Wessex Scene interviews Joanne Lisney, who is running for the role of Union President in the 2021 SUSU Leadership Elections.
Why have you decided to run for the role of Union President?
I have held various roles in my 4 years at university. From being involved with student media, being bar staff, to VP Education and Democracy for 2019/20 and current Faculty of Arts and Humanities Officer, these different walks of the University have enriched my understanding of SUSU. I am keen to take the ideas of previous presidents and make them business as usual whilst working on my own ideas for halls, sites, strategy thinking and sustainability. I am also not done with annoying the University, haha! Of course, I mean that in a positive sense. I want the student experience to improve, and that is what spurred me to run for this role.
What experience do you have that would make you an excellent fit for the role?
I was successfully elected as VP Education and Democracy previously. Within my term, I gained leadership experience as I led over 400 reps (who did a great job despite the circumstances!) and now have a great knowledge of how SUSU and the University work both together and individually. I was the lead on the push for no-detriment for the last academic year and therefore have good insight on educational issues that could be transferred to Presidency and help support the new VP Education and Democracy in their role. This has built strong relationships within my role with senior staff such as Alex Neill, Mark E. Smith, Mark Spearing etc. As a result, I know how to approach them on sensitive topics. This, in turn, means that they are likely to listen to me because I know how to get through to them, whether that’s in the University Senate (which I did as VP Education and Democracy) or in regular catch-ups.
Furthermore, as Faculty of Arts and Humanities Officer for this academic year, I continue to work with SUSU reps and senior academic staff for my faculty and Alex Neill (once again), as well as sitting on University Senate once again. Within my role, it has been hard this year as there has not been a Winchester School of Arts (WSA) President, but I stepped up to merge this role with mine to ensure those voices are heard. It is this adaptability and continual change that I have had firsthand that makes me ideal for the role.
What are the main problems you identify with the current role of Union President and how would you fix that?
The remit is too big. By that I mean, the role requires you to be the main University contact, alongside the remit, and also being there for students. I have seen just how tough the presidency can be!
To rectify that, I would work with the VP Education and Democracy a lot more as they are also deputy and I would trust them to go into university meetings on my behalf if I need to be in other university meetings. Of course, this would take into account their workload and plans. Furthermore, prioritising meetings I need to be at over ones I do not will be key. Even when we are back at campus, I hope to embrace Teams video calls more as I would be able to attend virtually if I were unable to, e.g. I am travelling to a conference but need to be there.
As for being seen, it is about getting out there physically and virtually. If I can’t be in person on campus, I can put videos out, call people etc. as sometimes posts do not work, and you must adapt to overcome it.
How will you work to improve SUSU’s presence and visibility on campuses other than Highfield, especially considering the current circumstances regarding online learning?
Going by recent government announcements, we are hoping to open part of the campus during summer which would give SUSU a big boost in interaction, e.g. posters, events and so on. However, I am keen to set up SUSU accounts that many international students have (WeChat being the biggest example) to help keep them up-to-date and interact with them. I would also like to set up regular calls with our students from Malaysia as they are a part of the community too and are often neglected.
However, we can never know what will happen. If things do not go to plan, I would be looking at ensuring that we utilise our social media accounts but not overload students because everything online is overwhelming. By spreading messages through Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, LinkedIn etc. It means we can specifically target different groups of people and aim to not overwhelm people. It is hard and I can’t fix this, but we can switch up how we would interact online with others.
SUSU released a new strategy in the fall, with their new core values being ‘Stand Strong’, ‘Join Together’ and ‘Take Responsibility’. How will you work to ensure that these values are upheld within the union?
I would like to work on monthly updates that directly address these values. So, 3 sections under those titles and how I have managed to keep them this month (so examples of work that upholds them). As for the Union, it is to make sure that we integrate them into our democratic process so that if they are broken e.g, a club social goes wrong, the disciplinary committee takes these core values into account. It is important to hold the Sabbs [Sabbatical Officers] to account, but this also applies to any officially elected representative.
