- VP Welfare and Community Fleur MacInnes Candidate Interview
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Wessex Scene interviewed Fleur MacInnes, who is running for the role of VP Welfare and Community in the 2019 Union Spring Elections.
What makes you an ideal candidate for Vice-President (VP) Welfare and Community?
I would split it into three different parts, if that makes sense. So firstly, I just think the experience that I’ve had while I’ve been at University is really helping to prepare me for this role. I’ve been on the Feminist Society committee since my second week at University and now the President of that. I am the Equality and Diversity Officer, so like I’ve set out in my manifesto, I’ve had experience working within multiple student zones, not only working with student welfare currently, but also with Emily Harrison, who is our Vice-President for Student Communities. I really feel like I have an understanding of how all the student zones work and I would be able to really help facilitate that during the amalgamation of the two roles into one sabbatical role.
The second part is also I think experiences but not necessarily what makes me qualified, but just what makes me passionate. I haven’t had the best time with my mental health at university, but I have really tried to make sure that anything that I do experience I try to turn into something that I can help people with. I know not everyone feels comfortable talking about their mental health and I completely understand. I wasn’t really for a very long time, but I feel like I’m at a point now where being at University and with what there is available, and there is a lot of mental health resources available. We need to have more and not only that, but we also need them to be accessible. We need to be telling students what they are because at the moment I have people on a regular basis approaching me, asking me what is out there because they do not know, but they know because I’m focusing about it I might be able to signpost them better. While you see I’m completely happy to do that, really that should be the job of the Union and that shows me that that’s not really happening at the moment.
Thirdly, sort of a lot of the things in my manifesto are things that I have tried to implement while I have been a student officer or while I have just you know, sort of been a normal student. Like, the sabbatical officer who I have had to work with to get it done has not been through it, or I have been busy doing my degree, or you know, just like people being busy which they are and it just has not happened, so a lot of these things are things which I am trying to make the next step for. Like, I am “okay I could not do it as a student, so let’s do it as a sabb” because I really feel like these things need to happen and I’m not going to give up. If I could not do it as an Equality and Diversity Officer then I’m going to do it as a sabb. I want to make sure that these changes are positive and that they’re going to help people.
You’ve mentioned that you have had a lot of experience. Do you feel that your personal experience will help you be very open with the role?
I would say open in the sense of in the way that it’s going to help people. I am not going to sit on the Facebook of the sabbatical account and just talk about how sad I am for an hour because that does not help anyone, but when I say being open it’s openly talking about the fact that I do have bipolar and no, it does not make me any less of a candidate, because I am here at University and I am doing my degree and I am handling everything well. I really think that’s a big role in destigmatising and it’s not necessarily me talking about my mental health all the time because I should not have to talk about it, but just the fact that I can say “yeah, I’ve got bipolar, I’ve got anxiety, lets carry on and sort of move on”. While I am open talking about therapy and things like that, it’s a lot more to invite people to then share their experiences rather than to just talk about myself because sort of me talking about myself is not really that helpful and it actually opens up that conversation with everyone else and I am sort of working.
How will you handle the responsibilities that have been added to the position due to the merging of the roles of VP Welfare and VP Student Communities and the extra roles?
It’s something I really considered when I was writing my manifesto thinking: “oh my goodness, how do I condense two roles into one when we have got two sabbatical roles for a reason”. Personally, I voted to have six sabbs and obviously that didn’t happen and now we have got five. Like I’ve said before, I really think working on these multiple student zones, working with Isabella [Camilleri, current VP Welfare] and Emily Harrison, I’ve really learnt what they are taking from the role and what they think is important and I really feel like I can make the best out of this situation.
Not only am I passionate about welfare, but I’m also passionate about inclusion and making sure that all of our student body is being heard, but I’m also very open to having students ask me “okay, you know now we’ve got one less sabb, how are you going to vote on these issues, how you are going to do this”. I really encourage students [to use]the ‘ask a question’ option on SUSU because I completely understand with one less sabb, or two less sabbs technically, although we have only got five at the moment. With one less sabb where we got VP Welfare and VP Communities together, they might be considered that their concerns are not going to get addressed any more, but I just want to reassure the people that I will do my absolute very best if I’m elected to focus on everything and communication is a very big thing for me. I want people to tell me if I am doing something wrong. I want them to tell me if they think I am doing something right. I feel like I just want everyone to be able to feel that they can approach me and ask me because I genuinely just want to do this to help people.
