Wessex Scene has interviewed Olivia Reed, 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 been in a couple of roles in student groups this year which have involved welfare-related things. I got quite impassioned about student welfare. I thought I’d like to take it a step further, develop it more in the Union and be a larger part of it.
What experience do you have that will make you an excellent fit for this role?
I am part of several student groups, including canoe polo. As part of that, we formed a welfare sub-committee and have been in talks with VP Welfare and VP Sports this year about trying to develop welfare within sports. That’s been an interesting experience to be part of. I’m also president of the Liberal Democrats society on campus which is a really unique view into student welfare because you get a lot of very topical and potent issues being expressed and brought to you. We’ve done a lot of campaigning around student welfare this year, we ran a campaign around period poverty, which we’ve been in talks with the Union. We’ll hopefully see progress on soon.
What are the main problems you identify with the current role of VP Welfare and how would you fix that?
I think there’s not necessarily problems, but there are areas to be developed. One of the mains areas that I haven’t seen any traction on so far is data protection, because I know as a club secretary, president, and social secretary, this year I’ve had access to a lot of data and there hasn’t been much guidance on how to use or not to use that. So as part of the Liberal Democrats, I’m very aware of the data protection rules and guidelines, and I think that students data needs to protect along with alumni. I’m really looking forward to doing this.
How would you engage with students on welfare issues, knowing that obviously, it can be difficult for certain people to come forward with certain issues?
One of the key things that needs to be done is to highlight and expand the role of the Advice Centre because at the moment there’s a lack of appointments students can make. That’s something people have approached me with this year, saying that they haven’t been able to make appointments. Thus, increased availability and access to appointments is really key. It is also about creating a space where people can come forward and express any problems that they have, in a way that they feel comfortable.
How would you go about increasing the availability of the advice center outside of 9-5 working hours?
There is the Nightline service overnight so it’s not necessarily about increasing hours but maybe increasing the personnel or just the time slots to try and make sure people can be seen and have access to those appointments.
Do you think that’s a feasible financial solution the Union could fund?
I think that student welfare is important. It is something that the union should be doing because mental health is something so many students struggle with.
Do you worry that by making it more known would just make waiting times longer?
I think that if more people are getting appointments is that they need them. I think even if there are more appointments, that’s progress because that means more people are having access to the help they need.
If you were elected what would be your top three focus areas?
I’ve got quite a few focus areas but one of them would be greater housing support because, in my opinion, that it’s an issue so many students struggle with. I would be looking to set up a forum where students could discuss past experiences with landlords and housing, any tips that they want to bring forward to other students. I would also be looking to drop in sessions in halls, as first years are often the most vulnerable in terms of housing because it’s a new experience. I’d be looking to bring that to halls and enable them to have a one-on-one person to talk to.
Another key focus is sustainability, which I’m really pleased has been a focus over the last few years, but obviously, all this can be expanded on. I’ve talked about developing a recycling center where students can sell on their items and bit like a gumtree sort of thing, but more physical. It would be lead by the Student Union and it would firstly, provide students with a cheaper alternative, and secondly, would mean less waste products, as well as reducing things like plastic cups around the Union because every little thing helps.
My next focus would be increased training on welfare issues for halls officers and society members by offering some training guidelines for any welfare issues so that if it were highlighted to them, they’d know how to bring it forward or how to deal with it, such as a mediating scheme. Students would be able to go to someone that they know in a halls or a society and it will help provide a bottom-up approach where students would have someone that they could go to like a buddy scheme.
The issue of sexual consent was all over the news lately after, the University of Cambridge received over 175 complaints of inappropriate behaviour over the last few months, do you think sexual consent is a challenge for universities, if so why and how would you tackle it?
Sexual consent is a massive issue generally, there’s the Ask Angela scheme that has been introduced is a really positive step. It’s just building on those measures to make sure the protection is in place and also that students are aware of what is ok and not ok. Hopefully, that should just be common sense for most people. It’s just providing the support if there was any issue such that a student would be able to come forward and discuss it openly.
What about for those for whom it isn’t necessarily common sense, who don’t understand non-verbal signs on non-consent?
It could be something we could absolutely highlight and bring forward, like the tea video about sexual consent, where you can take an approach to outline what is and is not acceptable in a friendly way without imposing on people but just outlining the problem.
Data protection is one of your key policies, could you explain why you feel this is an important issue for students and how would such guidance work?
Data protection is a huge issue because of the access. People’s information is their own privacy, and they should be able to be in control of it. There are also new data protection rules being introduced in May and that will add to clearer structure and guidance on how we should be framing the data protection guidelines. I think it’s a massive issue firstly for students themselves and alumni, so that their data can be protected, but also for students who have access to data that need to be protected too and knowing how they are able to use the data. I know for myself, as secretary, this year I was given a load of information on club members including addresses, emails, phone numbers from the last five/six years, so that’s obviously something going on at a lot of societies and shouldn’t be existing. The Lib Dem Soc is actually quite a good example because we know what we’re doing with data protection as it’s such an important issue within the party. We’re very careful and whenever we do surveying on campus we put data protection rules on the survey. It’s something I’m very consciously aware of, but I’m also aware that not every society is.
In terms of sustainability, the University of already experimenting with being able to reduce the use of disposable coffee cups, but the scope has remained limited. As such, how would you push your idea of reusable bottles to help raise the impact, also how do you think your idea of increasing the number of drinking fountains can be sustained by the union budget?
I think so. The coffee cups thing hasn’t taken off massively, but it’s a really important initiative as coffee cups and plastic cups are huge problem to the environment. If you go to Stags or the Bridge and ask for a plastic cup, you can get one, but we really should be encouraging glass cups. With reusable bottles, students will be able to buy them at a cheap cost and could fill them up and use them again. I think water fountains are a huge issue for students who work 9-5 days, and on different areas of the campus where they have no access to water. It’s something that has been mentioned to me by students several times this year as they don’t have enough access to get water during the day. It is something really important for students wellbeing and would make a positive impact by reduce buying of plasitc water bottles.
On housing you wrote that you want to push existing union services, what are the current limitations of the student lettings and the advice center and how would tackle those limitations?
The Student Letting and Advice Center are brilliant in that they’re accessible to all students and can really help you with the issues you have. Still, I think that there needs to be more student on student contact and sharing of information. That’s something a lot of students would want and be searching for as I know I’ve been asked by first years for advice several times before, and if there was somewhere you could go directly to for that information, it would be a really helpful platform. It’s just building up and expanding on those services.
You have the idea to set up student groups to share past experience with landlords, how would you recruit students and how would the scheme work?
I don’t think it will necessarily be a matter of recruiting students, it will be a matter that students will be quite keen to sign up for, as a rating platform, where students could share the experiences they’ve had and tips.
To find out more about Olivia Reed and what she wants to achieve in a year as VP Welfare, read her personal statement here.