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Wessex Scene were able to interview Aycha Ates-Di Adamo about their campaign to be the next VP Welfare and Community.
Aycha elected to answer these questions during an interview.
Why did you apply for the role of VP Welfare and Community?
I applied because I’m really passionate about health and wellbeing at the university, as I mentioned in my manifesto. I’m really dedicated and want to help foster healthy, safe and inclusive environments for everyone. I think another reason is also because I’m really passionate about wanting to improve the quality of services offered to students. I’m currently the President of CASHES, which I founded – that’s the Consent Awareness Society at university. Through doing this, I’ve been able to help lots of other students and I think I want to use those experiences to expand everything else. I’ve noticed that from doing CASHES unlike other committees and helping with other well-being things at university, there’s a lot of bureaucracy and often policies aren’t led from the bottom up. They’re mainly top-down policies and so I want to ensure that students actually get a say in the services and policies that are affecting them. I think another reason is also my own experiences as well with the services offered by the university and the lack of representation I felt across the services. As a student, I’ve accessed mental health services, the disability and inclusion service, and I’m a minority ethnic student. I’m also a mature student and being unrepresented at university is something that I’ve really struggled with. And so I really want to increase representation for everyone and ensure that well-being at the university is for everyone.
If you were elected, what would be your top three areas of focus?
I think the first one would definitely be student safety, especially concerning sexual harassment and sexual assault. One of my key policies is to create a ‘Southampton Says Enough’ campaign and this is based on a campaign that was run at Central SU in London and it was really effective. And so I want to use the foundations that they’ve built to bring that over here. I’m really passionate about wanting to tackle sexual misconduct on campus. From being the President of CASHES, I’ve helped push towards tackling this. I think, like many other students, being sexually harassed, being spiked, is something that I’ve experienced myself and it’s not been a nice experience. I felt like the university wasn’t very supportive during those experiences and so I want to use my campaign to highlight those issues. I think also a lot of things that occur with sexual harassment, sexual assault are down to the lack of education that students have on things. And so within the whole campaign, it’s going to be mainly an education campaign, just to educate students on consent and sex education. There are so many students that I’ve spoken to who are who’ve never had good sex education, never had good consent, never been told things about safety on a night out. I think that that’s really important. University should be a fun time for students. You shouldn’t have to worry about being sexually harassed or sexually assaulted on a night out or in halls or by other students. There was a survey (2019) that said 75% of students had an unwanted sexual experience at university. Obviously, we want to reduce that and we want to make sure that that doesn’t happen. Generally, student safety is one of my main areas. It also mentioned that 2% of students felt unable to report it to universities as well which is really, really low. Student safety also revolves around the reporting process. I really want to change that and fix that as well. I spoke to loads of students who are from societies and they said that there isn’t really a standardised process for them to follow as well for safety and socials and events. So I also want to implement a charter and a set of rules that societies can follow if they ever have an incident. The report and support tool is to be better advertised. Victims can access that and an anti spiking campaign as well because it’s all good and well giving out drink lids at Stags, but if we’re not actually targeting the issue with education, it’s not really gonna go away. That’s something I’m really passionate about.
I think another thing that I’m really passionate about is an intersectional, inclusive campaign. I want SUSU, the university and societies to work together to improve and showcase the culture and the diversity that we have at the university. We just had Chinese New Year and I didn’t see anything on campus for that. I have a lot of friends who are Chinese students and I feel like there’s a big lack of representation for them. I think Chinese New Year is really important to them. It’s something that we should be celebrating as a diverse university. It’s something that everyone should be able to learn about. We should have celebrated it more and I think that there are a lot of students from other cultures who feel that they have a lot of important events that they probably want to showcase and they probably want the university to look at and put on. There are so many on-campus spaces that can be used to celebrate other cultures and raise awareness of cultures and we should be allowing students in societies to use them for this purpose. One of the main things I want to do is work with clubs and societies. Let them lead the types of events and awareness days, just create a better community feel across campus. I think I’ve said this already, but there are so many incredible societies that should be involved and so many people that should be represented that just aren’t. Even when SUSU does hold campaign and awareness days, they’re mainly poorly run or not well advertised. It’s all good and well to increase the amount of them, but we want to increase the quality of them as well and I think as VP, that’s something I definitely really want to do.
My other main one is definitely to do with my on-campus medical/safe space. I really want to introduce this because I think students should have access to a variety of services. I feel like the Wellbeing team and the University Health service, there are lots of things that they can’t provide or the waitlist is too long or students sometimes just need a space where they can just drop in, talk to someone, say hi and be like, ‘This is what I need,’ and it can get done within 5 minutes instead of having to do lots of admin. Every fortnight, I really want to add a drop-in medical space in the SUSU foyer. So there’ll be lots of charity representatives, people from the SUSU advice team, people from a mental health team, a nurse and a sexual health advisor. All these different types of people so students can have access to that support. I think that the waitlist for the student disability and inclusion team and the student wellbeing team are often way too long and the University Health Service. You phone up and it’s 2 weeks when you get an appointment even when it’s something that could be done straight away. So I think by having these drop-in sessions, you can drop in and get it sorted and there’s no waitlist and you just go in and speak to people. I think implementing it will also help cut the waitlist for everything else as well. The way that I am visualising it is by having the on-campus medical space we can speed up the process for students who just need advice or just a drop-in thing rather than a specific service such as a counsellor or a 12-week program. It means that those students who need those specific services will then have shorter waiting lists because the students who have already gone to the medical space can access them elsewhere. I think that the on-campus medical thing also allows the university to offer services that they can’t currently offer – things like STI and STD and HIV testing. I know that sometimes Let’s Talk About It comes on campus and does HIV testing, but I think that if there’s a routine of getting into it, more students will get tested for sexual health, sexual diseases. I think that’s really important. I think that we have a well-being cupboard which is really supportive, but students need more than a well-being cupboard. This should include accessible advice and they should be able to go there and it should be accessible.