What are the main challenges you think you’ll face in the role and what do you think you will do to overcome that?
I think one of the biggest challenges is Union engagement. We sort of talk about it every year, but not a lot of students are engaged with the Union. In my first year, I wasn’t. I didn’t really know what the Union did, I just went to Stag’s for karaoke on Thursday. I think we need to work for that from the very beginning. One of the things that I want to do is to introduce a mental health resource pack. Not just for Freshers, but for all students out in Halls. I also want to introduce the “how do you get home” pack for Southampton and Winchester for all our wonderful students out at WSA as well, to just kind of remind them that the Union is here for you.
Something I also want to do is work on multiple different sites if I do get elected because we talk about this a lot but we need to be transparent and accessible and we’re not really very useful if we’re only on Highfield from 9 to 5, because not everyone is available on Highfield from 9 to 5. We need to be going to Southampton General Hospital working until the evening with our wonderful medics and nurses, and midwives, and maybe we need to be going to Boldrewood early in the morning. I think engagement is a really big part of it and I am really looking forward if I do [get]elected to working with other sabbs and making the students realise that the Union is for them. Without them there is no point in having sabbs. We need to make students understand that they have a really big role in how the Union is run and I think that it’s a shame that the voting is always a bit low because actually they really do have a voice, they just need to be encouraged to use it.
One ambitious pledge of yours is to work on different campus sites each week. Have you spoken to current sabbatical officers about how feasible this is?
I talked to Emily Harrison about it a lot since as VP Communities this is sort of under her realm and I do think it is important. Yes it might be difficult, but at the end of the day I’m not applying for the job for it to be easy. I have spoken to medicine students. I have spoken to nurses and they don’t have the time to come here whereas a sabbatical role as it is technically from 9 to 5 they do outside hours and that’s something that I would be completely happy to do, especially going from being a student I am not quite used to the 9 to 5 at the moment so I personally would be very happy to go to Southampton General Hospital and staying overnight if I have to, because at the end of the day, a lot of students are having to do during their degrees. The sabbs are working for the students so for us to experience that, I don’t think that while it may seem challenging, I think it might interfere with relationships with the University, we need to remind them that we’re here for the students. It is the entire point of us being here. Through experience of working with all of the sabbs, with Emily Harrison specifically, I think as long as it’s facilitated properly, it will be fine.
Sexual assault on campus is a topic covered directly in most VP Welfare and Community candidate manifestos. How will you address this topic exactly?
I think it’s really good that we are opening up that conversation and I think that it’s nice to see people feeling more comfortable to be able to talk about it. I think the next step is tackling rape culture which I think is an underlying issue and also to tackling to a larger extent drinking culture. Not in a victim-blaming way at all, but very much focusing on the perpetrators and in terms of drinking culture, a lot of people who I know that have been assaulted, have been assaulted by people who were drunk and I think it’s a really big issue that we do not always talk about at University. Heavy drink is normalised at University, especially in Freshers’ week, which is where I personally know a lot of people were assaulted including myself and I think that’s something that we really need to focus on, which I do not think the Union is doing at the moment.
Obviously, it’s difficult because it’s taking that part of enjoyment away from people. I am not saying that drinking is bad, it’s just being more aware of it. One of the things I want to implement is safeguarding systems during Freshers’ week. At the moment, Freshers’ reps who go round with freshers and take them to different and clubs and stuff they are allowed to drink and I personally feel that we need some freshers’ reps who are not drinking. If you do get assaulted and you don’t necessarily know anyone on your first night out, you need someone to be able to go to and say “This has just happened, I am not quite sure how to deal with it”. Just someone who knows what they are doing. I would really like to work with some fresher reps who would not be drinking on those evenings to do some training. I don’t want the fresher reps to be therapists because ultimately they are still students and that is not their responsibility, but to be able to just provide them with some safeguarding. At the moment, that’s just something that is not happening and like I said, back with the drinking culture. What if you’re assaulted by a fresher rep? I know that just happened to someone, so I think to be focusing on the sort of appropriateness that we are providing at University and I do not think that it is not necessarily appropriate for all of the fresher reps to be drinking because ultimately we need to provide students with those safety resources if they do need them.
Mental health is a key policy area in your manifesto. In particular, you mention creating ‘a dedicated mental health support system for postgraduates’ and ‘demystifying access to student mental health resources’ – how will these aims work in practice?
