Wessex Scene interview Kendall Field-Pellow, 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?
Right now, we need change. We won’t get it by putting our hopes and efforts in meaningless and endless cycles of Sabb elections – ‘entryism’ doesn’t work. I’m running to put alternative ideas across.
What experience do you have that would make you an excellent fit for the role?
I don’t want the role. It’s basically an internship so if I did want it I’d probably say whatever anyone would tell a grad-scheme employer.
What are the main problems you identify with the current role of Union President and how would you fix that?
The role of Union President itself isn’t a problem per se. The problems come from the way the office is used to supposedly represent student interests, whilst often tripping up over itself and failing to represent those interests adequately or (in some cases) at all.
How will you work to improve SUSU’s presence and visibility on campuses other than Highfield, especially considering the current circumstances regarding online learning?
I don’t want the role. I also don’t believe hollow buzzwords like ‘representation’ and ‘visibility’ will fix the problems that students have with both the University and the Students’ Union.
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 don’t want the role. Again, I refer you to my previous point about empty words.
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 an interesting question! I don’t think students will see any positive change if they don’t unify in some shared, collective voice. Students need to argue the need to protect their education, or in this case their grades, for themselves. Relying on Sabbs to continue what they’ve been doing (and not doing) year in year out hasn’t led us anywhere. If SUSU can’t argue for us, students, we should argue for ourselves.
What does ‘accountability’ mean to you? How will you work to ensure SUSU and sabbatical officers are appropriately held to account?
Last year, I said accountability in SUSU is a myth. I stand by that. What real consequences have SUSU representatives ever faced for bad decisions or taking the Union in the wrong direction? I can’t think of any. Students might moan to each other or Crushampton, but that isn’t the same as consequences or ‘accountability’.
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?
I don’t want the role. But, this is an important point: international students, just like most other groups of migrants in the UK, are devalued and treated unfairly by the system. Expensive visa fees that have to be paid upfront with no support from the University, extortionate tuition costs, that the University charges purely because it can get away with it, racism and xenophobia in the UK, micro-aggressions and institutional discrimination at this University… These are big problems that a Sabb is not equipped to deal with. Campaigning collectively for migrant justice is the only way I can see to fight these problems, which is why the work that campaign groups like Unis Resist Border Controls is so crucial. The Southampton Black Students Network is campaigning on these issues, so join us!
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 don’t want the role. But this, too, is an important point: the only way to defend our education and our experience at the University is to do away with the very marketisation that is ruining it. Marketisation is the reason our lecturers don’t have job security and are on increasingly casualised contracts. It’s also why metrics like ‘student satisfaction’ survey responses are valued more than the actual quality of the education itself. It’s why international students are treated like cash cows. It’s why expensive shiny buildings like the Centenary building are prioritised for flashy campus tours. It’s why universities (and SUSU) make students responsible for the mental ill-health they experience as a result of the university system, rather than fund things like therapy. It’s all about the economic model of the HE sector. I’ve written more about it here.
If you were elected, what would be your top three areas of focus?
I don’t want the role. Students need to come together and decide for themselves what issues deserve focus, rather than relying on others to do it for them. We need some kind of campaigning group or coalition or union or whatever you’d call it for students to represent their own interests in an open, member-led, democratic way. I would suggest the term ‘students’ union’ but that seems to be taken by some other organisation at this University.
You state that SUSU doesn’t stand for what it claims to stand for. Can you elaborate on this? Where do you believe that SUSU have fallen short in the past and how do you propose this is changed?
SUSU is meant to be a representative body and independent of the University – it fails on both accounts. More importantly, I’ve come to realise that SUSU isn’t actually broken, it works exactly as intended – which is the problem. The frustrating bureaucratic pseudo-democracy that we call our ‘Students’ Union’ isn’t designed for real and meaningful change. If it’s not broken, what is there to fix? The better solution to our problems is to form an independent body of student governance, that is designed by students for the purpose of addressing their issues (and thus, able to live up to expectations).
This is not the first time you’ve run for the Union Elections as a protest candidate. What do you wish to achieve with your protests?
I hope to achieve the goal of putting forward ideas that simply need to be said, and heard. I’m under no delusions about any ‘hopes of winning’; I’m running for the sake of it (as more students should, in my opinion).