- VP Engagement Candidate Interview With Fleur Elizabeth Walsh
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Wessex Scene have interviewed Fleur Elizabeth Walsh, who is running for the role of VP Engagement in the 2018 Union Spring Elections.
Why have you decided to run for the role of VP Engagement?
It’s very hard to summarise but, in essence, for student advocacy. For me, student advocacy is working for all students, no matter where they come from, what they’re interested in. No matter what skin colour, what creed. Wherever you’re from, whatever struggles you have, you should be represented in this union. That is why I’m running for engagement, I want to be able go out there and speak to every single incredible student at this university and find out what they want, and what they need, and their struggles, and how the union can advocate for them.
What tactics of engagement would you use to approach different students, especially those who are international students, postgraduates, or those who do not particularly enjoy the drinking aspect of Freshers?
I have been an international student on my study abroad and I understand not knowing many people, and not having representation is really difficult. At Western, the international student representation wasn’t great and I actually found myself petitioning for change whilst I was out there. Having that knowledge of that struggle, I think it will motivate me to work for those underrepresented individuals on campus and essentially it comes from asking them what they want.
In terms of postgraduate students, that’s another ballpark as well because it’s not so much the cultural differences, it’s more coming to a new university. I was at the Education Zone meeting the other day, and they are talking to their representatives and working with them to maybe form postgraduate caucus, which allows for informal debate about issues that are pertaining to postgraduates. Especially now in a really heavily politicalised time on campus in terms of strike action, and pension changes, restructure – this affects our postgraduates more so than our undergraduates, because a lot of them are in part time employment are part of these pension plans.
I would say in a nutshell, it’s about comprehensive engagement. It’s not about the title, it’s about getting out there, speaking to every single student. In fact, to me being successful in this role would have been speaking to every single student. I would want every single student on campus to know my name, to know my face, to know my email. I’d want them to feel comfortable coming to me and then I’d deliver on anything that was gonna be beneficial to the student experience.
And, for instance, for those who do not enjoy the drinking aspect being in freshers?
So this is something I’ve been thinking about a lot. Back in Canada the drinking age was 19, so the freshers’ week is a dry freshers week. That doesn’t stop people from drinking, but it does significantly reduce the number of people who are drinking. Now, I wanna make it clear I am not advocating for a dry freshers’ week at all. I know that drinking can be an incredibly fun part of university. I wouldn’t wanna take that away from people, but I would want to put on more programming that deters from this culture of binge drinking.
So one example is my university wide volunteering day. We’d go out into the community, we’d find projects that are hours-based volunteering. This will show our students what issues are pertaining to our city and this is how you can help. And I think that is our responsibility. You know, we do live here, we are occupants of this city, and that’s really important.
I’d also love to include an academic’s day, where you can spend time with your academic fresher rep, get to know them get to know your course, maybe learn a bit more about your lecturers. Also I want to do hall’s days, where you do activities like a scavenger hunt or a film night and so forth. My issue is I don’t want to put on events which like: Oh, you can go to this event and you can drink or you can go to this event and be sober because typically, students don’t engage with that. So it’s about making it a consensus, whilst also providing that incredible programming of nights out that we always do. That’s what freshers should be about really; learning about the university and meeting new people.
What are the main problems you identify with the remits of this role and how will you aim to fix them?
We’ve seen over the past few months; issues that can occur in the role. Turning up to events and being there for our students is a large part of this role. I would find it inappropriate when representing the union, to drink; because essentially I would see that as drinking on the job. So I would advocate for sabb sobriety. Not imposing anything on our wonderful sabbatical officers, but just remaining professional, remaining approachable, throughout the whole process. There’s also some issues in so much that they’re unattainable. It seems like this holy grail of individuals and I would love to break those barriers down if I was elected in this role.
So, we’ve talked about this already, but: What experience do you have that would make you an excellent fit for the role?
I went to University of Western Ontario which has had top student satisfaction across Canada for over 15 years now and I was able to work with the individuals that made that happen. This includes the Social Science Student Faculty President who has just won their university Student Council election as President. I’ve learnt a lot from him; of how to do good student advocacy, but also how to do bad student advocacy. Which I think is something no one else running for this position can bring to the role. I petitioned to be able to sit on two committees whilst I was at Western. I was on events and we put on the single most successful blood drive that Blood Canada has ever seen on a university campus. I am so proud to be a part of that advocacy for students because it’s sensational and it’s an incredible energy that I’d love to bring to this role.
I’ve also always engaged in student advocacy on this campus. I was lucky enough to be the events officer and external engagement team leader of the Women in Business society for a year. I got to meet Caroline Nokes, who’s the Tory MP for Romsey and Southampton North,who is very passionate about body image issues, which is a huge thing that plagues our society and something I’m very passionate about too. I think my main point is I’ve been a student advocate internationally. I’ve done it in Canada, I’ve done it here, and I can do it better than anyone else. I’ve had the training, I’ve written policy, I’ve edited constitutions, I’ve lobbied policy, and I’ve helped to push my agenda through – and that’s what I’ll continue doing here.
What would be your three most important points of focus for the upcoming year, if you were to be successful in becoming Vice President Engagement?