Students throughout the country have been demanding the implementation of a Safety Net or No Detriment Policy this year. How will you respond to the students’ demand for such policies and how will you work to ensure student voices are heard?
This is a tricky one. Avila (VP Education and Democracy 2020/21) is currently undertaking this task. Although the current policy is not exactly the same as in 2019/20, Avila had successfully gathered feedback to help put a form of mitigation in.
However, I understand we still may be under restrictions in the next presidential term and of course, things need to be adapted. Worst case, I will work with the Sabb team, reps, the student body, SUSU directors and CEO on contingency plans. We would have two years’ worth of data by now to help make a compelling case to the University and would team up with other students’ unions to lobby this cause. I am persistent and I’d choose to die on this hill if this is what it came to!
What does ‘accountability’ mean to you? How will you work to ensure SUSU and Sabbatical Officers are appropriately held to account?
So Sabbs are held accountable to the Union Senate that is made up of 16 Senators and a Chair of Senate. Anyone who is a student can run! They are the ones to ensure Sabbs are doing what they were elected to do and can question them about progress, etc. That is the formal way if it is a representational issue. If it is an HR issue, then there is a formal internal SUSU process that happens. This all depends on the issue.
As their line manager, it is important to hold frank conversations if things have gone wrong. From this, I would seek support from the most appropriate personnel on where we go next, depending on the situation. This may come from statements from the Sabbatical in question or presenting the issue to, say, the Union Senate or HR. The President is the head of the Union and if we had made a major mistake, I would be willing to step down in my position if it is called for. I would be the head and therefore that would fall on me to rectify the problem or, as stated, resign.
This year more than ever, international students have felt disconnected from the university experience and the union, how will you work to ensure that international students are fairly represented?
This is an area I would look into if I were elected. I will have this covered under my Equality Diversity & Inclusion (ED&I) strategy. (This comes up later.)
I have been working with a lot of international students across the University and in particular, WSA, about this. One major thing that I would wish to investigate and improve is tackling the barriers that these students see with running for committee positions, course rep, leadership positions, etc. Many of those whom I spoke to have amazing ideas! We are a diverse community, and all parts of the university experience should reflect that.
With the current coronavirus pandemic and the move to largely online learning, what will you do to ensure that the education and student experience is up to par with what we have come to expect from our time at the University of Southampton?
I will address the elephant in the room: it hasn’t been the best year for anyone in education. However, I am aware that many VP Education and Democracy candidates are keen to tackle this as part of their manifesto and I would not want to steal their thunder as President. I would support them in their drive to work in partnership with the University by taking issues about this to council and the University senate. It is difficult but maintaining good relationships with academic and executive staff means that they would be inclined to listen and attempt to make improvements regarding this.
If you were elected, what would be your top three areas of focus?
Rolling out food donation banks at halls. This came from students wanting to get involved with volunteering that wouldn’t take up too much time and help the local community. This will simultaneously allow for students to volunteer and to improve community relations by demonstrating that we care for the community.
Match the University on their sustainability strategy. The last two presidents have worked tirelessly on sustainability on the University’s side, now it is time we turned to do the same internally. We should be proud of the steps the University takes to becoming greener and more sustainable, but that should also apply to SUSU.
To make SUSU more representative. This is followed up below!
How will you ensure that SUSU is more representative as an organisation?
SUSU does not have an ED&I strategy which is a shame. The University has one though and has given me an understanding of what we should aspire to follow. Working with the new head of ED&I at the University, I would love to learn more about it as I work with the directors, CEO, trustee board, reps and student body to construct a reflective and representational strategy.
How will you ensure better SUSU visibility and space across all University sites and not just Highfield?
There has been talk about the potential for SUSU spaces at sites in previous years. If you have been to the WSA campus, you’ll have seen we have a permanent space that works wonders! This is the model I see being rolled out across sites (in the UK at first) with the hope of potential to reach our international campuses. This would be long-term as the first step is to set up space and re-establish Sabbs at sites for the immediate future, then to secure permanent staffing—like we have for WSA.