Friday night saw the elections at DUSA kick-off properly as voting is now open. Nearly every candidate met on campus in the Air Bar to discuss policies and ambitions for their roles, should they be elected. The whole hustings was streamed online and can be found here. However, if watching a two-hour-long stream seems like just a bit too much dedication, you can always rely on your trusty Mag to deliver you the most up to date election coverage over the next week.
The candidates on offer reflected with the audience, each other, and the Mag team over what DUSA really needs to work on over the next academic. A big issue that all agreed needed to be addressed was the sheer lack of engagement from students with its own Union. Last year’s elections saw only 10% of students vote, and even this was seen as a drastic increase from previous years, so it’s clear that students are not particularly engaged with the University’s electoral process and what these executive positions have to offer to the wider student body. This hustings event was attended by only a handful of students who were not running themselves, and only a further 20 or so watching the livestream. Yet despite this, the DUSA executive team across all these roles can have a significant voice in upholding student interests.
So, what did the candidates suggest doing to combat this?
Well, perhaps the phrase of the night which was quoted by numerous other candidates came from Jazmine Bennet standing for Vice President of Community, who posed “Consultation, consultation, consultation” as the answer. They [Jazmine] argued that it is important to take a student-centric response that they can enact policies that will be genuinely wanted and useful for the student community rather than continuing blindly onwards. Nyasha Mutenbwa who is running for President is campaigning on the premise of her taking a purely leadership role, intending to bring students’ wants to fruition.
Multiple candidates stressed the need to be in contact with school presidents and class representatives to create a pyramid of representation so that all students can have their needs heard. Arguably, none went quite as far as Hamish Fraser, standing for Vice President of Academia, who suggested the creation of an additional student representation forum – a council of 20-30 students whose job it is to bring student issues to light . This is definitely a bold policy position to take, although one has to wonder whether this form of council would really be more effective than the current school representation structure that is currently in place. Indeed, Eamonn Crustance who is standing for Vice President of Representation stressed in his speech the need to work with these class reps to a large extent. On the other hand, his running competitor Laura van Overbeek Crusells discussed the need to “redevelop structures, making structures effective” and so it is interesting to ponder where she sits on this issue of improvement vs redesign. Furthermore, Laura questioned the relevancy of the current Student Representative Council (SRC) structure, pointing out that the existing positions do not quite correspond to the student demographics. Finally, David Lam (also running for this position) raised the very pertinent point of ensuring that the new merged schools of Humanities, Education, Social Science and Social Work maintain proper representation by having multiple assigned school reps, as it would be easy for student voices to be lost in such a big structure [read more about the issue here].
Something that was hard to ignore within the hustings was quite sadly the sheer number of buzzwords and empty phrases that were thrown around. Ideas such as proactivity, representation, engaging with marginalised communities and indeed, ‘structure’, were thrown around repeatedly although rarely were accompanied by new and exciting policies. Specific aims that could be met within the one-year tenure were only brought forward by a handful of candidates, while original thinking seemed even rarer. This was perhaps most noticeable within the race for Vice President of Student Wellbeing. Candidate for this position, Caitlyn Rose, brought forward a policy position to make STI kits free and available at DUSA. However, DUSA already holds regular STI testing clinics, and has information on their website about where to access these services at any time through pharmacies and GPs. Moreover, candidate Amarachi Ejim spoke about creating a system to check in with the wellbeing of all 18,000 students in a personalised and proactive manner. Again, creating a system such as this seems like a very large project to begin over a year and would need significant funding and manpower. However, I can’t shake the feeling that sending out emails to students from the counselling service on campus is a much simpler yet just as effective way to reach this same outcome. Indeed, Marcin Kielczewski, representing The Magdalen [DUSA Media], asked candidates why this position should be an electoral one rather than occupied by a paid professional, and the only answer candidates could give was that ‘students know student issues’. While this is not false, one would hope that a trained professional who would be working only with students and has been a student themselves would also be able to develop this insight.
While candidates running for this position had a lot of overlap in ideals and policies, the most diverse set of opinions came to the forefront during the Presidential candidates’ discussion.
As mentioned, Nyasha took quite a populist approach in appealing to students through idioms such as “work hard, play hard” and how she could be a trusted authority to make gains within the University structure for students. Running against her is one candidate Josh Sutcliffe, who is keen to strengthen current plans to refurnish the Liar and Games Room within DUSA as well as continuing to increase student membership and engagement with representative committees. He argues that significant funds have already been secured for refurnishing the Union building but the project will take more than one year to complete. Then the final candidate for President is Jake Mace, also leader of the DusAlternative [“a coalition of candidates aiming to make DUSA a more formidable force against the University when unpopular decisions such as the school merger take place through channelling student discontent in a more visible and effective way”]. He stands on a position of increasing the democratisation of DUSA through actions like having a referendum on whether we should re-join the National Union of Students to engage with more student-centric campaigning. Overall, it is clear that these candidates have vastly differing priorities for if they are to be elected, and so it is up to us as the voting student body to decide what matters most for our own Student’s Union.
Voting on this election is open now but only for a limited time, so make sure your vote is cast by the 17th of March! We also have all the information about what each candidates’ main policies are here at www.themagdalen.co.uk/elections101 so check that out for any more info you might need before casting your vote.