Wessex Scene interviews Shanelle Webb, who is running for the position of Union President in the 2018 Union Spring Elections.
So there’s been a lot of talk this year about the union not being open and transparent about how it communicates with students, what do you think the main issues with that relationship currently is and how can it be improved?
I feel like because of some, can I say issues, that have happened in the past that went public, that people don’t really trust the Union to act on certain things. I’m quite an honest person, and really I’m not just here to get a title. The only reason I actually ran for it is because a lot of people came to me with issues, and I thought you know what someone needs to deal with it, because there a lot of issues at uni that not a lot of people actually know about.
Especially with the black community, racism- that wasn’t reported in October, I think only Wessex Scene reported on it. We’d said we wouldn’t go public with it but there still hasn’t been any report or anything, so I feel like transparency is a big issue with this university and not just the Union and I’d like to change that.
How would you aim to change that if you were to devise a plan, where would you start?
Literally, there’s the freedom of information requests that I found out that you lot had applied for and none of them had been granted. When this issue of racism happened in the Computer Science class, I spoke to the Vice-Chancellor and he gave me a report of the racial issues that had happened in the last three years. I feel like the Union don’t do enough to report these things.
Do you think the union should take a stance either for or against the proposed university restructuring from 8 faculties to 5? How will you communicate what the student feeling is on this issue to the university, and what further consultation do you think need to be made?
I don’t actually feel like the restructuring is actually helping anybody, especially the loss of staff, because the whole point of going to a good university is that we’ll be taught by staff, and when you take this number down and just give yourself a raise it doesn’t actually communicate what a university is, it’s more like a business.
I feel the University and the Union should work together. I feel like the students should have a vote or even an actual evening where students come together, like a town hall meeting, and just actually say what people want and do a vote there.
Is the Town Hall idea how you would communicate?
I feel like it should be an open debate where everyone can come and say what they feel and then be a just decision and a democracy.
How important is freedom of speech and encouraging students to express their diverse range of opinions, even if they are not the same as your own?
I believe freedom of speech is essential in any decent society, regardless of whether you may agree or disagree with what is said. Our diverse student body will have a plethora of different wants, needs and issues facing them, and my aim is to make them all be heard and addressed. The only instance I can think of free speech being negative is if the speech used is to promote violence or hateful intent on all sides of the spectrum.
Do you think the Vice-Chancellor should take a pay cut? Where else do you think the Union and the University should be looking to make the savings?
Of course, I think he’s one of the top five, I saw so many news reports about it, he is one of the top fat cats of the university Vice-Chancellors. I think there are a lot of buildings as well that are unused, so I would say, I can’t remember what it is but there’s a halls that are still up from the early 2000s. I think there should definitely be cuts to things that are not being used.
Should there be more clear and detailed procedures for holding elected sabbatical officers to account, and recalling them if they are deemed to have acted unprofessionally?
I think there should be a board or a hearing group that looks every month at the Sabbatical Officers’ behaviour, and then people can report people if they don’t want to come forward and it’s done anonymously.
In your view, is the Union becoming increasingly commercialized, less about us and more about keeping it’s doors open?
Yeah it’s so cheesy! I don’t yeah that’s why I’m not really, I never used to be interested in student politics because it’s very cheesy and does kind of feel like a business.
Is that something you’d look to change?
I don’t want it to be like a business. I want it to be like a charity like it says it is.
Why do you think the University tries to present the student body as homogenous? What groups do you feel are discriminated against and in what ways?
Our Diversity Officer, to be honest, I’ve actually never heard of that. Most of the time when I speak to my friends in other the universities they’ve got, for example: BME Officer, Women’s Officer, Disability Officer. I think diversity can cover so many different races, religions, disabled people, LBGTQ+, and I feel like, it [Diversity Officer] doesn’t work. I feel like it makes us homogenous when really we’re not – we have different problems, different needs.
What specific improvements do you want to make to the University’s mental health provision?
Oh definitely, I think there has been a cut to the funding so I feel like we should actually talk to the council more, and I know they have mental health organisations. I feel like we should working more closely with them. I have students that have been telling me they want to drop out of university, from the society I am president of, because you know they can’t afford uni, they’re working thirty hours a week, or their mental health is suffering.
There’s one boy that’s a first year that does amazing spoken word and he wanted to write one about how university makes you want to drop out when you’re mentally ill. The waiting list is way too long, they’ll tell you ten weeks and then you’ll be waiting months and if you really truly are depressed or you’re feeling anxious then it doesn’t help you at all it just only perpetuates it.
Obviously, in some areas, the Union has gone on quite a big green push this year. What initiatives would you introduce beyond that they’re already developing and promoting?
I know that there was some talk about the plastic straws and how they should be removed from campus, oddly I’m not really with that decision. I feel like straws should be available but for those who are disabled, for example, Alex Hovden [former Union President] needs to drink from a plastic bendy straw.
I’ve got close friends who are disabled or have got hidden disabilities so I feel like it should be more inclusive for disabled people, even deaf people. I was thinking the other day how does a blind person order from the cafeteria, I feel like maybe there should be braille. It should be accessible and green, just not to the detriment of other people.
So you’re not on-board totally with the plastic straws idea, is there anything that the Union currently hasn’t targeted, environmentally that you think they have over looked, because a lot of Sam’s campaign last year was based around making it a lot more sustainable?
To be honest in terms of sustainability I don’t really have any idea – I don’t know about the vegan jumpers, I saw that the other day. But I feel like there should be more food options.
Find out more about Shanelle and her policies by reading her personal statement here.