Wessex Scene has interviewed Mairin Williams, who is running for the position of VP Welfare in the 2018 Union Sprint Elections.
Why have you decided to run for VP Welfare?
I was talking with the current VP Welfare about her current successes with the sustainability zone. In the SUSU shop, she has a shelf that’s stocked with sustainable and non-plastic goods to help people try and avoid plastics, and that’s a point I’ve stated in my personal statement. I want to continue that and boycott the use of single-use plastics within the Union. My initial involvement was through the plastic straws campaign Make A Change and as the leader of the Green Conservation Society I was already involved in presenting my case for straws being harmful for the environment within Southampton and around campus. I’ve fallen in from there and it has really driven my passion for maintaining the sustainability within the Union that Sam’s managed to get up and running. On a wellbeing level, I also want to create a greener campus through sustainability, in making a nice environment for students. I’m just a passionate person who has supporting roles as a course rep within the Union. As a representative to students, I’ve had a feedback role. I’m there for students who need me in that capacity.
What experience would you say makes you an excellent fit for the role of VP Welfare?
I’ve had a lot of experience within the sustainability zone. I was the President of the Green Conservation Society from last year and this year, I continued on as an outreach officer: an engagement person to local community groups that I’ve established throughout the time. I’ve managed to gain wider public speaking roles and skills from that and as a rep for Southampton.The experience behind the plastic free zone rolls into that. In terms of making a greener and more biodiverse campus, which is another of my personal statement points, I’ve been involved with a biodiversity hub within the University. I’ve got some experience with Bioblitz and I understand the biodiversity on campus as well as how to make it more in that respect.
You’ve talked a lot about the successes of the current VP Welfare, but what are the main problems you’ve identified with the current role and how you’d fix them?
I think that there’s been some stumbling blocks with the plastic straws and establishing them. That’s why I’m here to maintain that position and expand upon what she’s already established here and her success.
You’ve said that plastic straws were a stumbling block, and part of the issues around that have been accessibility, so for example there have been points raised by Alex Hovden (Union President 2016-17) around the suitability of such straws for people with disabilities, so how would you tackle that?
There would be straws available as that is a problem, but if there aren’t straws available then you’re lowering the accessibility for drinks for the minority that can’t drink without the straws. We don’t want a harsh ban on straws, just to get in place that we need to cut back and having straws available behind the counter. They can be biodegradable as well, so still maintaining the no plastic rule, and still being accessible.
With some welfare issues it can be quite difficult for students to feel that they can come forward, so how would you engage with students on welfare issues?
I’ve said many times of my personal statement that I’ll do more of a review system, for instance surveys for students to understand their needs, which has been done thoroughly enough. I could use that as a tool to assess what needs to be done in that respect. In terms of getting out there, as I’ve already mentioned with public speaking, I want to organise different events to raise that awareness. I would also be using social media to get the point across. One of the successes of this Union is that they’ve really ramped up on their social media campaigns, helping raise awareness of what the Union does.
While you’ve said that the Union is very good at communicating, there have been some accusations this year, particularly in relation to certain issues involving sabbatical officers, that the Union has been rather untransparent in the way that it’s communicated. Do you think that that’s something that’s put people off coming forward to the Union?
They have made those efforts because they’ve realised that it’s a problem. I’ve really enjoyed the evolution of the Union this year. Now they’re doing more transparent weekly updates and I’d also like to do that alongside my current VP Sabbatical Officers. It would be to make it as transparent as possible, because then people are more likely to outreach to you. It would be important to me as a Welfare Officer.
If you’re elected, what would be your three main focuses?
I want to really push forward on sustainability and reconcile what external organisations like People and Planet describe the Union’s sustainability efforts as. I want to make a greener, more active campus with people getting outdoors in green and blue spaces, obviously in the Marine Conservation Society, we do that quite a lot, that really helps in wellbeing, but also to get creative. I’m part of ArtSoc as well, so getting involved in different creative activities within the wide variety of societies on offer, is something that I really want to work with to get people more involved with them. On another biodiversity note, Sam’s got in the new bees, so it’d be great to have that kind of ethos around campus, creating a greener environment, so that we can be a proud university on that behalf.
Sexual consent has been in the news a lot, both locally with what’s been happening in the Union this year, and more nationally, for example it was revealed recently the University of Cambridge received 175 complaints of inappropriate behaviour within the last few months. Do you think this is a challenge at the University of Southampton, and if so, why and what would you do about it?
As you’ve already pointed out, it has been identified university-wide and nationally, so I think that’s already answered the first part of the question. For the second part of the question I’d reconcile this to create an anonymous system in place so that people can report certain things and don’t feel that they can’t report things in any other way. I don’t think that that’s in place now. Also, there’s a sexual consent awareness campaign on at the moment, I would work closely with them and I wouldn’t go on my own on that matter.
In terms of a reporting system, who do you think should be responsible for that: the Union,
yourself if elected, or should it be run by the University?
I think that there’s roles on both behalves, obviously some people might feel more comfortable doing it through a University system, I could work on alongside the university, but also as a Union if that students would rather do that.
Within your personal statement, there aren’t a lot of details about the policies you want to implement. Could you provide us with a few more concrete examples of your policies and how exactly you would implement them?
For the plastic straws, it’s just a case of implementing the ideas I’ve talked about; one of my points in my top five is providing sustainability management for the Union staff. Although we might have this system in place, there has been times where I’ve come to Stags and they provide me with a cup but they don’t necessarily understand the reasons why I don’t want a plastic cup or why I come back to refill it. They don’t understand the sustainability issues. I could work with the sustainability officer and the University in providing training on that behalf. This is one of the concrete examples of what I would put in place.
And on the area of mental health perhaps?
On mental health, I’ve talked about working with the medical centre. It means getting more involvement on that issue and working alongside some of the societies which have that implement because mental health affects 1 in 4 university students. On an environmental scale, as that’s where I differ from the other candidates, I want to improve the environment we’re in at the Union, and I think that all comes in the parcel with wellbeing and mental health. For instance, you go down Portswood, and, in my opinion, it can be quite soul destroying to see litter on the ground, but to carry that forward and not let it affect your mental health. It is just an example of the environmental effects on mental health.
You’ve mentioned that you’ve previously been involved in the sustainability zone in a number of ways. In your experience, what are the limitations of the Union in terms of how sustainable it is and how would you overcome them?
In terms of the limitations, the democratic blocks in place have prevented some of the plastic straws policies and failed in the effectiveness in communicating that to people. I would have to think about the best way to communicate that to people. Breaking down the too many democratic building blocks in place which prevent such changes coming through. We’ve already broken through with Sam’s successes, so I believe that continuing will be easier. I want to expand from there, once I’ve got that effective communication in place.
You’ve primarily focused on sustainability and academic support for students in your manifesto, are there any other issues that you want to tackle if elected as VP Welfare?
I’m dyslexic and a student at the NOC (National Oceanography Centre), there’s kind of an issue surrounding other campuses. Miscommunication between the campuses about Enabling Services at the Union is a big issue I’ve noticed throughout my time. I’d also want to provide other time slots, fort people from other campuses to access the services outside that core 11AM until 3PM hours, or having them on other campuses. That’s a real limitation for those who aren’t able to access these services at those times in the week. That’s an issue I’m passionate about.
To find out more about Mairin Williams and what she wants to achieve in a year as VP Welfare, read her personal statement here.