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Wessex Scene interviewed Daphne Li, who is running for the role of VP Welfare and Community in the 2019 Union Spring Elections.
My first question is, what makes you an ideal candidate for VP Welfare and Community?
Well, I think, firstly I’ve suffered with mental health for the majority of my education and a lot of the time I was alone. I didn’t have a lot of family support when it comes to my mental health. So, when I came to university, I thought, like great. Universities usually have quite supportive health systems, but I think, I, similarly to a lot of students, I didn’t know where to go. There wasn’t access to that kind of information. If you had it already and you were actively talking to lecturers, then they would point you in the right direction, but if you were someone who didn’t really want to talk about it, or wanted to find somewhere yourself, it was hard to access the information. It was a bit confusing as well. So, in first year that was one of the darkest points where I didn’t socialise with anyone and I felt really alone and isolated. University became, quite hell. Like hellish. And then only in recent years- really in the last year- I only actively looked for support outside of the university- just because it was easier to look. I had to google it and it was there, whereas if you go on the SUSU website it’s a bit kind of complicated and I wanted to make that slightly easier for students. Have a leaflet or a single web browser that’s there for students to look at. I think when it comes to community and communities, I am part of an ethnic minority. I grew up, I went to a very white Catholic school, where, um, I was the only Asian and ethnic minority student to go there for a few years. So I understand the isolation, and how trying to promote your culture can feel very de-humanising and just like, done as a theme rather than an actual appreciation of your culture. I want to make sure that doesn’t happen here, and I think that my personal experience with that will fuel not wanting that to happen to people, if that makes sense.
How will you handle the responsibilities that have been added to the position due to the merging of the welfare and community roles?
I think it is a good move. I think it actually works in my favour. I think welfare and communities work very well together and very well-in-hand. I think one of the biggest aspects of my manifesto is to have mental health merging with community and have community events that are there to help people with mental health problems. I think that if you have a strong community around you, and it’s an understanding community and an open community, then you automatically feel it will be easier to talk about it, and feel less pressure or stigmatised about it. I think that’s really important to have together, so hopefully…
What relevant experience do you have for the role? And do you feel like this experience will prove beneficial?
I think my most relevant experience is my personal experience though. I think nothing speaks more than having personally gone through it, because you can not only empathise with the person, you also know exactly- or similar- to what they’ve gone through, and the dark points they’ve gone through and how they’ve gotten out of it. I think that is the strongest thing anyone can do. I mean, I personally made a lot of friends who have suffered with it. A lot of ethnic minority friends who have as well. So just really talking about it. I think its easier to talk to someone, to relate to someone who’s already been in a similar situation to you. And I think it was a lot easier for me to talk to my friends when I knew they had gone through the same stuff than someone who didn’t understand. I felt like I had to justify why I had my mental health, or why I felt excluded in my community. So I really want to let the students know that I understand where they’re coming from. Hopefully that experience will help me make sure that how I felt then is not how other students would normally feel at university.
What are the main challenges that you think you’ll face in this role?
I think, when it comes to welfare and community it’s [inaudible], a lot of things- it takes a lot of time and planning to organise. One of the main issues I might come into is just having to go through all the rules and the red tape, and all of the blocks. I think everyone thinks it’s a 1-2-3, or go 1 to 2 and it’s done. You put something on and it’s great. But it involves a lot of departments and it involves a lot of rules and regulations that you have to stick to. Which is absolutely great because it means that you’re not breaking anything, but that can be a very long process and I think that the challenge I will suffer from will be being impatient and wanting it done. And maybe sometimes even going: oh, we don’t really need that. I don’t want that to happen. I want to make sure that what I provide for the students is 100% beneficial. And I think sometimes it’s stopping things being pushed behind. The university and the union have their priorities and plan for the year and you go through it and it’s just balancing your own personal projects with the projects you already have on as a sabbatical officer. I know a lot of sabbatical officers are overworked with admin stuff, but yeah. And I think that’s the main issue. And also maybe trying to connect the students a bit better. I think a lot of the students have lost their trust in the union, or don’t feel, or don’t know about the union much. So I think this is one of the main challenges is engaging the students. We are actually here for you. We’re actually doing things for you. It’s being, in a way, without misusing the term, being transparent. I feel a lot of the students- or at least the ones I’ve talked to- feel like they haven’t been- the union hasn’t been transparent. Or they don’t believe in the union anymore. I think it’s hard to change people’s opinions of something. I think that it’s going to be the hardest challenge to overcome.
So sexual assault on campus is covered in most VP welfare and community candidate manifestos. How would you address this topic, and how it’s being dealt with at the moment?
I think having the majority of welfare officers talking about this topic- we are on the right track. At least we all know we have seen what the issues are. Sorry what was the rest of it?
