Wessex Scene interviews Tom Brown, who is running for VP DCI in the 2018 Union Spring Elections.
Why have you decided to run for the role of VP DCI?
It’s something I’ve had a lot of involvement and interest in for a while from doing student media for three years now. I’ve been quite involved in the union through being a student trustee and halls committee roles since my first week at Uni. As a position, VP DCI feels like a perfect fit for me and my interests, and I’ve been working on my manifesto for about a year now. This means I have a lot of thoughts and ideas to improve SUSU as a whole.
What tactics and methods will you use to increase voter turnout during elections?
Using tactics and gimmicks has always been a semi-controversial thing to gain more votes. I know a lot of candidates last year were upset with the use of incentives, as it stopped people reading about policies in detail just to get something like a pancake. For me, if you want to see people get engaged with the Union, you have to give them a reason to be engaged. It wouldn’t be a short-term fix to get Union turnout to go up. I want to implement my ideas, listen to people and get the Union on the right track to helping people. Once people start liking the Union more, there’ll be more interested in voting. I also want to make the democratic structures clearer so it’s not this big scary thing when elections come round every year. I want people to start enjoying it, and then you’ll see voter turnout increase.
What are the main problems you identify with the remits of this role? How will you aim to fix them?
The main ones I noticed were fundamental communication issues. There’s a lot of issues between societies trying to talk to the Union and often not getting a useful reply and delaying important information. That’s why communication is one of my main pillars in this process. Linked to that are funding and funding requests. Often they’re rejected and societies don’t know why, and that’s the end of the road. One of the things I want to change is constructive feedback, either positive or negative. Societies need to know why they sometimes don’t get funded, and the Union should help them in other ways if they aren’t. The relationship between the Union and societies should be a two-way street. You can’t ask people to be engaged with the Union if they aren’t engaged with students. I also want to help out with making prices fairer, in particular, the costs of hiring venues. I’d also like to talk to WSA to see if we can share some space up there too. Other issues include student training being unclear. I want students to be able to understand their roles better and therefore operate better when elected. A simple informative video would help students be more engaged with their roles. So communication, awareness of what the Union does, and accountability to the Union are the areas where the biggest problems are.
What experiences do you have that will make you an excellent fit for the role?
Like I said, on the media side I have a lot of experience, I’ve written for Wessex Scene a few times and I’ve loved it. I’ve been on SUSUtv committee for the last two years, Surge committee this year, so that side of things I know roughly what needs to be done. With performing arts, I’ve not been directly involved in terms of performing, I’ve jokingly said I haven’t got enough talent to do that. But I’ve been going to see their shows and I’ve loved it and gained many friends in that area. So experience wise, maybe not the best, but in terms of actual knowledge I know the ins and outs of that area, so I feel like I can do a good job. In terms of democracy, being on a halls committee means I had to interact with the Union and know how things work, despite not technically being in a democracy zone. On top of that, being a student trustee helped me understand the Union on a deeper level. I’ve gone to different zones and senate meetings to gain more insight into the Union’s democracy too.
What would be your three main focal points in the upcoming year if you were to be successfully elected?
Awareness, communication, and accountability. They’re my three focal points. Awareness of what SUSU does and how it operates, as well as what different media outlets are publishing. Accountability is about understanding structures and roles. If you understand what my role is better, then you know whether I’m doing a good job or not. As I touched upon earlier, communication with societies is key, through constructive feedback. It’s important, to tell the truth, and be honest if the Union does something wrong. The fewer questions you leave open to interpretation, the fewer people can get frustrated. I hope this will also increase voter turnout because you can’t be invested in something which you’re not interested in or don’t understand.
Now onto a few questions about your personal statement. You’ve suggested that all student volunteers need to have more relevant training to serve their student body. So firstly, where are the downfalls in the current training system? How will you be able to cater this new training scheme to each specific student role?
From my personal experience at student training last year, I turned up and was told that most of this won’t be relevant to me. This immediately disengaged me as most of it won’t be interesting or relevant. I want to change this, and chances are it’ll mean more work for me and the teams, but it’s something I’m not going to shy away from. If we make training more precise and relevant, roles like senators will know more about their responsibilities. People understanding their role means they become more interested and can do a good job. To achieve this, I would make sure each role is trained in different rooms, rather than bundle them all in together. I want to make all the information given relevant to each role individually. This will make it more specialised and precise, so student volunteers feel like they’ve benefitted from the training schemes.
You mentioned in your personal statement that you want to make a SUSU media Facebook page to advertise and highlight the content of the student media departments. This suggests a move towards combining the media groups which is something all departments have been avidly against in the past. How would you propose to make sure these changes don’t result in each department losing their individuality, and their current functions?
I know when I put this in it might be a controversial one. I want to make clear that I’m not trying to make an ‘umbrella brand’ and take away the independence of the societies. If you go to the SUSU media page, all it is is four paragraphs explaining what the societies are, written about five years ago. My idea is to scrap that media page, replace it with this embedded Facebook page, with links to writing or production groups. I want to give the media committee things to do, and this would be an important part of that. The Facebook page would be given to the media committee to run, with the idea of sharing Wessex Scene article of the week, Edge interviews, Surge podcasts and that kind of thing. It will essentially be a massive highlights reel for media outlets. As someone who does student media, I know it’s a good feeling when your work gets more clicks and views, and this page would increase that. This will benefit new students who don’t know what media outlets the Union has. In one place they can see the best of Wessex Scene, the Edge, Surge and SUSU TV. This will keep media outlets separate, but give you more publicity.
I guess the main issue is, it will attract the audience to that page, rather than the individual pages
That’s something I want to sit down and have regular talks with the media committee next year. I’m not trying to draw attention away, but create a centralised place where everything can be found, especially for newer students.
Last question, you’ve briefly mentioned getting feedback from WSA in your statement so that media groups can become more inclusive. This has been an issue that DCIs and media groups have been trying to tackle for years. What methods are you hoping to implement to improve inclusivity?
I briefly touched upon elevating the responsibility of developing media WSA to the development officer in the media committee. It will be their role to develop that kind of audience. I mentioned increasing feedback from WSA because they might not be interested in the same things as our students in Southampton. If we take what they say on-board and meet in the middle we can produce better results. If it doesn’t work, it doesn’t work, but I want to try it for my own benefit more than anything else. It’s worth a shot, and I don’t want to be scared to give things a go. If it crashes and burns, then I’ll happily admit that and move on. So the creation of a development officer in WSA, and more feedback will hopefully increase media presence in WSA.
Is there anything else you’d like to add?
Over the last couple of years, we’ve seen good and bad DCIs. I’m trying to take that feedback on-board. If you see me, come chat to me and give me some ideas. I want to be someone you can talk to, good or bad, and hopefully, try and resolve your issues.
To find out more about Tom Brown and what he hopes to achieve as VP DCI, read his personal statement here.