Before the start of freshers, Wessex Scene sat down with your elected Sabbatical Officers of VP Education and VP Welfare to discuss what improvements they have in store for students. We cover the important topics of free printing, sexual consent awareness campaigns, upcoming autumn elections and how to get rid of those pesky straws on campus!
WS – Can you explain what your job role is for students that aren’t entirely sure what sabbs do?
Dedman – I’m Sam Dedman, I’m VP Education which means I deal with everything to do with your academic studies; this is everything from your lectures to assessed work and even the library and other academic facilities. I get to deal with the fun university side of things basically.
Higman – I’m also Sam and I’m VP Welfare. I deal with student life and sustainability, sustainability being environmental and ethical issues. Student life is a broader topic, as it can be any issue that might affect a student whilst they are at university. So this could be general well-being, mental well-being, housing and so forth.
WS – Two quite diverse roles there. How are you finding the beginning part of your role?
Dedman – It’s been pretty quiet up until now actually with a lot of staff on annual leave and the majority of our undergraduate students haven’t started yet or are away for the summer.
Higman – Although the work load hasn’t been quiet.
WS – Is there a lot of preparation to do before freshers?
Dedman – Yes, mostly training and bringing us up to speed and making sure we are ready to start representing students properly when they arrive back.
Higman – We started in July and it’s been go ever since.
Dedman – I think my first day off is tomorrow actually. It’s been full on but it’s also been really good fun and we have an absolutely fabulous team.
WS – Has the summer given you the chance to bond?
Higman – We were already quite close before taking on our roles, since a lot of us were friends beforehand.
Dedman – It has definitely helped us find nice areas of overlap between all of our specific areas. Sam and I have just been in a meeting talking about lecture capture and we realised that it is a perfect welfare/education overlap, which we will start looking into.
Higman – Yeah definitely. I’m also doing lots with Steve (VP Sport) about wellbeing and welfare in sport.
Dedman – And I work with Arun (VP Communities) a lot on the site side of things and lack of representation out there.
WS – What is the one thing you really want to achieve this year?
Dedman – I would really like to get the free print in my manifesto sorted. It turns out that our friends over at the University of Portsmouth are looking at the same thing and are slightly further ahead than us in the project, so they’ve been great and sent us over a ton of data that we can use in our conversations with the university. I’m optimistic that by January exams this year, we should have a free printing service offered through the union.
WS – That’s definitely something students will be 100% behind I’m sure. What about VP Welfare?
Higman – I think since my role is more campaign based, I’m planning to run three or four big campaigns throughout the year, such as; Sexual Consent, disability awareness and mental health around exams. In terms of one big change, I think trying to cut down on single use plastic in the union. I’m having some big issues with straws at the moment. We have tried to source some biodegradable straws and realised that it’s a bigger problem in recycling and how we treat and recycle waste. So that’s quite a big, university wide issue.
WS – Do you have an idea of what to do for the sexual consent awareness campaign?
Higman – We’ll be working closely with the sexual consent awareness committee. We are keen for them to have their own face but for us to work together in bringing this campaign to the forefront. In October, we’re running a union campaign with SCA’s input. We’re trying to raise awareness in a positive way, we don’t want a negative campaign, or a victim blaming campaign because that is just not the right approach to take.
One of the ideas we’ve got, and it’s something we are sorting right now is a wrist band. It will be duck egg blue, the support colour for the advice centre and says ‘expect respect’. Then it will have the SUSU logo and team Southampton logo because we are working on consent in sport also. The hope is that staff and student leaders and anyone who is in the union quite a lot will be wearing this wrist band which will generate curiosity. Hopefully students will ask ‘Why are they wearing these wrist bands?’ and want to find out about it. It’s also promotes unity on the issue, especially if everyone in the union and the university is wearing the wrist band.
WS – Do you feel that the Union and the University are on the same page and they support each other?
Higman – I think they do but what’s difficult is that sabbs change every year. So you obviously try and implement everything you want to do, which is a lot of things, but by the time you get around to getting to grips with the role and making changes, you’re done. Then it’s a new sabb with new ideas and it’s quite hard to get the ball rolling on big projects.
Dedman – I think that’s one thing the team is trying to address this year, how to bring in plans for long term projects. But also addressing the time frame ahead of us and thinking not only about what we can start but what we can finish.
WS – VP Education, how easy is to bring together all the academic reps from across the massive board of subjects?
Dedman – For me it’s all about looking at how we can strengthen our own internal academic representation. It’s about giving the reps the confidence to speak up and make them feel rewarded and appreciated in the work that they do.
Recently we had to sit down and actually ask, ‘how many academic reps do we have?’ The answer is 850! It’s a massive number of reps which means that the Autumn elections coming up at the end of this month have such an important emphasis placed on them. We’re going to hopefully have a really strong presence in the university induction talks this year which means that people can hear from the academic reps firsthand about what they can do and why it’s important to get involved. The nomination period is now going to be open during freshers week so that we can promote the roles alongside events and give people something actionable to do.
Originally we had 7 or 8 elections running at different times but this year we decided that since so many of them overlap, it was incredibly confusing and it would be best to unify those into one mega election. This way we can put all our time and effort into promoting this one election which encompasses everything: from the academic reps, to senators, to zone open place, to all of our bi-elections and to our halls officers as well. We’re all excited and ready to get going with it.
WS – What would you like students to know about the sabbs?
Dedman – I think it’s important for students to know that we are here for them to come and talk to. We are based down on level 2 of the union building and if they see us wandering around campus at anytime, we’d love them to come and chat to us. Equally, please talk to your elected officers and reps who are looking out for you because we can’t do anything about problems that we don’t know about.
Higman – I think you’ve summarised that perfectly