Wessex Scene interview Gitanjali Srinivasan, who is running for the role of VP Activities in the 2021 SUSU Leadership Elections.
Why have you decided to run for the role VP Activities?
As a current VP of a society, I have seen how little we can do due to COVID. I aimed to do a lot of work and give a lot of help to law students but I have been unable to. This makes me passionate to get to a position where I can truly create.
I want all students to have a memorable and enjoyable start to their university career, just as I have had. Activities and meeting people are essential to our mental health because we are social creatures. Mental health is something I feel very strongly about and it is worsening under the current conditions. So I am stepping forward because I have seen the issues that have arisen, and I am passionate to create change.
What experience do you have that would make you an excellent fit for the role?
Currently, there is a lot of legal issues that need to be considered due to COVID, and as a law student I feel I have the sufficient critical thinking skills and creativity to be able to create a fair balance between the law and still holding fun activities.
I have also worked with St. John Ambulance as a first aid cadet for almost 4 years. This helped me to understand the importance of volunteering and I aim to increase volunteering opportunities within the university.
As the VP of Advocacy Development in the Mooting Society, I understand what it is like to be a part of a society and not be able to do anything. This understanding will aid me in helping societies better as I understand what it is like to be in their position.
What are the main problems you identify with the current role of VP Activities and how would you fix that?
There was a lack of preparation for COVID because the pandemic was just beginning so they could not have prepared. I will work to understand the law and to try and create legal but still fun and interactive activities.
I feel that currently there are not enough lobbies and protests, especially not ones that are effective. I will work to hold the University accountable for their actions that ignore students’ and society’s needs and will push for societies to get more aid.
I also do not see much communication, especially not clear communication, between the University and students. Just as I will work to hold the University accountable, I will also work my hardest to ensure transparency and clarity in the University’s decisions and will make them listen to votes, lobbies and protests if there are enough supporters.
For media societies, editorial independence is important, especially when it comes to holding SUSU to account. Do you agree? Given that there’s been renewed concerns about censorship in recent years, how will you work with media heads to ensure that the principle of freedom of the press is upheld?
My goal will be to create a balance between kindness and editorial independence. I feel freedom of speech should not be censored and that people should say controversial stuff because university is the time to learn about these controversial topics, explore different opinions, make mistakes and find out what we truly believe in. Editorial independence is extremely important so that people are not affected by anyone’s agenda and true opinions can be expressed.
I feel that we cannot have a true opinion on the matter if we do not fully understand it and if we have not looked at all available opinions, so I am greatly opposed to censorship. However, a balance must be created between this and hindering hate speech, anything inciting hate/harm, fake news and anything illegal. I will work to educate both myself and others to understand how to distinguish these two things, so people can be more educated but still not be censored.
The role of VP Activities involves a LOT of responsibilities – least of all 214+ societies! How will you balance the different elements of this role to ensure nothing is neglected?
I will push to have more regular meetings between society presidents. The societies will be told to discuss with each other any issues they want to bring up and will also be told to ask that to students who take part in their society before the meeting. This way, we can address a lot of issues and more regularly. As it is being done regularly, it means that we can stay on top of everything.
I will delegate the work to presidents and vice presidents, if I feel that they can best address the matter, and will take on the work that I feel I can address the best. I will make sure to prioritise the work in terms of time and importance.
I will make sure that societies know who to contact if they would like to discuss anything outside of the presidents meetings. I’ll make sure that they will both be able contact me directly and can also use ‘You Make Change’ to put any general issues out there.
How will you support and develop employability for students?
I want to give more aid to academic societies so one of their goals will be to support students academically. There are so many people struggling academically at the moment and may not be able to balance studies and other commitments they have, so I feel academic aid will help students stay on top of their work. This consequently means that students are less stressed and have more time to take part in other activities, especially ones that increase employability. If the students don’t already have other commitments, then with less stress and more time they may opt to volunteer or may go to workshops.
I also want to increase opportunities for volunteering. This can be done both online and offline, and will enhance people’s CVs. It can also be good for your mental health to know that you are giving help to those in need.
I will also focus on working with companies to run employability events, speeches, networking events, workshops etc. We have not had as many employability events as we did prior, and the ones that were there were not very engaging. I aim to take feedback from students and work with the companies to give the best possible employability events.
This year most societies have faced huge budget cuts, how do you intend to tackle this issue in the following year?
The university’s spending has decreased and we are getting less as an outcome, but we are still paying the £9k tuition fees (international students pay more than double that). So, I will lobby the university to take action against this; they either need to make tuition cuts or increase spending for societies. The university has shown that they do not wish to cut tuition so I will lobby for societies budgets to be increased.
If you were elected, what would be your top three areas of focus?
My first focus will be on the accessibility of events, which I will discuss more in detail below. Secondly, I want to focus on giving more power to societies and having a true democracy, so that the university listens to our lobbies and protests. Finally, I want to focus on giving students of all years a memorable freshers week. I truly enjoyed my first year and that is something everyone deserves, so I will focus on putting my all into running big events, working with businesses and different societies so students can start their degree in a positive way.
In your manifesto you mention that lobbies and protests should have more power, how do you intend to ensure the results of these lobbies and protests are heard?
I feel it is important for SUSU to never be complacent, and always look to improve the conditions within the university. COVID has reduced our ability to do that, but we still need to take action. I will work with the university to ensure a balance is met between business needs and the students’ needs. At the moment, students voices are being ignored so I will work hard to make sure a compromise is met.
Similar to how Parliament reacts, if votes reach a certain number then they will have to take that matter seriously and have a debate on whether to do it or not. I think these discussions should include SUSU members so we can make sure that, as I said above, a compromise is met. We also need to take harsher actions if the University is complacent or ignoring our needs without fair reason. For example, just like the lecturers at the start of 2020, we may also have to strike if important matters don’t get addressed properly.
How do you intend to make both online and in-person events more accessible?
I would first like to ensure that financial barriers are removed. I will work on bringing awareness on the variety of financial aid available and will also fight to increase societies’ budgets if tuition cuts are not granted. If tuition cuts are granted then people will have more finances to spend on the university and so it will be fair to keep the budget cuts. However, the university is making the same amount of money from us but are spending less, so that needs to change in order to make societies more financially accessible.
If next year there are still international students who are studying from abroad, then I will focus on making sure they can also take part in some activities. Time-zones are the main issue here, so I will work to help the societies hold activities at a time that is reasonable for both countries. Another thing that could be done is to get someone within the country to help run the activities, so people from that country can also take part.
I will work continuously with the VP of Welfare and Community to make sure everyone is being treated kindly and equally. I will also work to publicise ‘You Make Change’ on the SUSU website, so if the students are coming across any issues with societies then we can be made aware. I also aim to have both online and in-person versions of all big events. When it is legal to do so, I will hold in-person events which are more engaging, so people can have more fun and can meet more people. However, those with disabilities, other commitments, studying from abroad etc. will not be left out if there is also an online version of those events.
I have also noticed that stress and workload seem to have increased this year, which has meant people don’t have the time or energy to take part in other events. We are not receiving the same amount of/quality of teaching or same amount of aid from the University, in terms of our education, as we were prior to COVID. Therefore, one of my aims is to help academic societies provide more educational support, such as having study groups. This will reduce stress, improve the student’s grades and will give them more time to take part in other activities.