Image Credit: YUSU
How has your summer been?
Good, very productive. It’s good fun meeting the new team. It’s a lot quieter over the summer because it’s only really postgrads, and it’s very different now everyone’s back, but I’m enjoying it.
What's been going on?
The first thing we got done was the nearly £7000 student reimbursement from circuit laundry. I’m also the NUS’ national lead on the circuit campaign, and I’ve been writing up a lot of paperwork that has been going out to unions across the country, looking to get a national campaign to sort out Circuit. It’s obviously quite difficult just being one institution, but together we have a better voice.
I’ve also been working on the new student health app, which is going live soon. Basically, it’s a one-stop-shop for all things health-related for students. It’s looking fantastic, and we’re in beta testing mode as we speak.
You talked last term a lot about your plans for a mental health hub to point students in the direction of more support. How's that going?
It’s a partnership with the NHS that has a breakdown of health advice, from physical to sexual health: all the different stuff that students need to know to look after themselves. It even has a dedicated mental health space that points to York’s own web pages about GP practises and other things. Any student with any type of health issue can look to see what sort of methods they can use to solve their problem.
I think it's only right we go over each of your campaigns now. Let's start with Bustice. We’ve had this going for 9 months now, which is nearly a full sabb term. Some students have pointed to the fact that First have not backed down on price, and decided to offer an insidious freshers’ deal instead. I know that an enquiry was launched on this topic last academic year: what's your overall plan with it?
A lot of people, especially people posting on YorFess, didn’t read what it was about. It’s not about taking down First. That’s pretty much impossible. First arrive in places, run at a loss to drive out competition, then up their prices afterwards. We have no say over First prices.
I’ve been arguing plenty of times with First about these prices, and we’ve managed to get a few wins including cheaper options for people who can’t access the app because of accessibility issues, and longer-term free transport for STYCS. The whole purpose of Bustice is to look into our entire city’s transport structure. It’s not just Bustice, it’s roads, it’s cycle paths, it’s walking. It’s a very intensive project: we’re talking five to ten years of work here.
You can’t get immediate quick wins straight out of this company: we’ve been trying for years, but all we’ve managed to do is get certain prices locked, like the term pass. They have screwed over students, and we’ve made that clear to them. That said, this campaign isn’t designed to take down First Bus: my job is Community as well as the University, so I’ve got to deal with the local community as part of it too.
From buses to rent prices; Rent Rant is a comparatively shorter campaign. You had that spat when it started with the University over rent here. We now have information suggesting that new colleges on Heslington East will have rooms that are universally ensuite. What progress have you made on securing cheaper rents for students this term?
There are quite a lot of things coming in the near future. I would wait a couple of weeks, and you’ll see. We have to wait for a little while to announce them, because obviously, if there are going to be price changes, and new freshers have just arrived who might pay more than the next year, it would be pretty awful of us to suggest to them that the next year would be getting cheaper prices. There will be changes to pricing that will be good for certain students. The university is working on a rent-setting statement for their website that is about fair rents, and this will give them standards to be held to in future when other students want to lobby for fair rent.
On the new development, I have been very honest about my distaste for the new development plans. It’s completely ridiculous. The whole system is broken, and I’d be more than willing to discuss it at length.
The campaign will continue this year, realistically the timing we started it was not ideal, but I stand by my decision to ask the University to stop throwing the Students’ Union under the bus for their rent-setting procedures.
You’ve stopped short of calling for a rent strike in the past, are you willing to rule that out completely?
It depends. Whilst a rent strike has worked in a number of institutions the risk it has, particularly to disabled and international students is absolutely astronomical. If we were to do to a rent strike, the amount of legal support we would need would be huge. I’m not going to rule it out as a possibility, however, if I was going to do it, I would make sure it was done very, very carefully. I am not going to put any student at risk, particularly knowing how vicious the University could be.