I want to change freshers so it’s about all students for a start. More fresher reps and academic freshers reps means that there’ll be better representation for our students coming in. If we have huge success with this volunteering day I want to bring in, then there’s an opportunity to have volunteering reps as well from charitable societies to bring us all together. I want our students’ union to be the single most employable students’ union by the time I’m finished in my role. For me it’s about party and policy. So really this fresher rep thing is a very interesting, intrinsic, kind of, way of doing things. Arguably, there’s a lot logistics involved, but what that will do is it’ll teach them sexual consent awareness, mental health awareness, and how to be emotionally intelligent when dealing with an issue. I want to make that training comprehensive so that they come out of it with a qualification and it will be impressive on your CV.
I’d say number two is all about transparency, and accessibility with the office hours. It’s about having the office hours; having the round tables, having the town halls, hearing from people and delivering the results. Thirdly is most definitely the Vision 2020 strategic plan. The plan was a good document when it was first implemented by our wonderful leader Ben Franklin in 2015, however there’s more components and it’s a lot less black and white than it was in 2015. My experience makes me qualified to see it through and my opponents aren’t talking about this. Essentially, it just needs to be updated using comprehensive research. So again, we go out; we ask the people what they want; we look at what the industry is doing and we bring this all together, we analyse it, then we write the report, and then we deliver the results.
On your personal statement you suggest creating an academic buddy system, could you explain what you envision this to be and how would you go about creating this?
Some faculties have buddy systems, some faculties don’t. Some do it well, some don’t. I’m from the faculty of Social Science, I do a politics degree; so I had a buddy on my first day and that’s the only time I’ve interacted with them. There hasn’t really been that connection. In Canada, it’s a lot more comprehensive, you’re given a kind of family. I want to take an incredible group of students that we’ve trained up to be the best of the best and give them a group of first years to help integrate into academic life.
This could include book sales, putting on events to sell textbooks on. Another thing is putting on meet-the-staff events or a pub quiz with your lecturers so you know more about them. This is about integration at the start but can also be helpful in stressful periods throughout the year. It’s so you can go talk to your academic rep and they will say, Ok, who do you wanna talk to? How serious is this? Do you wanna go, have a little drop in session? Do you want to go for a nice meal with the rest of the people in your group? It’s just about building a community.
As opposed to halls fresher reps, there is more of a responsibility in terms of academics, but I would also want halls fresher reps to have a bit more responsibility in terms of home life. I can’t speak on behalf of other degrees, so we need to go out into the community, ask students what they want, what support they they need. We go in, we get the information, we extract it, we analyse it, we deliver it – that is the whole thing!
You also had the idea to host at least one charity event in each hall of residence throughout the year. What types of charity events would this be?
In terms of types of charity events, the possibilities are endless and I want to make it part of halls culture. It could be anything – scavenger hunts, barbecues, it could be a film night, it could be a fashion show, it could be a Mock-The-Week style panel show, a comedy show – anything that students feel would brighten up their halls night. We can do it for RAG to raise money, or to raise awareness of a cause. If what I envision is successful; then we’ll have built an incredible family where everyone’s friends and everyone’s having a great time. Raising funds from students is really hard, but, if you literally take it to their door and give them something back in return we could see incredible potential benefits.
Last question. You discussed wanting to organise continuous programming for LGBT+ and Black History Months, intercultural events, and religious festivals. How will you make sure that all of these important topics have student representatives from these particular backgrounds at the centre of the programs?
I want to promote an inclusive campus, because I think that drives engagement and we need to be supporting the community. So the first port of call, of course, would be societies and student groups. One argument I’ve seen is why LGBT History Month isn’t as big others is because there is a sensitivity issue that some people do not want to necessarily ‘come out’. That’s upsetting to hear because I do think we should promote ‘allyship’ and I do think Southampton University Students’ Union is an ally of the community.We should share the culture, share the history, teach, and educate.
It terms of Black History Month; it’s incredibly political times, right? I do think it is very important for us to show that we are a diverse campus and that we do care about these issues. Every student on this campus should feel safe. This doesn’t just stop at Black History Month, you know, there are a lot of other demographics and minorities that experience significant issues across the globe. There are things that do make people feel unsafe, whether it’s an article or something else, but those things with free speech would be a lot more accepted and a lot more beneficial if there is that underlying idea of safety and inclusion.
In terms of religious festivals, there’s an incredible range of fun things that we could be doing to just get everyone involved. I’ve spoken to members of the Islamic Society and we’ve talked about doing a kind of festival at Eid and of breaking fast. It’s just about making it part of the community – there’s no reason why there should be an ‘other’ system. There’s no ‘synergy’, if you will. These events should be as promoted as much as they can, and just become a part of our culture.
You will have a lot on your plate if you’re elected!
Yeah, I think it is a lot to take on, but I know I’m fully capable of doing it. I will push for it no matter what struggles come. It’s who I am; you may be voting for the policy, but you voted for the person not the policy; but for me it’s both. I am my policy, my policy is me, and I will push it forward no matter what happens.
If you want to find out more about Fleur Elizabeth Walsh and what she wants to achieve in a year as VP Engagement then read her personal statement here.