I really want to outline I am an undergraduate; I absolutely do not mean to speak for the postgraduates. We currently have a wonderful postgraduate committee. What I would really like to do is to set up a working group with SUSU and the University to sort of identify the main problems with postgraduate mental health and how SUSU and the University can directly help that. At the moment, I really don’t think that that is focused on, especially during the “vacation breaks” where postgraduates are still here and it kind of feels like when all the undergraduates go away everyone just forgets that postgraduates exist, and that’s not right. I know there are a lot of isolation issues with postgrads, especially if they got low contact hours, and I really think that’s something that we really need to start addressing. As a University officer, I’m learning a lot more about it, but there’s only so much I can do in a student volunteer role which is why I’m going for the sabb role. As someone who wants to eventually do a postgraduate degree, I want to know what those issues are because not only do I want to help people, but I also want to become aware of it so that when I am a postgrad I can sort of go on a postgrad committee and I can advise whichever University I may be at like “Hey, when I was at SUSU, we did this and why not try this” sort of thing.
You mentioned that you want to conduct training sessions for society committees about the importance of inclusivity. Would sessions be compulsory and if not, how do you plan to encourage high attendance?
A lot of this would include working with whoever gets elected VP Activities who sort of oversees the clubs and societies. Personally, I would like it to be compulsory but I can understand that it would be very hard to get over 300 societies to come so I do not think that there’s necessarily a one-time session and everyone comes in and we teach them. I think it’s something that needs to be implemented over the course of the year and I think that is where SUSU miss out a lot on.
There might be training sessions which are like “look after your mate” sessions, but they are only available for two weeks and it’s on at the same time every week. So if you’ve got a lecture and you can’t make it that week you obviously can’t make it the week after as well. That’s why I think making sure that not only can these societies attend them but maybe just emailing them in the summer and being like “when you are free?”. We will build this around you because we are doing this for you and then trying to facilitate it so as many societies as possible can learn, but also encouraging them why it’s good for them to learn because one of the things about this is while inclusivity is really important, it’s also going to benefit the societies if they’re more inclusive because they’re going to get more members.
As a President of a society, I can attest to the fact that we want more members, so I do not see why you would not be doing everything in your power to ensure that you are engaging everyone. When we have the inclusivity training sessions it will not be “you are doing this wrong, you are doing this wrong”, it will be have you considered doing this because I completely understand as a President that you do not get any formal training and you might not even get a very good handover, depending on who’s been in charge before you. It’s not about telling our societies that they are doing something wrong. It’s just giving them some advice on how they could be better because that’s what we are looking to do.
Onto your manifesto – you said you want to improve visibility of diverse commemorations and placed particular emphasis on Black History Month and Trans Awareness Week. To an extent, this is already done by the Union and a variety of societies. What ideas do you have in mind to improve visibility even further?
One of the main things, we just need to start planning it earlier. Black History Month – while we did have some events, they were really successful, we did have feedback from students who said we need to do more. We need to be listening to our students saying you didn’t do enough for Black History Month. At the moment, as Equality and Diversity Officer I am going to start planning Black History Month with Emily Harrison, even though it’s in October, because we completely understood that even though we had started planning it in the summer before I had even been elected, while there were some really good things that happened, it wasn’t enough. So let’s provide even more and I think that’s really what we are striving for; the same with trans awareness week is that saying that we need to do more is recognising that we didn’t do badly, it’s just saying that well some things did not. There was an amazing talk with Shakira Martins, the NUS president which was hosted by the Politics Society – four people went. That’s really disappointing because it was an amazing talk and I didn’t know if it was a lack of promotion or that students weren’t engaged with it, but we really need to be focusing on how we can do better. Working with SUSU and their marketing team and also just making sure that students know about it. What we did in Femsoc is that we did a reflection on Black History Month and we did a whole meeting on what did they [the]Union do well and what they could do better. So many people said I didn’t really realise the Union was doing anything and I completely understand. If you are not centred in Highfield, you won’t know about stuff like that. We need to be focusing more on making sure that everything is accessible to everyone and not just the small selection of students on Highfield who are here regularly enough to know that stuff is going on.
Would the idea of reflecting on it be something that you would want to bring to the role?
I am very much into self-reflection, not just as an individual but as a body, SUSU self-reflection I think is really important. I think we need to be figuring out why things went well and why did people enjoy them, how things could have been done better. Black History Month – there were lots of events for it but not lots of people went to them. How do we then figure out why people didn’t go to the events. It is not necessarily what the event was, it might have been the promotion for it. It might have been put on a day where people were going to another thing. Thinking about it a bit more, these events can sometimes be a bit rushed. Especially for things you are passionate about, when things are rushed it is disheartening. You do want your union to represent you, so I think planning earlier and really including students in that conversation is what we need to do.
