Wessex Scene interviewed Grace Lampkin, who is running for VP education and Democracy.
Why have you decided to run for the role of VP Education & Democracy?
I have been at the university for four years and I have never really felt represented or listened to by SUSU. I am running for VP Education and Democracy because, now more than ever, students’ views need to be listened to and valued as the university develops its strategy for the upcoming academic year.
What experience do you have that would make you an excellent fit for the role?
I’ve been told by the university so many times, as a course rep in my first year and when discussing problems with the university’s approach to COVID-19 impacted-assessment, that ‘That’s the way that it is.’ From my four years studying at Southampton, participating in SUSU societies and trying to make changes that students deserve to see, I know the importance of a Students’ Union that actually listens to students, pushes for change at the university and can report tangible results.
What are the main problems you identify with the current role of VP Education & Democracy and how would you fix that?
The main challenge over the next year will be how the university and SUSU runs during the Covid-19 pandemic. The university’s approach to Semester 2 assessment was vastly different to other universities and marks are being released much later than other universities. In my experience, different modules’ approaches to online learning was a muddle of information strung across Microsoft Teams, Blackboard and eAssignments with no consistency. The end of projects and weighting of assignments was ill-managed and confusing. The university needs to listen to the opinions of students from all courses in all scenarios and I will work for an education experience that actually helps you learn, is flexible and is value for your money.
SUSU has faced a lot of criticism this year for the method and execution of their all-student-votes, with some students arguing that they are neither democratic nor a mandate for action. What is your opinion on this, and how will you tackle this issue in the role?
I think that SUSU’s use of the single transferable voting system is commendable and a more democratic than, say, a first past the post system. The main problem lies with lack of engagement of students and a low turnout. If some students feel that the all-student-votes are not democratic, then I think it would be important to listen to their point of view and find where the underlying problems are.
How will you improve the visibility of things like SUSU’s AGM/Making Change Summit, Union Senate and the You Make Change platform? Furthermore, what would you like to see students bring to these platforms?
These platforms should be such a powerful way of engaging with students and taking on board their ideas, but they are continually down-played. I first heard about the suggestion of a SUSU shop meal-deal literally 3 years ago – why has this not happened?
Student engagement in the SUSU elections has seen a huge decline this year, with many positions (including this one) remaining unfilled and the number of voters dropping from 4,323 to 2,145. Why do you think this has happened, and how do you propose to revive interest in student politics?
I believe that it is everybody’s responsibility to be engaged in SUSU’s elections. However, if students cannot see the impact that any sabbatical officer, academic rep or course rep makes, then how can we expect them to care? Enticing us to vote by offering donuts on the redbrick only goes so far. SUSU should be transparent and dedicate resources to both implementing students’ ideas and advertising and communicating that. If a student sees change being implemented throughout their time at university, then trust will be developed and they will be more likely to believe that they can speak truth to power and make a change within the Union.
What will you do to support students whose studies have been impacted by the UCU Strike Action?
The lack of action from the university that I have experienced through two UCU strikes is appalling, both in support and compensation to students and addressing the problems that the lecturers and staff have. Students are paying customers of the university, and if we are not being given the education that has been promised to us, we should be lobbying to be compensated and for change to occur.
What is your opinion on making recorded lectures compulsory?
Every lecture should absolutely be recorded to increase flexibility of learning and improve accessibility for all students. Although the work of previous sabbatical officers in this role have pushed for a gradual increase in lecture recording, I have first-hand experience with lecturers who refuse to record their lectures, which has had an effect on my learning. It is clear that more needs to be done, and that particular focus should be placed on shifting the attitudes of lecturers and dealing with concerns on a more personal basis.
How will you support the academic interests of students who are typically sidelined, such as Joint Honours students, disabled students and postgrads?
Reaching out to these students and listening to their point of view will be really important. I can’t expect students to come to me with their problems or successes – I will have to meet all students where they are. This may mean engaging more with societies and having a more active presence on all campuses.
If you were elected, what would be your top three areas of focus?
I can go on about how, in an ideal world, SUSU should represent every student and that major change needs to happen for that to be possible. However, this change takes time. For the coming year, I believe that immediate focus should be on standing up for students amidst the pandemic and ensuring that their education is not compromised. Therefore, these are my three main areas of focus:
- An education experience during the pandemic that is effective, flexible and value for money.
- Learning and assessment that takes all student views into account.
- A step in the right direction for listening to students and actively showing that SUSU is making changes that they want to see
How do you think the Students Union could do better to tackle things like racism and homophobia, as you mention in your manifesto?
Engaging with student communities within the university such as all the international societies, LGBT+ society and the Southampton Black Students’ Network will be a really important step in listening to students’ experiences and discovering where the university should do better. There will be so many systematic problems within SUSU and the university and it will take hard work, consultation and commitment to uproot these. Representation within SUSU’s elected officers is important, as is anti-racism, anti-homophobia and anti-sexist policies for societies and on campus. What good is SUSU raising awareness during Black History Month or Disability Awareness Week, if there is no ongoing work to continue raising awareness and solve the problems that these students face?
In what ways could the university be more transparent?
The university should be very clear on how it is listening to students and what is being done to give them an education during the pandemic that is fair to them and actually a good learning experience. SUSU should facilitate this and provide updates and continual communication with the student community. This can particularly be done through more frequent consultation with course reps, to ensure that the two-way communication is tailored towards the students on each degree course.
You can access Grace’s manifesto here https://www.susu.org/elections/why/11500/grace-lampkin.html
Disclaimer: Wessex Scene reached out to all of those running for the role VP Education and Democracy , but were unable to reach some candidates.