‘Culture Festival On Steroids’ – An Interview With VP Student Communities, Arun Aggarwal

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Between his busy schedule and during his breakfast, Wessex Scene sat down with this years VP Student Communities, Arun Aggarwal, for a general catch up about his role, the ambitions he has for the year and the upcoming events our students can get excited for.

Credit: Arun Aggarwal

WS – How would you describe your job to a student who doesn’t know what you do?

I represent all of our different campuses and under-represented students; like internationals, mature students, parent students and post-grads. My role is about being adaptable and being able to talk to a lot of people, and then take what they say and generate some ideas to try and enrich their university experience.

The ‘site side’ of my role is where I go out to different campuses and try to engage with students. This is quite a big challenge because students at WSA have very different needs and wants compared to students at Highfield, and then again to students at the NOC, SGH or Avenue. We don’t want to just provide a blanket cover which might not interest everyone, so we really aim to have a more tailored and personal approach to the different campuses.

I guess the same also applies to the different student groups. For example, post-grads make up a third of our student population, but what they want from us – and what we can deliver to them – is vastly different to what your traditional 18 year old fresher wants. Freshers want to go out and get pissed, whereas post-grads are a little more classy; they stay in and get pissed.

WS – How are you finding your new role?

It’s a lot of fun, and very dynamic; a lot of different things are always happening at once. I’ve found it really weird being on the other side of things to being a student. Even though I was generally quite heavily involved, it wasn’t in a specific area so I had breadth of knowledge rather than specifics.

Although now that I’ve seen what happens behind the scenes, I still understand why students get annoyed, but I can also understand the reasons behind the decisions that are made.

WS – What are your key points to address this year?

The one major thing that I’ve picked up on is a review of diversity within the union. It seems that we are not entirely representative of different races and genders. The Sabb team last year had just one woman who was elected and it was entirely white. Although we have a bit of spice this year with me, it’s still majoritively white. That may just be down to our population, because most students come from the South or from London, but we do have a lot of people from different races who are involved within the union but don’t seem to go for leadership roles, and that should change. We’ve never even had a black president, which is quite weird.

WS – Well if America can, so can we right?

Yeah exactly, can you be the next Barack?

Could be the next ad campaign. But yeah I think we will do it internally first before pushing it externally to students.

Also I just want to get out a lot more. We just did our grant applications where clubs and socs apply to us for funding and we give it to them, generally. In most of my feedback I’ve just asked people to invite me to the events they are going to run, because I want to maintain those channels of communication, partly because I love going to stuff but also because it’s nice to see how they’re spending the money and really we just want to see our students having fun so we can promote that. I think this will then feed into our shout about campaign.

WS – What is the ‘shout about’ campaign?

Well I don’t know if campaign is the right word but I say it a lot. It’s the opportunity to shout about your society, shout about what students do, and also for us to shout about what we do.

We do quite a lot of good things but after they happen, we usually just pat ourselves on the back and move onto the next thing without letting the students know. Then students say we haven’t done this or that, but in fact we have. It’s just that they don’t know about it (which is entirely our fault). We want to start talking about some of the good stuff we do, to hopefully generate a bit more feedback and do more of what students actually want.

WS – If you could throw together one big event to bring the community of Southampton students together, what would it be? Dream big!

Um… I’d say some sort of festival. We do Culture festival which I’m really excited about and will be in March time. My dream would be if we could supersize that to Culture Festival on steroids!

It would be mainly focused around different types of music and food which I think is something everyone can get behind. Everyone loves a bit of food. Then just showcasing what we have here in Southampton: not just at the university or the union but in the city. We have such a diverse range of people and I think when people come to university they come with an open mind and they want to meet others, have a chat and learn things that open their eyes. So facilitating that chat and making it easier for a British student to chat to a Chinese student or to a Hungarian student to chat to an American student is what I really want to do.

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Former English Student | Travel Editor 2016-17 |Current MSc. International Politics | Editor at Wessex Scene for 2017-18.

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