The Support Zone Committee by Louisa Ross-Gower and Yasmin Norvill
Yesterday's opening night of Surrey Decides 2019 saw Niamh Stewart chair the first debate between the Support Zone committee candidates: Diana Dakik, Bhavesh Bakrania, Bethany Dawson, Izzy Ross, Sean Linnane, and Sara Selim. All the candidates spoke confidently and answered the questions to the best of their ability.
Diana had clear plans for how to implement the policies in her manifesto. She spoke about her experience as a post-grad, under-grad and international student at Surrey. She explained the importance of matching personal tutor to specific students, expressing that if she had been matched with a personal tutor who had an understanding of her experience as an international student, she would have settled into Surrey more easily. Diana's manifesto is clear, but her ideas could be accused of lacking originality as she suggests carrying on a lot of the campaigns the zone has already put in place, such as Let's Talk.
Bhavesh was very well spoken. He came across as passionate about his policies and seemed confident in his ability to develop his plans for how to implement them if elected. When asked, from an audience member, what he has done recently to help others with no personal gain, he spoke about the importance of reaching out to isolated flatmates, especially those who you have not seen or spoken to for a while. Though important, there were comments from the twitter board that suggested the answer was not as specific as it should have been.
Bethany spoke confidently and, as a current member of the support zone, she was certainly a candidate with an advantage. She suggested creating leaflets for personal tutors to make the role clearer and improve the relationship with tutors and tutees. This triggers the issue of whether or not these leaflets actually get read, or whether they are a wasted resource. When asked about Let's Talk events, she said that she thought they should be promoted by going to specific courses and creating events that would be appealing to them, for example: support for women in STEM subjects - an idea that received a huge cheer from the audience.
Izzy had eloquent answers to every question, constantly drawing the audience's attention to a variety of different services that the University provides. Specifically, she mentioned The Big White Wall which she felt could really help with supporting students on placement, because it offers 24hr counselling for free which avoids the issue of time zones for students overseas. One of her manifesto policies is to improve the training of personal tutors, and while this is a great idea, Izzy was unable to specify where the money for the training would come from and who would be able to train them in these areas.
Sean was brave enough to speak about his own personal experiences with chronic mental health problems and how this has inspired him to go for the role so he can help others going through what he did. He argued that the University needs to work with external sources in Guildford in order to provide more support for students with chronic depression, schizophrenia and OCD because we do not currently have the resources to provide effective support. Sean's manifesto outlines his desire for the university to subsidise extenuating circumstances fees however, Exec recently passed this motion whereby the remaining £20 cost has not been wavered and taken from elsewhere in the university.
When asked about her policy to introduce weekly therapy sessions, Sara said she would introduce this gradually and work up to weekly sessions as she understands the cost but she feels it would be feasible to start with monthly sessions. She also spoke about her experience as an international student and that a personal tutor who understood her point of view would have been helpful, and that the Let's Talk events could be promoted more effectively through societies. Equally, her request for healthier food options on campus has faced critique, as Hillside provide a daily salad bar and many healthier hot food options.
So there are your Support Zone committee candidates for 2019. All the candidates were very passionate about this role and the pressure to take part in the first debate of the year strengthened the nervous energy of the night. With that in mind, all candidates clearly articulated their ideas. However, as many overlooked budgeting their manifestos, they were unable to state where the money for these ideas would come from. Make sure you have a look over the manifestos this week to ensure you pick the Support Zone right for you and your needs at Surrey.
VP Support by Louisa Ross-Gower
The following debate of the night was for the paid, full-time position of VP Support. Chaired by Noah Swanson, the candidates are: Hannah Mickleburgh, Pete Ferguson, Izzy Watkins and Sarah Surget.
When asked how she would make the changes in her manifesto, Hannah said she felt communication between the zones needed to be improved. Furthermore, she spoke about the importance of gauging what students actually want from the Support Zone through polls and other means. When asked about the difficulties of students who are on campus over summer, such as nurses, she spoke about how this taps into a bigger issue of all students on campus, such as post-grads and vets, who struggle with isolation when everyone else has broken up. She said she would try to address this by increasing support from the union at these times and ensuring personal tutors are still around at these times when campus is less busy.
When questioned on his statistics for sexual violence at Surrey compared to other Universities (second worst in comparison to the chairman’s 113th), Pete admitted there was more nuance surrounding the issue and confidently responded that it is still important and the actions he intends to take should still be implemented. He raised the fact that reporting sexual assault at Surrey is the same process as making a noise complaint, stating that a lot of people do not report these crimes because of the stigma surrounding it. Finally, he made it clear that he wants there to be as much visibility from the union as there is when Surrey Decides is happening all year round, especially on Manor Park and Hazel Farm where the union have little presence.
