Wessex Scene interview Savanna Cutts, who is running for the role of VP Welfare and Communities in the 2021 SUSU Leadership Elections.
Why have you decided to run for the role of VP Welfare and Communities?
For many years I have had a strong interest in equality, diversity and social mobility; having been on widening participation schemes myself. Then seeing the type of work and projects the VP Welfare and Community gets to work on really sparked my interest. It is a role where you have a lot of scope to make substantive change within the student community at Southampton, which I think is something unique and positive.
What experience do you have that would make you an excellent fit for the role?
Firstly, I currently sit on the Widening Participation Student Advisory Board at the University, so I get first-hand experience of promoting equality and diversity. As well, I am currently a Senator for SUSU, and this has given me a close insight into the current VP Welfare and Communities works and the processes that are followed as a sabbatical officer. In addition, last year I was President of the Lawyers without Borders society, so I have good leadership and organization skills. I have a strong work ethic and I will always go the extra mile, demonstrated through various jobs and voluntary positions I have held whilst studying.
What are the main problems you identify with the current role of VP Welfare and Communities, and how would you fix that?
Due to the pandemic, there has been a lack of transparency to some students around what sabbatical officers do, especially those new to the University. It is already quite overwhelming for them, and so I think a lot of information gets lost in translation and students are not necessarily as aware as they would be pre-Covid of the Union and the Sabbatical Officers. Therefore, I would try to build upon the rapport developed with students and once teaching resumes on campus, hold open forum meetings. Engagement can be hard to achieve, but I would do my best to ensure that students are receiving updates from me and provide them with clear opportunities to get involved and raise their concerns.
Considering it can be hard for people to come forward with their concerns, how do you intend to engage students on welfare issues?
I would utilise various means of submitting concerns, such as directly but also through online forms that could be anonymous to encourage more students to share their concerns. I want to ensure that no student feels like they cannot raise any issues they have. Additionally, my proposed initiative of running a greater number of campaigns should help students have more opportunities to engage in and learn about issues that affect students.
How would you work to improve equality and diversity within the Students’ Union as a whole?
I would continue to work closely with the Widening Participation team and the Student Advisory Board to continue achieving and monitoring progress towards the University’s Participation Plan. I would also research the viability of SUSU running a diversity scheme in various areas that students could apply to.
Students have expressed concerns with how the university has handled the COVID-19 pandemic and its impact on student welfare. What will you do to ensure that the university ensures the welfare of all members of the university community is a priority in the next academic year?
I will directly lobby the Vice-President of Education to ensure this comes to fruition and I will ask for transparency regarding what measures the University has set out to mitigate the harm caused by the pandemic on students.
Part of your role is leading on Welfare & Community campaigns such as Disability Awareness Week, ‘You are More Than’, Black History Month, LGBT+ Month and Culture Festival. How will you improve student engagement in these campaigns?
I will build up momentum for the campaigns through various media sources to advertise them and effectively spread the word to students. Within the campaigns I will make sure I hold a wide range of events so that there is something for everyone to enjoy. Providing a greater range of events will hopefully help spark interest.
If you are elected, what will be your top three focus areas?
- Tackling loneliness through greater proliferation of the buddy scheme and an increase in initiatives to help create a community feel amongst students.
- Provide a larger platform for students from low-income backgrounds.
- Push for increased mental health support and targeted schemes to help students thrive throughout their degrees.
In your manifesto you mention wanting to increase funding and accessibility to Enabling Services, can you expand on how you intend to do this?
For funding, I will lobby University officials and produce a report to them on student mental health to show the necessity of providing mental health support in a greater capacity. For accessibility, I will create resources and materials to be distributed to all students to show how to contact Enabling Services and the process to go through so that students are better informed on how they can seek help if they need it.
You also mention hoping to create a ‘hub’ for students from low-income backgrounds, what would this ‘hub’ involve?
This would involve an online and in-person element. The online element would be a group on Teams, or another platform where meetings can be held virtually, in which I would share information that can help better support them and where students can introduce themselves to one another. In-person (where allowed), this hub would involve the chance to have a ‘coffee and a chat’ style session multiple times a term where the students can meet and share their experiences. It will hopefully help create a community where students from low-income backgrounds can meet people alike to them in terms of shared experiences and chat with one another.