Sasha Watson: Today I am with Emily Rees, your VP Welfare and Societies. She studied English as an Undergraduate, lived at Montefiore Halls and was last year’s Equal Opportunities officer, so this role suits her to a tee – how does it feel?
Emily Rees: It felt amazing on elections night, almost too amazing; it’s just a fantastic job – the best one in the world and you’ll never find another one like it. There are stresses and strains, but you know that when you are walking around the Union, and you can see the product of your own hard work, it is very rare to be able to have that sense of achievement.
SW: Your job is almost 24/7, somehow in 10 minutes, try and summarise what you have been up to.
ER: If I had to cut it into 10 minutes, id start with pre-sessional students who study English over the summer; we’ve also had the new international students. I’ve also been working really hard on the Transitions project at the University, and we’ve put together a programme for International students called “Settling In-ternational”, and it’s a programme of events that we’ve got throughout the semester so that they can come and talk to us about what’s going on, what they’re struggling with, what colloquial terms they’re struggling with, and there are panels of people from the Union and University who are there to help them.
I have also put together an International newsletter, with the help of the University and media department, of which the first issue has just gone out. It’s going to be a weekly publication, and it’s the first time we’ve been able to access all International students and communicate in a way they understand, because we do use a lot of colloquial language on our websites and publications, as were targeting students who use it themselves – but we do sometimes forget about International students who are used to more plain English. I’ve also been working on a lot of my manifesto, getting the prior planning done because I want the ideas to be really well developed. We have so many resources at SUSU, and I don’t think we really make the most of them, so being organised and ready for all the campaigns has been really important.
We’ve been planning Freshers’ week, so we had RAGfest which raised over £1500, which was amazing. The bun fight has been stressful, but I’m sure it will go well tomorrow. We’ve been getting SUAIC on Facebook as well, as I wanted to make sure SUAIC was more accessible and more relevant to student needs, so by putting them on Facebook, they can answer the more easier questions that can be answered by a short message. There is also a column in the Wessex Scene for our advisors to reply to, so it’s been all about getting them more out there.
SW: One of you manifesto points was a common room in SUSU – how’s that coming along?
ER: I think it’s been quite difficult, but a lot of things have already been going in, like new furniture in the Union, plenty more seating areas which will be really well utilised; it’s just about noticing when we’re doing particular campaigns, what can we be doing with the building to make sure we are using all the right space available.
SW: Another important thing you wanted to introduce was anti-spiking bottle caps; looking at it now, do you still think that they are economically viable, considering most students buy pints?
ER: I think we need to have them; it might be that all the students buy pints in the Cube, but there will be some buying bottles, and especially more so in town where they’re often the cheaper option, so these bottle plugs will be able to be re-used and carried about easily. They haven’t been particularly advertised well at the moment, and it’s not been pushed in Freshers’ week, but that is something I will definitely continue to push. I want to make sure these are pushed, but they are not rushed out, so that people do use them, which in turn would make them economically viable.
SW: If I saw an anti-spiking bottle cap, I would immediately assume that my bottle could be spiked if I didn’t have a cap; is there any sort of warning about it happening at the Union, or have there been any past experiences, or is there nothing to worry about?
ER: There’s nothing really to worry about at SUSU, as we’re really conscious about making sure everyone is working to make the Union a safe place to go out. All our bar staff have T-shirts that explain about spiking and making sure that people are aware of the dangers of spiking, and we will be running campaigns throughout the year to make sure that our students are really clued up on the matter. It may not be a problem in our Union, but we do have to look out for our students when they are at other venues which may be more dangerous.
SW: Another campaign you are running is “Beducate”, which is a safer-sex education clinic. Can you explain it a bit more?
ER: Beducate is probably the thing I’m most excited about at the moment! We’ve been planning the campaign all summer long, with lots of crazy ideas, to try and make sexual health have less stigma and more accessible to all our students. We want to make sure they know where to get condoms from, which is at SUSU reception, which has changed from previous years in order to make access easier, as well as helping students feel more confident about asking for them. We will be looking at making provisions for people who are less confident about asking for condoms to still have access to them.
