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Wessex Scene has interviewed David Williams, who is running for the position of VP Welfare in the 2018 Spring Union Elections.
Why have you decided to run for the role of VP Welfare?
I’ve decided to run because I am really interested in support and social work. Having worked across three zones of SUSU over the last few years has given me quite a lot of different experiences and I can show how it can all be brought together.
What experiences do you have that would make you an excellent fit for the role?
Like I’ve said, I’ve been heavily involved with different parts of SUSU which I think is an advantage. Everything that people at SUSU do is amazing. I went to the Engagement zone as Community and Volunteering Officer and built up strong external links. I made a contact which means that I am currently working to turn SUSU into a referral centre for a food bank organisation. If a student is struggling, we’ll process it and then they’ll be guaranteed food for a week. I have connections with media societies and I plan on using them too.
What are the main problems you identify with the current role of VP Welfare and how would you fix them?
I don’t think there are problems and Sam’s legacy is that there are seven people who want to go for her role this year. She has obviously had an impact. Everyone will have slightly different priorities and one of the biggest things I’d like to push is a more of a personal touch to SUSU so having more one-to-one relationships, and as such if you’re in a society, you would know who to approach. Also, I would like an online connection to the Advice Centre so you can select a person that you already know and have a relationship with them. With these kinds of issues, for me personally at least, this can make a huge difference. Finally, I want one welfare person trained on each committee so that you have got someone to turn to when you need it. They don’t have to be President nor doesn’t it have to be Welfare Officer. Also, it doesn’t have to just be one person – anyone can come.
How would you engage with students on welfare issues knowing that it may be difficult for students to come forward?
The most important thing is regularity. Stressing the availability of support services around January exams is great, but we should have it all-year long for other periods that are important too – such as the two weeks in November and December when everyone has deadlines. One physical way of doing that is having an event in the same time and place every week which would be hosted by a different society or organisation e.g. First Aid Society one week, or an external speaker, or meditation. People should know that there is that regularity to clear their mind. On the side of getting help, Advice Centre is there all year but you do have to pluck up the courage to come forward. I want to remove the bit where you go to the office and say that you’re struggling as this would make people feel safer and make them more likely to use the services that we provide.
If you’re elected, what would be your top three focal points?
I have mentioned the approachability already, I truly think that kind of attitudes spread across all of SUSU is going to make a big impact. I don’t know if you know in most companies there are two levels of funding: the lower one for start-ups and the higher one for companies that need to develop further. I would like to add a sustainability category which we can fund. There are so many amazing projects and this would promote just that.
The issue of sexual consent was all over the news lately, after the University of Cambridge received 175 complaints about inappropriate behaviour last month. Do you think sexual consent is a challenge for universities and if so, why and how would you tackle it?
Obviously I do think it is an issue because otherwise, we wouldn’t be talking about it. I think it’s a problem within wider society. On a local level, I’m really proud of the group that we got going to reach out on that issue across Southampton. It’s not just limited to students. It isn’t a particularly complicated thing to get through, it’s just a sort of attitude. If you get that now, then it will filter up. As good and as far reaching as SUSU is, obviously its main audience are students of the university.
Would you implement anything on campus or just work overall in larger groups?
The surgery on campus used to be a sexual health clinic but it can’t be anymore so introducing something here isn’t really feasible. I think having the sort of support site here but forming stronger relations with groups in Southampton, to direct people would be great. There’s so much stigma against it which make people unlikely to come forward.
In your statement you wrote that you wanted to “empower student leaders and societies”, can you explain why you think this is a welfare issue for students and how would you propose to do it?
What I would like to do is, with student leaders, weekly meetings, as Sam does at the moment. They are all kept in the loop but I would like to have a Zone Induction day. All the societies will meet each other. A large proportion is campaign focussed and working towards long term aims. I think there is definitely a benefit from working with each other. I would like to work with societies, particularly at the start of the year but also throughout, to incorporate their longterm aims into SUSU’s policy and action plans. Then it also works both ways as a mutually beneficial relationship.
Your ideas include a £750 prize for sustainable projects. How would the competition work and how many prizes do you intend to give? Will this be affordable for the union?
You would have to pitch your idea with evidence with some sort of video for instance. It is currently £500 for the low level and £2500 for the higher level and it runs twice a year. It would be £1500 across the year. I don’t only want to provide that initial money but also a follow-up of the project to try and help it across the year at least.
You want societies to have at least one trained committee member, how would you want to implement that change and how would this work for society committees? How does this relate to your aim of long term sustainability within SUSU as most committee members have their roles for three years at the very most?
Part of the Zone Induction day that I mentioned would be training based so I hope people within the student life would want to attend the training. We would start there but I would like to start with the Union groups mainly, such as Wessex Scene. This would give everyone someone to turn to rather than being segmented but, then for longer term, we’d have to run this at least every year. It’s working well within the AU because sports have implemented it this year. Even though sports may be one afternoon a week, welfare is across everything.
To find out more about David Williams and what he wants to achieve in a year as VP Welfare, read his personal statement here.