Wessex Scene has interviewed Iona McPherson, who is running for the position of VP Welfare in the 2018 Spring Union Elections.
Why did you decide to run for VP Welfare?
I’ve covered elections in the past and I just find it so engaging how people come up and speak about it. I chose Welfare specifically because, from my past experience, I’ve had bad issues with becoming ill, and although I think the help and support I’ve been offered is fantastic, it needs to be better signposted.
What experience do you have that would make you an excellent fit for the role?
I know the ins and outs of the enabling services and I think that I can work with them to make them better known. I’ll be good as a Wellbeing Officer because I’m very sympathetic and I’ll be good for equality and diversity because I believe that everyone should have their rights, such as gender neutral toilets.
What do you think the main problems surrounding welfare roles is currently and how would you fix them?
They need to be better signposted. I would like to create an online wellbeing guide for students who miss the Freshers Fair, for instance, in which all of this information is available. I think it will be a better access if it’s online and on Blackboard so that everyone can got onto it, and make it clear what help is available.
How would you engage with students on some issues? Obviously, an online guide can be good for a lot of things but there are some issues that people feel uncomfortable or find more difficult to come forward and talk about.
I would like to make it clear that help is available. I think that the biggest step is admitting there is an issue and it’s important to know that everything is discrete, and you don’t have to go in there and lay out all your problems. You can take it step-by-step. I think people need to know that there are ways to progress.
Do you think that, as they are at the moment, even if it’s not well publicized, processes are discrete or does something need to be done to ensure that?
I do. I think they will only say something if there’s any threat to the student or others, which should obviously stay in place. So their discreteness and confidentiality is spot on.
If you do get elected, what would be your three main focuses?
First, sustainability is obviously a massive issue so I would like to make push bikes available to be leased from the Union. Secondly, do you know the Ask for Angela campaign? I think it’s important that it gets to external bars and pubs so I’ll make sure they follow that campaign as well. Finally, again on sustainability, I think that I’d like to build allotments so students can grow their own vegetables and flowers, this would obviously be a big step in helping the environment.
The issue with sexual consent has been all over the news, especially after the University of Cambridge received around 170 complaints of inappropriate behavior within the last few months. Do you think that sexual consent is a challenge for universities, and here especially? And if so, why and how would you tackle it?
I do. I think it’s such a big issue and there’s so many reports of it. In my opinion, to tackle it, people need to be more aware of the Ask for Angela campaign, lots of campaigning needs to be done, especially as a sexual consent and awareness week. We need to keep running events to make this issue known and of course, encourage people to speak up and fight against it.
In terms of equality and diversity, you wrote you want to push for the gender-neutral toilets. So the currently elected VP Welfare also had that idea on her statement. What would you do to make this idea a reality and something more concrete because the previous VP Welfare hasn’t had much success in doing that.
I wouldn’t make it a general thing. I just would like, if possible, to tackle one toilet or build a block, and have that as a gender neutral toilet. I wouldn’t make it the whole university so people have a choice between female, male and gender neutral.
And all of your aims in terms of sustainability contains spending. At the moment, a lot of societies and areas of the Union have had their budgets cut. Money is quite tight. So how can you make this all fit into the Union budget? And if you had to prioritize something, what would your prioritize?
It would be the leasing bikes. Although you spend, you get money back from it. For instance, if it is £50 to rent a bike for a semester, you’ll have an initial big cost at the start but you would be getting that back.
And just to go into a bit more detail about that, can you explain to us how that scheme would work?
There would be bikes and students would have the ability to lease them. They could choose whether they want it a week, a month, a semester, and during the holidays there would be different prices to match with what they want. They would put down an initial deposit. If they don’t want it for the whole semester, the price will be based off of how long they’ve had it and charge them accordingly.
And how would you implement that to students? Would that be via an app or another means?
I would say it would be through the website, although I think an app would be a much better idea.
Just to close off, for the Ask for Angela campaign, you said you want to spread it across Southampton and external venues, not just the Union where it is currently. How would you encourage bars and clubs around Southampton to be part of this and, more importantly, how would you make students aware of it?
Last week, I went around and asked which bars use it and I’ve done an article about it. That’s got reach and engagement from doing so but I’ve only done bars so far because for clubs you have to speak to specific management and it can take a while for them to get back to you. So I would continue to just press and press and get people aware of it. I’ll make sure that medias are publishing it to make students aware of it and put posters up.
You’ve talked a lot about dealing with sexual harassment within bars and clubs. But say, for example, around the University there have been some events this year which have led some people to say it’s more of an issue. Do you think the reporting process for sexual harassments around the University are robust enough, or is there anything more that needs to be done to tackle this?
I think more needs to be done and help needs to be better signposted. It needs to be available online so everyone has a clear understanding of who they need to go to, what they need to say, and know that everyone is going to listen. No one is going to be dismissive of it.
To find out more about Iona McPherson and what she wants to achieve in a year as VP Welfare, read her personal statement here.