent all the groups are a challenge, but the most difficult group to engage is International students, not because they don’t want to but because we haven’t been approaching them in the right way. If we focus on academic, housing, social and residential issues rather than just events we’ll see more engaged students.

ST: Do you see JCRs as being at the centre of halls life or as something students opt in or out of? How do you feel you could support JCRs in widening the students their campaigns and events reach?

James: Both, JCRs should be the centre of halls life and constantly provide support, but if certain students want no involvement that’s fine, as long as they know the opportunities are there. I think Job specs are really important, if potential JCR committee candidates know what sort of campaigns they should be running they’ll be more effective.

Oli: The JCRs for me are the society for that hall. They are the first students that Freshers meet when they move into halls, and they should be the people to introduce SUSU to Freshers. I think their committee structure needs to be adapted, to allow for an increased interaction with Student Services and the Residence Support to properly support all students in Halls. In regards to events and campaigns, more guidance before they start to show them better ways for getting their information out, rather than just leaving them to get on with it.

ST: How do you respond to the argument that many postgraduate students would prefer to be left to their own devices than have the union constantly trying to increase their involvement?

Oli: If that is the case for those students, then we shouldn’t try and ram SUSU down their necks. Though, we should always leave the opportunity open for them to come to us. We shouldn’t close the opportunity off for them to be engaged. Though I do think it’s important to find out from them WHY they don’t want to be involved, whether it is the service we offer them, or time constraints from their studies.

James: I don’t agree. Sure Postgrads are the busiest of all of us and if they don’t want to be involved then as I said above that’s fine. But right now we’re not communicating with postgrads, they don’t know what’s available, they’re sometimes left out of official communications. If we aren’t making it clear what’s available how can we know postgrads don’t want to be involved?

ST: Which part of the Student Communities role do you see as where you could make the most difference and how will you make that difference?

Oli:I feel that I can make the greatest improvement with students’ engagement in SUSU. Having been heavily involved within Halls, and with the JCR, I understand the issues they face, and can increase their involvement. Over the past few years, I’ve worked with Sites’ Students and listened to the issues they have, and the barriers stopping them from engaging with SUSU, and I feel I am well placed to break those barriers down. I have lived and worked with international and post grad students throughout my time at Uni, and have experienced some of the issues with them, and feel best placed to fix these.

James: I think I can do an awful lot for Winchester. Coming from Highfield I could really look at WSA with a fresh perspective, knowing what we have here I’d really like to translate that to Winchester. I absolutely believe I can substantially improve transport, nightlife, the union building and Erasmus Park.

ST: How do you feel about Student Communities being a two horse race? Is it a shame there’s no site student running for this position?

James: I’m really disappointed; it’s a big shame that we have no sites candidates. I’d like to wish Jess all the best; she seemed a really strong candidate. It would be nice to see a diverse range of candidates but having just me and Oli in the running adds a really interesting dynamic to the race.

Oli: It’s a shame that there isn’t a site student running for this position anymore, as historically there has always been one, and they have always done well. However, I believe that if I am elected, I will be able to fully represent the Sites’ students, and increase their engagement within SUSU.

ST: Is there any part of your opponent’s manifesto you wish you’d thought of? Is there any part you think is unachievable?

James: I like the idea of Wi-fi in halls common rooms, I’d definitely nab that one if I won! I think Uni link buses directly to sites is a nice idea but unachievable, I’m all for sorting transport issues with sites but Uni link certainly wouldn’t go for that idea.

Oli: I think his aim of having the Union at Winchester open from 3-8pm every day, and turning it into ‘The Stags of Winchester’ is a bit of a stretch. Having working there for the past year, the location of the building makes it tougher to create this atmosphere. Currently the Stags is set pretty much in the centre of Highfield Campus, but the Winchester Union is right on the edge of their campus, making it harder to create a social hub around.

ST: If SUSU didn’t have a cat, what animal should we have living in the SUSU building?

Oli: A Dragon, I mean how cool would that be? Would probably bite less than SUSU too…

James: It’s boring but definitely a dog (Maybe called Baxter)

ST: Imagine it was solely up to you: in or out of the NUS?

Oli: Out. Always Out. I campaigned to stay out of it, which is something I personally believe in.

James: I can’t answer this in a few words! Solely me I’d say in because of the fantastic things they do for under represented students (see my manifesto point about zero tolerance on sexual harassment at nighlife) and that’s what I’m really interested in. But the students have voted no, and that’s exactly how it will and should stay.

ST: Besides VP Student Communities, which is the most important SUSU position for you?

James: President is the obvious one but I’m going for Sports Development, massive changes are needed there.

Oli: VP Sports Development, especially at a time when the government is pushing higher physical activity participation rates amongst 18-24year olds.

ST: Which current Sabb would say you’re most similar to and why?

James: Hmm maybe Sasha, I’ve been told I like to schmooze occasionally

Oli: Dean – my facial hair doesn’t rival the other male sabbs

ST: Finally: Jesters or Sobar?

Oli: Jesters

James: Sobar, love a bit of outside space on a night out.