You talk about sustainability significantly in your manifesto. However, under the new sabbatical officer structure, this is the President’s rather than VP Welfare’s remit. How will you work with the President to achieve the aims in this area that you’ve stated?
While it is sort of the President’s remit, it’s still a student wellbeing issue. It is our planet and we have to live on it. It’s really important and a lot of students do care about sustainability. Working with whoever’s elected as President, seeing their sustainability plans, seeing if we can implement some of mine, and then working together in order to facilitate that. It’s not about that [it]was my idea, it’s about what’s good for the planet. The things I would like to implement are not that difficult to do. We just need to be thinking about them more. When I walk in the uni at night and there are lights on in the buildings and it’s one in the morning. It could be as simple as asking your University when the security go around to do their checks at night, if there are lights turned on could we just turn them off? Societies can forget to turn them off and that is another thing we need to be working on.
Making people aware that if they don’t recycle properly what the impact is because sometimes there can be a disconnect between what your action is and the consequence of that. I think implementing that education, some people are not sustainably aware. That doesn’t mean that they’re bad people, it just means that they’re not aware of it and what we need to be focusing on is the education and why people should be caring about that. It’s good that they’ve put that under the role of the Union President because they are a big figurehead and people will take more notice of sustainability.
In your pledge you talked about making links with businesses. What sort of businesses are you referring to making friendly partnerships? Are we talking about food or things for the uni?
Everything, to be honest. There are some really wonderful, eco-friendly businesses in Southampton and I think where the Union has partnerships with so many different partnerships is with Domino’s and things like that. Let’s start working on supporting our local business. Not only will that help the economy but it will also show the students who talked about sustainability, we have a whole sustainability zone. We have zone meetings every so often and students come because they care about this stuff and one of the things I’ve noticed being at the zone meeting is that’s something that we do need to start taking notice of and I do think that a good precedence for the student union is to show that we are listening to them and we are going to start doing this. It’s not just about the money, it’s about making sure your student interests and concerns are heard. That’s something that I have heard being on the sustainability zone board is that we want to be partnering with companies that we agree with. There was a protest last year because the University works with arms dealers and who wants that, so let’s work with people who we actually want to work with. Like I said, we are here for the students we’re not here just to make money. What is the point of making money if the students feel disconnected from us?
Can you explain a bit more about your pledge for ‘more support for student parents’?
Something that I have people come to me about that I have spoken to has been not only postgraduate student parents but also student parents who are of a school leaving age who are more likely to drop out because they don’t have enough support, and it’s things like making SUSU events more child friendly. If it’s drinking centred they would probably not want to bring a baby because it’s not the safest event. We need to be providing more events that are accessible for everyone, that they are more child friendly. Emily Harrison has made the kid clubs at Union Films which I think is a wonderful initiative; let’s push it even further. It’s not just about having somewhere for your kids to enjoy, but it’s also having somewhere where you can enjoy and you can socialise where you want to bring your child. And at the moment, do you want to do that in karaoke on Thursday? Not really. Let’s provide that platform for student parents because they feel that they’re an underrepresented voice. People don’t really think about it.
You’ve also stated that you want to ensure all social media content provided by SUSU-affiliated societies is accessible for people with disabilities. How do you expect to implement this?
All SUSU social media content is accessible. That’s really good. We have captions, we have alternative texts if people have screen readers. One of the points I made in my manifesto is to also have SUSU-affiliated societies so societies being on campus teaching them why social media content is important. That’s something I am in the middle of doing right now, filming a video showing societies how easy it is to make accessible content. My Instagram I make sure to write image descriptions for people who are visually impaired and do not have screen readers so it makes it that little bit easier and it doesn’t take any more time than writing a normal caption does, but it provides people with that extra resource and I think that’s really important. Transcribing videos for people who can and want to watch that video. Adding alternate text – features on Twitter and on Facebook and Instagram has even implemented it now. People are not aware of these features. They’re not doing it because they don’t care, they’re doing it because they’re not aware. That’s something that would be amazing if we could work on it, to sort of increase that education in our societies, to show our students who need these resources that we are listening to them; we are showing them that we care and that we’re going to make sure that something happens for this.
Find out more about Fleur MacInnes and her policies by reading her manifesto here.