SW: If you are offering them for free at reception, will we see the dispenser in the Cube toilets being removed, as they are quite expensive and seem obsolete now?
ER: I think that there needs to be different methods to handing out condoms, and some will be more discreet than others, and having a vending machine in the toilets can be very convenient. If reception is closed, we also need to make sure that we have other options around the SUSU building, to cater for different peoples’ needs
SW: A big thing each year is housing week; earlier and earlier, students are signing up houses without thinking about the potential problems that could occur by signing a contract so early. What have done to raise awareness to the problems?
ER: I’m quite excited our housing campaign this year; one of my big bug-bears is that we always sit behind tables, handing out leaflets, which are not relevant to our students and doesn’t mobilise the facilities we have at the Union. It’s not accessing students in the right way, so I want housing week, and all my campaigns this year, to be more interactive with students and more personal. Housing week will therefore be done differently to what it has been don’t like in the pass; we’ve sent letters in the post to freshers’ very early, and before Christmas they will have all the necessary information advising them to wait. We’re just making them aware of SUSU’s plan, and tell them not to act too quickly, as well as telling Halls wardens and staff about our plans so that they can give advice as well. We’re also theme-ing it to the Wizard of Oz, with a “no place like home” campaign, lots of SUSUtv videos and lots of voluntary help from the other parts of the Union. Everyone’s really keen to make it work, attract our students attention and that it is relevant all year round.
SW: The University is part of an accredited housing website, www.sassh.co.uk, and there have been rumours that the Union are looking into making a Housing Agency that incorporates the website, giving it a physical office. Is there any truth in that?
ER: That was raised at the AGM by Chris Pidgley, who suggested that we did look into that, basing them at SUSU in the former Travel Centre. Its and interesting idea, but it needs a lot of work and planning, as we cannot automatically make an Agency. We’ve been doing some research, and hopefully we will be developing and creating a plan in the future, if that is something we choose to do. It’s all in the planning basically, and making sure it would be viable, should it come to SUSU. In the meantime, however, we are making sure the accredited landlords are pushed, and that our comprehensive plan teaches students about housing.
SW: Your position has come up in the Sabbatical Review as it seems to be two roles pushed into one; have you found that the two roles go together?
ER: I found it hard; it’s very much a dual role. They do seem quite different but it’s very enjoyable to do both – so whilst it is hard to keep on top of everything and time is hard to dedicate to each role individually, I enjoy doing both of them so much that I am reluctant to let one go. We have so many permanent members of staff who help our societies out, so it doesn’t mean they do not get the attention that they need; we’ve got a new student activities manager, which will hopefully take off a lot of the pressure from a future Sabbatical Officer, and the whole activities department are wonderful and putting my mind at rest as they are doing the best that they can. With the societies executive officer helping as well, I do see societies as an add-on to the welfare role sometimes. Sometimes I do wonder why they are joined together, but at the same time it is very much being able to implement campaigns through our societies structure, so in some ways it’s a positive dual role. Either way, it will interesting to see what our students think in the Review, and what happens as a result.
SW: What haven’t you been able to achieve – what did you wish you could have done by now but couldn’t for one reason or another?
ER: I think it’s been quite hard for me without having the students here, as we’re so based on students volunteering, and they are a big part of what we do – so not having them here has meant that we haven’t wanted to go out and do things; it’s not about what we can achieve, it’s what we can help our students to achieve. So for the summer, it’s been frustrating wanting to be discussing with the students, but obviously they weren’t here to do that, so it’s been a great relief to have them back and get on with pushing all the campaigns that we have in the pipeline! They need to be student led, based around volunteers, otherwise it can never be sustainable as the Sabbaticals change each year and only with student support, can we keep spreading the messages of our campaigns.
SW: And finally, out of the Sabbatical team, which one is the boastful?
ER: Erm… Teddy… Actually, probably me – look I’m now boasting about being boastful! I don’t claim credit on things I haven’t worked on, but I did boast about RAG’s achievement of raising so much money quite a bit.
SW: Emily, thank you very much.