I’m conscious of time, but it’s good that you have so much to say. What’s something that SUSU provides that you like? And what is something that you would like to change or alter?
I think something that SUSU provides that I do like is the student wellbeing team and the disability inclusion service. That’s something that I’ve used before. I’ve found it effective. I found their support really useful, especially as a disabled student. There are so many struggles that I face across the university, so having them there has been incredible and the support that they offer has been really good to me from personal experience. But I know that that isn’t the same for other students, some students may find that the disability team might not be as inclusive as they want it to be. I think, although that’s something I really like, it’s something that can also be improved as well. I think to make it more accessible, it needs to be led by students who have disabilities so that we openly listen to everyone. I really wanna set up a task force for disabled students so that they can improve the services that are offered to them. I have anxiety. I have depression. And it’s really difficult to navigate university because a lot of people don’t see them as proper disabilities. And, so, I want it to be inclusive. Depression and anxiety, physical disabilities, everyone can get involved with this task force to improve what we have at the university.
How would you offer support to students who hold welfare positions within societies as they’re volunteers who usually have to go far beyond their role requirements to support fellow students?
I think that that’s a very important thing. I know that it used to be required that every society would have to have a welfare secretary and I know that now it’s not a requirement anymore. I definitely want to bring that back as a requirement, but to make sure that they are safe as well, especially with a second example of dealing with an incident of light, sexual assault or sexual harassment. I’ve got a charter that I want to implement for the society so that the wellbeing team can look at this Charter and follow the rules and advice off the charts. There’ll be a resource within this charter, which would be specific to sexual harassment and sexual assault. This can be expanded because I know that having regular drop-in sessions with students and taking on their advice, it would be important for me to meet with the wellbeing secs on a weekly basis just to ensure that they’re OK. They’re getting the help and support that they need. I think that they need a space and a community space where they can come together as well. For example, a wellbeing rep from a particular society can talk to another wellbeing rep of another society, we can have that community space where they can access mental health resources, where they can access other support in case things get too much. I also think it’s important to remember that the role of wellbeing reps is to assist and support students, but it shouldn’t be their responsibility to do it all the time. SUSU has a responsibility to ensure students are safe and they should be acting on that responsibility. It shouldn’t always be down to the well-being team or well-being people within societies to have to act upon issues. They should be properly supported. So regular drop-in sessions with them. The charter that I want to implement is to make sure that there are resources. I think that those are definitely things that could support students, but also proper training as well. I think that’s important. Training on how to deal with welfare issues. I know that a lot of the people on the CASHES committee have taken part in welfare training and it’s important for us that we signpost rather than engage in personal experiences because that can be really deep and really triggering for some students. Educating people on signposting to resources and ensuring that anyone who is struggling in a committee has a support network, a community network where they can talk to people from other committees, but also drop-in with me, have a chat and they should be the ones that are leading what they need help and support with. So, talking to them and putting policies in place that are from them.
Your manifesto mentions a vast number of promises that span a lot of departments. Are you able to reassure students that you will be able to achieve the little things without getting distracted by the bigger picture?
I think so. I think a lot of the stuff that I’ve put in my manifesto is based on things that I’ve seen that already works successfully at other universities, so they already have the framework to implement it here. I went to another university before I came here. That’s how I know about the central SU campaign. So I know that framework in and out. I know that I can implement my ‘Southampton Says Enough’ campaign just as effectively here as it was implemented there. We have so many SUSU officers at the university – we have a BAME officer – and they can work on things that led from ‘Expect Respect’, but also my student task forces can help with leading all the policies that I’ve got in my manifesto. A lot of them are based on improving the foundations that we already have. For example, the medical space is promising a new thing, but I already have the context from working with CASHES. I already know who to contact and I already can contact them. I have really close connections with them so I know that I can implement that and I can get that done quickly and efficiently. I know that SUSU already had experiences with student task forces. I was on the tackling harassment advisory panel, so there’s already a foundation there for that to make work. I think when reading my manifesto, although there are lots of different things, I think they are achievable working with other officers, working with the foundations that I’ve already seen at other universities and also working with the connections that I’ve had from being part of lots of different community organisations. I think that although I’m one person, as VP wellbeing and Community, there is a team that supports within SUSU. It’s not just down to one person to achieve these policies. There will be other people working with me and I do want to include the officers more so that they can lead some of the policies as well. I don’t think that I have overpromised and I do think that the majority is achievable.
Wessex Scene attempted to contact Maryam Malakoutikhah but unfortunately were not able to set up an interview.