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Hello, my name is Marco Pretara, I’m the Lifestyle Editor for Wessex Scene and today I’m here Kayleigh Littlemore who’s going to be running for VP Welfare and Community.
Kayleigh, why have you decided to run for the role of VP Welfare and Communities?
I have decided to run for the role of VP Welfare and Communities because I think it is such an important aspect to the student experience. Obviously, as I said in my manifesto, this is a time where you’re experiencing a load of new things at once and that can be very overwhelming for people. You’re in a new city with a load of new people you don’t know, and I believe that with me becoming VP welfare and communities I can definitely help with this aspect of student life.
What experience do you have that would make you and excellent fit for the role?
I would say that my experience working with a diverse range of communities definitely will definitely help me when I get elected for VP Welfare and Community. I Interned with a young person’s charity where all the young people had very diverse backgrounds, for example a lot of them came from low socioeconomic backgrounds so what I was tasked to do was to go to the young people and ask what they wanted from the young person’s charity in relation to them, so what issues they personally faced. Then I had to relate this back to the charity in order so that that charity could then implement the changes that they wanted. I think this would directly translate into my roll for VP Welfare and Communities because I’d be going to these communities, going to these people, going these individuals asking what they want from their Student’s Union to improve their welfare, to make them feel like they are part of a community and then pushing for that change within the Student’s Union.
What are the main problems you identify with the current role of VP Welfare and Communities and how would you aim to fix that?
I think one of the most pressing concerns facing students in relation to both welfare and community is the fact that what unites all students at the moment is that they feel like they are not represented by their student’s union. This lack of representation then leads to an alienation and isolation of students so 1. they feel like they are no longer part of the student’s union community and when you feel like you are no longer part of that community that can lead to negative mental health effects because you feel like you are by yourself. I believe this has happened because the student union has played politics where they necessarily shouldn’t be and instead of representing the students as individuals and lifting up what they believe. For example the SU has released sweeping statements on things like the UCU strikes and on political situations like Brexit whereas I think that when you do these sweeping statements whatever side you take you are going to isolate the other whereas I believe that holding things such as forums, holding things such as debates are a better way of representing the students and allowing the students speak their own mind whilst not isolating another group of people. By doing this you are creating a better sense of community which ultimately will lead to better welfare for students because they are being heard by an organisation that is meant to be representing them so they no longer feel isolated and feel part of that Southampton community which is something I very much want to strive for in my role of Welfare and Community.
How would you work to improve equality and diversity in the Student’s Union and the University as a whole?
Obviously with an issue such as this it has to have a multifaceted approach there are many different types of inequalities, there are many different diversities that we want to celebrate here. So for sure, going to those individuals, going to those groups that feel like there are inequalities that feel like diversity needs to be shown more, seeing how they want that shown more and making sure they are involved in that process because when you have a personal issue with something or an issue as a group you want to be involved in seeing that change and making sure that change gets pushed through. I want to make sure that I am pushing for the change that they want as opposed to pushing my own change through. That’s what I’m here for, I’m here to fight on their behalf to make sure that their change that they want to see, to make sure that the inequalities they see are resolved and to make sure that the diversity they want to see is pushed through the Student’s Union.
Following on from instances this year, students have expressed concern with how SUSU and the University have handled racism as well as their treatment of black students in general. What will you do to tackle racism at the University and how will you ensure that the voices of black students are heard?
I think the major issue which kind of came to light because of this was that students felt that there wasn’t any support met in the Student’s Union in the sense of making sure that they are safe and free to raise the concerns that they have to raise, incidents that have happened to them. So really by making sure that when things like this do unfortunately happen, one to try and stop them all together would be the best thing but two, when they do happen to make sure that the student communities that are impacted and that are affected are taken care of and are looked after in the sense of making sure that if something has then happened to them that they know the systems that are in place. For example, there is the reporting and support tool which is used to report incidents that happen. However, I believe that student either one don’t know it exists or two don’t know where to find it so it’s making that more prevalent whether that’s me pushing for it to be put on SUSSED because obviously SUSSED is just inevitably used more than the Student Union Website as that’s where we go for things like our library, our exam timetable, our course timetable, so really making sure that that is there will send an important message to say that you can report these incidences whether that be a racist incident or a sexual assault incident. Really hammering in that message that you are free to report these no matter what and then trying to bring clarity wherever possible when things like that do happen is another thing I will be pushing for.
Part of your role is leading on welfare and community campaigns such as disability awareness week, ‘You Are More Than’, Black History Month, LGBTQ+ month, and Culture Festival. How will you improve student engagement in these campaigns?
