Wessex Scene interview Isabella Camilleri, who is running for the position of VP Welfare in the 2018 Union Spring Elections.
Why have you decided to run for the role of VP Welfare?
I am passionate about making sure that all students are represented in university life. I want to make sure the support services are more accessible for students; we have so many great services out there, but I think it can be quite hard to reach out to them when you need them. I would make sure students know who they are, what they do and where they can find them.
What experience do you have that would make you an excellent fit for the role?
I’ve been working at SUSU part time since the beginning of my degree. I’ve been doing all sorts while at University, whether it was catering, the Shop, reception, marketing and communications. I have a good understanding of how things work in the Union and who to talk to for certain things as well as how to get things done. I also have volunteered part time this year as a Wellbeing Officer, so I’ve already been really involved in the Welfare Zone. I’ve been at fortnightly meetings with all the different student leaders. We’ve been working on lots of projects this year; we’ve helped run the ‘Respect’ campaign, the Mens’ Health Awareness month campaign, and we’re currently working on more projects that I hope to continue and implement next year.
What are the main problems you identify with the current role of VP Welfare and how would you fix that?
This year, they’ve done a really, really good job with sustainable initiatives, such as the plastic straw ban and the new environmental shelf in the Shop. There’s been loads of great environmental ideas. Still, I would personally like to emphasise a change on the mental health services available, by increasing the relationship with Enabling Services and also working with GPs to find out what the main problems students may be facing are, and addressing those directly. I’d also like more emotional support, more ‘look after your mate’ campaigns, interactions with Student Minds and other mental health charities who may be able to bring professional help to the Union to help destigmatise mental health.
How would you engage with students on Welfare issues? Particularly given that it can be difficult for students to come forward with some issues.
I think that the best way of engaging with students is to have more interactive campaigns, to have a presence on Redbrick and on Reception, where students will see you – to deliver information and awareness in these areas, rather than just the social media route or using posters.
It can be really difficult for students to come forward, particularly on mental health issues. This is why it is really important that we do develop the services that are already available. When students gain the courage to approach people for help when they’re suffering, it can take a lot of time, and if they do not receive the help immediately, or if they are not given the right resources, then it can be quite hard for that student. This is why I really want to make sure schemes are in place, so once they’ve reached out, they don’t wait months in order to receive help but instead they have regular contact with someone before regular access to counselling.
If you are elected what will be your top three focus areas?
I’ve talked a lot about mental health, and how I’d really like to help destigmatise it as well as to create more immediate access to help and improve approachability and the access to services. However, there are also many other areas of welfare I want to improve.
In terms of housing, I’d like to create a ‘find-a-housemate’ and a house/landlord review system, as there are very few single tenancy agreements in Southampton. Creating this finder should help people who don’t know anyone else in the area or people who have not found a housemate for any reason. People would be able to find housemates with similar interests – for instance a quieter house or an all-girls or all-guys. I think the house review system is really important. I found in second year that our landlord was terrible, and it took month to get a working oven. If students have a platform to speak about their experiences of landlords, it would make them get their act together to actually improve their house.
Another key point is to introduce a sustainable innovation programme for students. This would be for students who are creative, environmental students or for instance those doing Bsc Geography. We have so many students who are capable of coming up with innovative ideas in order to improve sustainability at the University. It would be really great to introduce a scheme where they can come up with ideas, and then implement the best ideas. Students would then have an active role in changing how the University works.
The issue of sexual consent was all over the news lately, after University of Cambridge received 175 complaints of inappropriate behaviour in the last months. Do you think sexual consent is a challenge for universities ? If so, why and how to tackle it?
This is extremely important. It can be a challenge in the sense that some people see it as a taboo subject. A way to address this is to speak about it more, and engage about consent and respecting each other, ensuring that students know that they’re not alone, it’s not their fault ant there are people they can talk to about their experiences. I also said that I’d like to give out free condoms which I think would improve sexual health.
In your personal statement, you wrote that you would like to introduce bee keeping on campus. How would you ensure that this is a safe policy, and how would it work?
As I’ve mentioned, I’m already Wellbeing Officer, so I’ve been working with Sam Higman, the current VP Welfare and I’ve learnt about this. We want to make it so that students would be beekeeping, so there would be proper training, the suits and everything. In terms of swarming, they only swarm for certain reasons. One of the reasons is if there is too much honey – I know that some of the vegan students were conscious of the fact that taking the honey might harm the bees, but it is actually a give-and-take relationship as by taking the excess honey, the bees don’t actually need, we stop them from swarming. Also, if you take the queen’s eggs away, then they don’t swarm and find a new hive.
You mentioned earlier that you would offer free condoms to all students. How would this work economically?
I think we could look at working with local sexual health charities that all share our goal, to see if they could sponsor us. It’s really important that students do have access to condoms, as they are quite expensive. Not everyone has access to forms of contraception. I would definitely look at working with other charities that have the same goal as us too.
To find out more about Isabella Camilleri and what she wants to achieve in a year as VP Welfare, read her personal statement here.