In the run up to the 2015 SUSU election, the Wessex Scene team have been interviewing the candidates running for sabbatical positions. Here, we interview Sam Bailey, hoping to win his place as VP Welfare.
What distinguishes you from the other candidates running?
I’ve got the breadth of experience and the track record to show that I can get things done for students. Over the past year, I’ve been Equality and Diversity officer and have worked on a number of different initiatives to ensure that everything SUSU does is accessible to all. I’ve also been President of the LGBT society and, during my time, we’ve set up a new Winchester wing of the society while also working with some vulnerable young people to help them make the most of their time here. I have ideas that cover the entirety of the welfare section, as demonstrated by my manifesto. Having constructed and adapted these ideas over the past few months, I feel they represent the things that matter to students on an everyday basis.
You’ve split your manifesto into five parts, with a big focus on housing. You make mention of a ‘drop-in’ advice clinic for student housing. How is this different to the incumbent housing agency that SUSU provide and who would run something like this?
At the moment, we have SUSU lettings who are essentially an independent letting agency run by the union. They make sure that we can offer students houses that are of a good quality while ensuring that the landlords are complying with all the rules and regulations. We also have the SUSU advice centre, who provide a fantastic service for students in offering impartial information on housing amongst other things. I intend to move the advice centre onto the concourse at the start of the Spring Term, to improve visibility and accessibility. At the moment, the advice centre is in the Hub in Building 40 which can be quite hard to find so I want, for a couple of weeks in January/February, have some of those staff down on the concourse as part of a ‘drop-in’ clinic. We have some brilliant resources available so we just need to ensure that students can access them and are aware they exist.
You talk about campaigning against unpaid internships yet the state of the graduate job market combined with a deeply competitive field mean that it would be difficult to receive well paid internships. How would you go about changing what amounts to a nationwide trend?
Obviously all work experience is vital but I’d look to improve the accessibility of these opportunities. Lots of companies offer internships in offices based a long way from home and students from lower-income background just cannot afford to pay for travel and living costs. I strongly believe that your financial background should not be a barrier to internships and work experience. It’s really important that you are given fair reward for the work that you do otherwise students from lower income families just cannot be competitive in the job market. Obviously we can only have a small impact on a nationwide scale but I really think we can improve things for our students. I would look to ensure that any internships that SUSU or the university advertised were paid fairly. We can also use our Corporate Critic scheme, which is a policy that the union set up, where we look at all of our suppliers and ensure that they follow a certain set of ethical rules that students have flagged up as important. If we were to add internships into that, we would make sure that the companies SUSU work with know that we are passionate about making sure our students get the best deal they can.
There are plenty of talking organisations that try to deal with mental health but how would your version capture the imagination? Considering our generation is dominated by devices which make it easier to talk, we often remain silent about issues which trouble us.
The figures are certainly shocking; around 1 in 5 students at university suffer from a mental health related issue but only 1 in 10 will seek help. I want to change this introspective culture- people need to know where to go, how to talk and who to talk to. At the moment, we have a good range of services available. One example is Nightline, which is an independent listening helpline run by students while we also have enabling services at the University where you can go and receive all types of support. We also have the Advice Centre which deals with queries and questions on a daily basis. I want to make sure that Freshers get information when they arrive about the services available; it might seem quite simple and patronising but a few reassuring messages can be a big help to students who are struggling with living away from home for the first time. The stigma around talking about mental health issues needs to be addressed and I intend to make that happen if I were to be elected.
You’ve previously worked as equality and diversity officer as well as your presidency of the LGBT society. With the various equality scandals littering the newspapers recently, how important would it be to you that equality and diversity was valued highly at Southampton?
It’s hugely important to me. It’s also critical that we value it across SUSU to ensure the various clubs, groups and societies are on the same page. I’ve always wanted to make sure everyone within the Southampton student body has a voice as we are a hugely ethnically and socially diverse population. There are so many different languages spoken, so many different religions practised and so many cultures celebrated that I want a fair representation within the union for every group. It’s really important that we not only recognise that diversity but that we also celebrate it. We need to ensure we are talking and communicating with the different groups to ensure they are fairly represented within the union. At the end of the day, SUSU is only as relevant as the people who are in it.