It was just how would you address the topic?
So, I think, I love the work of the university and societies and what they’re doing regarding sexual consent and awareness. They do an amazing job. I want to follow how Cambridge is doing sexual consent and bring mandatory sexual consent seminars into the university. So at the beginning of the year, every student has a lecture where you are told what sexual consent is, how to ask for sexual consent, the consequences of sexual consent and outlining support for victims. I think a big barrier for sexual consent is that we don’t teach it. If you look at the government’s sexual health guidelines, we do not teach it. It’s based on whether the teacher wants to teach it or not, and you have to find external material. So as a university- a place where we educate people- we should be taking that lack of education and bringing it here. And I think I really really want that for the students, so there isn’t the excuse of saying ‘I didn’t know she didn’t mean it,’ or say, ‘no- it’s a way of flirting.’ Those kinds of phrases are no longer used because we are educated and that’s the way forward for sexual consent.
The university has a lack of STI information and contraception on campus. How do you plan on addressing these issues?
Part of my manifesto is to bring out free condoms at Union bars- like Stags. You go up to the bar and you ask for it. Whether we do a scheme where you ask for it upfront, or use the codeword and that’s it. It’s very important for students to know- students have sex. So it’s just providing the material to make sure that the students are having safe sex. Condoms are really expensive. You can get them from the health service, but it’s a bit embarrassing. If you’re at the bar and it’s a student giving it to you when you can just say a code- like Ask Angela- and you get a condom. You’re safe and you’re protected. Even if it’s unplanned, you know you have backup. Condoms are the only way to protect against STIs, so it’s also promoting that, hopefully. Also, hopefully getting more information from the Union to the students, like when you come to university you should have a pack with all this in- you shouldn’t have to look for it. It should be in your welcome box when you go into halls.
You also say in your manifesto about setting up a financial workshop, and a variety of other workshops. Could you please elaborate on these workshops and how they’d be run?
So I’ve dabbled with this idea for a while and thought of how it could be easier for students. There are two strategies: One, you could have it like a normal workshop at university where you sign up for it and go, it’s taught by an actual person and you take notes- like a seminar. The second is an online resource, where you upload it onto Youtube or the SUSU website so you can go on it. You don’t have to go at a certain time- it’s always accessible, all year round. If you’re embarrassed by a certain topic and you don’t want to go there, you can go on it at home. It’s just a battle of which of the two would be better. What it would entail will be related to the topic of that week or month. So, for example, if it’s financial week for students, it’s talking about managing your budget properly. If you’re in halls then it’s talking making sure that you have enough money from your loan to pay off your halls each week. How to divvy up money for groceries and books, going out, going clubbing, recreational activities, buying things you want to. Writing plan out- how to record exactly what you’re spending so there isn’t just money flying out of your bank account. That way, it’ll teach students how to save for when they go to second year so they have money to pay for rent. They won’t have to go for a very cheap place because they saved money during the year. That’s one thing we don’t teach- how to live independently. Doing laundry, cooking healthy food. We should be teaching that. University is one of the first places you become independent and you should be able to live independently without having to be mindlessly going around like a zombie for six months until you figure it out. A lot of students do that.
Initiatives to help students with housing are a focal point for most students- especially first years. How do you plan on addressing this issue?
Housing would be one of the topics I wanted to talk about in the workshops. I think it’s very important. A lot of the candidates running for President talked about the housing issues as well. Which is amazing- it’s lovely that we are recognising this issue. It is huge. Workshops like the one I’d want to have will teach students where to look for housing- a lot of times, you have to go to the students letting office and they don’t have what you want and then you go online. You don’t know what’s good and what’s bad. A list of recommended websites to go on with good reputations with students would be good. A wall for people to review those within the union: ‘this house was good, I recommend it’, or ‘this place was bad, don’t go here.’ Instructions on how to visit a property, how to ring and ask the landlord, or the agent you’re with, so that you’re not going in blind. What legal assistance you should have. Just basic legal information that every student should understand. What happens if you don’t pay your rent, how many weeks does it take to evict you. They can’t evict you for at least two months, but most students don’t know that, which is horrendous. You get panicked. Just things to make sure that you are in control of things, and not your landlord. A lot of the time, landlords see students who have never rented before. It’s true- they can take advantage. Getting more money than the property is worth, or making you pay for things you shouldn’t have to. These are issues that an informative workshop- either online or in person- would help students with. It means that when you go into it, you’re not going in blind. You can get information online, but it doesn’t go into much detail and it doesn’t always apply to a lot of the students. We need information that is concise, to the point and will actually help you.
Find out more about Daphne Li and her policies by reading her manifesto here.