I will be actively going to the societies that represent these different cultures that want to get involved to make sure that I am supporting them the best way I can for them to be getting involved with these projects. I think it’s an amazing thing to have all of these wonderful things, to celebrate the diversity of our student community which is a beautiful thing in itself really so making sure that when we are hosting these events to make sure one that the people who want their input in there are getting their input in there and two, to perhaps reach out to student communities that aren’t currently involved in these things but that maybe want to so really taking an active role of locating who has shown interest even if it is timidly because they’re not too sure of how to get involved and telling them they can get involved and that it’s an amazing thing to get involved in by then also liaising with the student officers for those particular things there are many of them and they are a great resource. All this to make sure we celebrate the amazing diversity we have and to raise awareness for the communities that want to raise awareness of certain things because not everybody can live the exact same life that’s kind of the beauty of what life is but that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t be made aware of others issues so making sure that any awareness that they want to be raised during these times are raised and just knowing that each individual person even within the individual group there is like a tailoring that needs to be done. I think people are guilty of homogenising groups whereas everyone has an individual experience, so I think it’s finding the two of cultivating and celebrating a community and making sure that the individuals feel like they are being represented within that.
If you are elected what will be your top three focus areas?
My top three focus areas, one most definitely will be making sure that students feel they are part of a community. I will be doing this by making sure that they feel represented like I said earlier because that’s a massive problem. Student’s feel disenfranchised from SUSU and the sabbatical team. By stopping this gap between the two I believe that we will foster a better community. I will be doing this by making VP Welfare and Community much more visible on all campuses by introducing something similar that lecturers have, lecturers have office hours and I believe that the Sabbs should have drop-in hours so that the students can come to them with concerns they have, with things they think they are doing well with things they think they could do better, with new things they want to see because the biggest challenge of VP Welfare and Community is trying to represent everyone because we are very diverse but I am willing to take that challenge on by having these drop in sections to make sure that the people’s voices are getting heard.
My second thing would again be making sure that when we do events and things like that for groups such as the LGBTQ+ and BAME, that they are getting the input they want and that if there are any changes they want within the Student’s Union as a whole that I am the person they feel like they can come to make sure that I get those concerns pushed through.
Thirdly I would say that mental health is a massive thing at Universities. Mental health as a whole in young people in the UK is on a rise. This can be exacerbated by university because as I said it’s a stressful time we have things like exams that mean a lot, life as a whole can be stressful, finances are hard so really reviewing the current systems available to students surrounding mental health is something I’m very passionate about doing to make sure they are working at the best of their ability and if they’re not, why and how we can fix this. I plan on going to students who don’t mind who have used these services, who don’t mind coming forward saying how they’ve found it, how they think it could be improved and pushing to implement those changes. Also making sure mental health organisations outside of the university are signposted because we’re lucky we live in a fantastic city there are options for us open such as no limit, a great place that works with people up to the age of 25, so just showing that there are a lot more things that you can go to if you do need that extra support and then also within that male mental health is a massive thing. Obviously, we have done well to combat the stigma around male mental health, but are we done, absolutely not. There still needs a lot to be done for it so encouraging men to show that they can go forward when they need to make sure they are being heard and are being supported when they have mental health issues but if they feel like they can’t come forward to encourage the use of email to contact the services which is a more anonymised way of doing it if they do feel pressure of going up the steps to the services in person.
Now we’re going to move on to some candidate specific questions. In your manifesto you mention that you want to support diverse societies that represent different student communities, would you be able to expand a bit more on this?
Yeah so as I said before it’s really taking that tailored, multifaceted approach because there are many communities that have different issues, that have experiences, that have different things they want to celebrate, that have different things they want to raise awareness of so it’s very much making sure that they feel involved in the process of celebrating, of change by keeping them updated about the things I’m pushing for the Student Union and to make sure that it is the change that they want in particular because I am here to push for them. So yeah, really making sure that the connections both between the societies and between the societies and me as well as the current student officers is a strong one by having regular meetings and really making myself more visible to everyone on every campus.
Apart from promoting student societies, how else will you support student who are dealing with issues of settling in and loneliness at University?
Again, with the issue of loneliness and not settling in, it is one that we all face, even not as a fresher you could be going in to your second year or your third year and feeling this way so I think knowing that there is someone that you can go to when you do feel this way, that you are not alone is very important even if it is one person so by making my position more visible on all campuses I believe this will help tackle this. Furthermore, by making sure that things like post graduate coffee mornings are pushed more for postgraduates that are feeling lonely, so they are more visible because that’s a great way of connecting with people. To make sure that if you are feeling alone and are feeling like you can’t find your place whether that’s in halls because you just don’t find that you can connect to your flat, to know that there are other options available such as moving flats, I don’t think a lot of people know that you can move about in halls if you are feeling especially lonely. I want to again just push that community image that I think is lost at the Student’s Union at the minute by again making sure that all students feel represented to make sure that when these things do happen that there are services to fall back on such as enabling services, the advice centre, so on, so forth.
Is there anything else you wanted to say before the interview comes to a close? Any closing statements?
I want to say that I hope that you vote for me for VP Welfare and Communities because I want to make sure that student welfare is looked after whether that is mental health, BAME, LGBTQ+, and everybody else, women, to make sure that they feel represented and to make sure everybody else feels represented by the Student Union as a whole so that people feel that they can come to me as VP Welfare and Communities to make sure that we stop this miscommunication that seems to be happening between the students of Southampton and their Student’s Union because the Student’s Union is meant to be for the students and that’s something that I think will improve welfare and foster a beautiful community.
To find out more about Kayleigh and her policies, you can read here manifesto here.