Let’s turn to the 23 June: in a series of four tweets, you called out Boris Johnson and Mark Field, saying “if anyone supports Boris Johnson or Mark Field knowing they ASSAULT WOMEN I am ashamed at you.” That tweet has now come down: are you willing to apologise for your actions there, given that to date, neither man has even yet faced trial for sexual assault?
I took down the Tweet initially because I believe I could have phrased it better. I stand by the content of the Tweet. The point was meant to be that they had been accused, but I realise that it could have been misinterpreted.
The subsequent tweets read ‘if you endorse these men, you are actively endorsing violence against women. You have blood on your hands.” Are you willing to call a significant proportion of the campus “monsters”?
I’m not sorry for what I said. I stand by it: I spent a lot of my degree studying victimhood and sexual violence. If I’m being completely honest, if you normalise politicians who have been accused of violence against women, assault, bigotry, hate speech, then you are responsible for that getting a platform. If you elected a sabb who was known to be racist, and they enacted racist things on campus, you gave them that platform to be a racist. Without that platform, they would have nowhere near the same influence that they now do. That’s the same with politicians. I don’t care if you’re a Conservative, you have to think about how you’re endorsing individuals. I will say to any party, to any candidate, it is entirely about the individual and what they stand for. It’s exactly the same with Donald Trump. If you know that he has been accused of these things, and you’re giving him a platform, these things get worse.
It is academically proven that this is what happens when you normalise toxic cultures: so yes, you are responsible for your voting record. If you endorse candidates who have a history of enabling oppression, and that opression gets worse, you are partly responsible for this. I’m not giving flippant comments: I academically referenced my comments to your journalist. It is an incredibly serious issue, and not one we should take lightly as ‘oh, she’s digging at the Conservatives’. I am attacking individuals who have lent a toxic narrative to this country, and I stand by that.
In terms of your other programs, it seemed there was an anonymous reporting service championed by your predecessor Mia, which you have also supported: where is that right now?
The tool is due to be launched at the end of this year, 2019. It’s called Report and Support, and it’s used by Manchester, York St John, and Bristol among others. We also have our sexual violence officer who is now at the University on a permanent basis.
Much of your focus stuff that won’t be seen for years. Do you think that sabb terms should be longer by default?
I don’t think terms should be longer, but I think that more people should be re-running. It’s an interesting one because one year is a really short period of time, pretty much too short to get anything done. This is why you see a lot of sabbs getting criticism: they often do quite a lot of groundwork, but you generally don’t see any of that change because the University takes years to change anything.
It’s the same with rental procedures. We got wins back in June, and they won’t come out for six months, because the University takes that long to turn things around. It’s an interesting one to ask whether they should be mandatorily longer, because you’ve got to make sure you’re in tune with what students want, and if you’re two years out of the loop, are you necessarily going to be doing what the current students want, or are you going to be catering for what students wanted two years ago?
It’s certainly not long enough to get stuff done, but I wouldn’t necessarily say that they should change the timing. Sabbs should just re-run.
The part-time jobs portal on your manifesto: what’s going on with that?
We were hoping to do it with YUSU, but the new website is making it hard to implement certain tools. We already have a pitch written for it, so I’m going to take that to careers, and discuss the potential of implementing it on their service instead. It is likely to take a long time because it is a financial issue: we have to spend money on developing it, do a fiscal analysis of it, and wonder how that ties into how it works for students as well.
What’s coming up over the next couple of months in the University term?
That’s a very good question. I’ll be doing more campaign work with Circuit laundry, more campaign work with rent rant, mental health training for students and student leaders. We’re walking the Great York Walk: it’s a marathon, and I am very sore. We are also working with OPPA (the Office of Philanthropic Partnerships and Alumni,) to fund scholarships for mental health first aid training.
The mental health app will be very good when it launches, and we’re finally looking at the accessibility of our website and our Union communications, working with Victoria. I’m also working with the women’s officers on the UN women’s campaign. Again, looking at sexual violence around the University and ensuring students are clear on how to report that. Part of that involves reporting any kind of misconduct with students and making sure it’s appropriately dealt with. We are looking at getting in-department support staff involved too