Izzy went on to speak about the policy in her manifesto surrounding drug misuse. She feels rehabilitation should be prioritised above punishment and therefore the £100 fine is unfair for students. When the current VP Support, Paul, asked the candidates how they would run the Surrey Love campaign differently, she mentioned that this campaign was actually her idea and that she has many plans about how to improve the way it is run in the future. Her final point was about creating a healthy lifestyle on campus. To achieve this she wants to get the University to subsidise the cost of doctor’s notes. She also advocates for more dry Fresher’s Week events for students who do not drink.
Sarah is also a current member of the support zone and spoke about her aim to make the union more approachable, believing that it would be her responsibility as VP to reach out to students. Finally, she mentioned the fact that the Samaritans were located outside Simply Fresh during exam time to offer support for students, which she thinks is a good thing, but they could be located somewhere else so students feel comfortable going to them and not being seen by everyone.
The debate was lively and informative as the chair discussed statistics and grilled the candidates for clear and concise answers. All candidates were obviously well researched and determined to achieve the role. Overall the debate demonstrated the strengths and weakness of each candidate effectively and it was a night of informative entertainments on the University’s democratic Union.
The Community Zone Committee by Charlotte West
Holly Márquez chaired the first debate for the community zone; the group of hopeful committee officers almost filling up the entire panel, with this being the largest number of competing candidates on the night. The candidates were: Shriya Sheth, Pete Mancktelow, Asini Liyanage, Omar Al Masri, Samuel Awonuga, Leon Bourne, and Ahmed Almusawy. Each of them were asked a question directly about their manifesto.
Omar was confident as he expanded upon his manifesto point to work with the RAG Chair to increase the budget for charitable societies. He was asked why charitable societies deserve a bigger budget compared with normal societies, to which he responded that charitable societies are able to give back to the community. He expressed how underfunded charitable societies are, often preventing them from completing activities. Although this may be more of a task for the activity zone, Omar acknowledged this, agreeing to work with them to achieve his aim.
The chair then turned to Ahmed to question his policy on making laundry free. Naturally, he was asked where the money to pay for the laundry would come from, the chair stating that it could cost the university £500,000 if students washed their clothes once a week. Ahmed admirably dealt with the pressure by providing alternative suggestions such as laundry credit, or working with different suppliers, if his future research revealed free laundry was not feasible. He pushed that it’s not just about improving the cost, but the quality of the wash.
Samuel was very passionate about his belief in providing freshers with an accommodation and financial planning package to help them when they need to move out of halls in second year. As in the support zone debates, the question of whether students actually engage with leaflets came up. Samuel’s belief in the overwhelming challenge that students face when looking for a house would put a heavy importance onto these documents, as it would tackle any misconceptions they may have and provide them with more confidence in their understanding of how to find a house.
Leon was asked about his policy on reforming car parking for students, as the VP Community is already in the process of working on this. He admitted his unawareness of this, but was eager to work with whoever replaces Gemma in order to welcome those changes. He was also questioned on his decision to prioritise FHMS (Faculty of Health and Medical Science) students in receiving the free, or at least vastly cheaper, parking. He defended himself by arguing that focusing on one area at a time makes his goal more achievable, and also the FHMS placement students have to pay for car parking over the summer, when all other students have gone home.
Asini received a huge cheer from the audience when talking about her idea of bringing a power nap space into the library during the exam period. When asked about the lack of space in the library, Asini suggested moving it into the AC building, which becomes an extension of the library during exam season. While the in-house audience gave a positive reaction, there were a couple of comments from twitter suggesting that encouraging naps interferes with a natural sleep schedule.
Pete was full of energy as he explained his policy to celebrate the successes and achievements of societies, referencing Omar’s work with STAR. He expressed how he hoped it would better engage students with the societies on campus and the activities that they are getting up to. He believed that by supporting a shared goal, and sharing success, it would encourage other students to want to get involved.
Shriya, one of the quieter candidates who still spoke with ease and confidence, was asked about her policy to review some of the existing university projects like bikes and buses. The chair stated that her position as a PTO would not allow her onto these boards where they would be reviewed. Unphased, Shriya explained that, while students themselves, the union officers do not know exactly what students want – she plans on sending out surveys and asking students directly how they want these projects to improve.
The room suddenly turned very cold, as Gemma, the current VP Community, criticised all the candidates for not coming to her to before writing their manifestos. She explained that that is why many of the points on the candidates’ manifestos are already in the process of being done. Each candidate gave a hasty apology, admitting their mistakes before providing excuses and defences for their manifestos.
Clearly this is a humble, but determined group of individuals with focused ideas on how they want to shape this next year at Surrey.
RAG Chair by Charlotte West
The penultimate debate of the night was for the new position of RAG Chair. River Edis-Smith chaired the debate between just two candidates, both first year students: Kieran Harrison and Owain Harries.
Both candidates were asked their stance on the statement, “RAG is just about raising money”. Kieran spoke first, highlighting how raising money was about supporting the wider Guildford community, and allows them to workshop people into running their own events. Owain similarly disagreed with the statement, mentioning some of the charities we’ve already donated to this year, and emphasising that raising money is about changing lives.
The chair directed a manifesto question towards Owain, pointing out that Loughborough University had raised over a million pounds, and asking how we could start working towards that level. Owain talked about increasing an awareness of RAG in order to get students more involved, and thus raise more money. Similarly he suggested that they should utilise social media in promoting RAG events. He mentioned that the old RAG Facebook page has over a thousand likes, and so should be an effective way to bring about support.
Kieran was then questioned about his manifesto point on creating a strike fund to support students that are working in precarious jobs. He argued that there should be a growing support for students and that they should have the opportunity to fight for better conditions. He dealt with the difficult questions from the chair well, including the loaded question of whether he would rather put charity money towards a strike fund or children with no shelter, food or money to live, to which he refused to answer.
The debate continued to discuss issues of ethical values and promotion, in which both candidates coped with the pressure admirably.
VP Community by Olivia Bicknell
To end the first night for Surrey Decides Question Time we had the debates for VP Community. Chaired by Joel Russell the candidates are: Tristan Phillips, Jacob Allen, Amina Ehiobuche-Nagwamma, Atchuthan Soorasangaram and Yan Zhu. The candidates briefly explained the key points of their manifesto, as well as answering some questions poised to them regarding their ideas if they were to become VP Community. Overall, it was an interesting night, filled with some great plans for next year’s sabbatical team.
Chair: What will you do to make Rubix safer and more accessible?
Jacob suggested that at the moment the elevators do not suit the purpose and instead, ramps should be installed. Jacob said that he had also been in contact with the drinks suppliers at Rubix and there is no need for any more glass bottles in Rubix.
Tristan was asked whether he had any additional ideas beyond glass bottles and he began to address the recent plans by the union to put CCTV cameras in the toilets in Rubix to tackle drug use. He noted that he believes it is an invasion of privacy and instead he would like to see a greater bouncer presence near the toilets.
Chair: How do you plan to strengthen the relationship between isolated groups of students?
Amina explained that she had carried out research upon placement, GSA and Vetinary Medicine students as these are the courses that she believes to be most isolated because of the demands of their course. She said that from this she wants to bring more diverse events that suit their needs, such as events on the weekend, as they have full timetables Monday to Friday.
Atchuthan was asked directly about his manifestos aim to offer cheaper houses to students. The chair asked him was this not the job of the University Letting Agency?
He answered by explaining that he believes there to be a limited amount of houses available. The resolution to this would be for the university to buy more house further away from campus and extend the bus routes for those students.
Although this could be expensive, Atchuthan said that if the university kept it “in-house”, then they could make more money from letting to students. He explained that he thinks that if the university charge more than they usually do, but less than private landlords, they could make more money and reinvest it.
Question from Gemma: what do you think the biggest issues relating to accommodation are and how are you going to tackle this issue?
Amina said that she is are aware of the housing issue, and one of the main issues is not being able to find support. The SU must be more vocal and loud about the support they offer so that students are more prepared for the housing issues.
Atchuthan says that he wants to create long term solutions to housing issues. He explains that he believes it is not for the lack of the university trying, but it is a long process. He says they might have already started this process but it could take 4 or 5 years.
Yan believes that there is not enough support for second and third year students. She has to use a private landlord instead of the university letting agency and this is more expensive. She wants USL to offer more houses.
Jacob says that the price of rent needs to be cut. He wants to lay the foundations for a rent strike, as even the fear of a rent strike could influence the University's decision. Similarly he wants to develop housing options at the university where there are no landlords and no profit - the cost of rent simply covers the maintenance cost.
Chair: What do you want to fix or change from the current VP community?
Tristan responded instantly with the cameras in the Rubix toilets. He would like to see this changed for less invasion.
Jacob would attend Exec sustainability groups, more regularly than Gemma has, having offered to take her place on multiple occasions.
Amina put emphasis on communication, stating that the student body needs to know what is going on and how that is the responsibility of the union.
Atchuthan said he would give students more places to study, opening Rubix more often for nights out and giving students more chances to relax.
Yan suggested that they should be joining sustainable actions groups that SU aren’t currently a part of.