Image Credit: Jack Edwards
****How has your Freshers’ week been?
I personally think our Freshers’ has been pretty successful. I think overall the week went really well. The thing we’re most proud of in James is our non-clubbing events. We had three really big trips: around 130 people came on the trampoline park trip, and we had to turn away quite a few from the bowling trip because we didn’t anticipate the demand. This is because more young people these days aren't drinking, but also because our events were really high quality: they were run really well.
James this year has managed to retain the in-town clubbing nights that it originally had, at three. Other colleges have been dropping them. How did you achieve that?
I think if we had an extra night in the week, people would have been pretty tired. We were actually told by the University and YUSU this year that we had to have our first night on campus. I get the logic of that to arrive on your first day at University, and have to then go into town, it would be very difficult. To work out what nights they would go out, I think most colleges looked at the capacity of clubs mainly: we have to consider YSJ nights and local nights too.
You’ve said before that you actually think venue closure is huge issue for colleges and the University too…
I’m really concerned about venue loss in York. We’ve only been told Christmas for Fibbers. Come Christmas, my favourite venue in York might be gone, which is tragic. We’re now being told that Society might be demolished: Flares even potentially going. There seems to be a lot of rumours about it, but no one seems to have any contingency plan for it. I have asked raised this repeatedly with the Vice-Chancellor, and at YUSU meetings: the answer tends to be that “we’ll cross that bridge when we come to it.” That isn’t really good enough for students.
This year we have more Freshers than we’ve ever had before, simply because the University is expanding, but far from the number of venues we have increasing to meet demand, we seem to be having fewer venues. I’m worried that there doesn’t seem to be a real conversation happening about it.
Before we move on from Freshers’ week, apparently you accidentally came out to 400 Freshers’ on your quiz night. What happened there?
It wasn’t for the first time. I was bullied at school when I came out, and actually had to leave because the bullying got so bad. I know there was an email that Mike Britland [College Manager of James College] put out last night, saying he was gay. I hope that students recognize that there are people in positions of influence that are the same as them. I know that Mike, and other gay people have gone through similar experiences of being harassed or marginalised because of who they are. The story with the quiz was that I was doing a round about gay anthems. I didn't think before I got on stage “hang on, I’ve made a bit of a weird joke here.”I thought it probably warranted an explanation!
You wrote an article for us last edition defending your new plan to require a more universal £30 charge to participate in teams. Won’t this mean smaller teams subsidising more expensive sports?
No. In fact, I think smaller teams will get a very good deal out of this. For example, for the longest time, James football has had a sponsorship contract worth about £350 that they use to subsidise kit and equipment. If you’re a team with ten people, you’re not going to get that. All teams now have access to a really generous YUSU grant system. Some teams, like tennis and squash, actually have to pay weekly fees to fund their arena. With this fee, you’re getting 25 weeks of sport for a one-off fee.
Do you think your darts team will really be needing that extra funding though?
There are some sports in James that aren’t part of the fee: men rugby, women’s rugby, darts, cricket, rounders, and lacrosse. When I was elected, I spoke to all the captains of sports teams. It was clear that many of the teams had very specialist requirements that meant they wouldn't benefit from the scheme. For rugby, playing on the 22 is free, so I’m not going to be charging them £30 a year to play sport. For darts, they have no regular playing costs, it doesn't make sense to charge them.
The other colleges weren’t included in this scheme because they didn’t want to be, right?
Your college has also been piloting mental health support, which we highlighted two issues ago. How has your pilot been going?
The college now has two dedicated mental health-trained staff. That’s the college manager, and our new graduate tutor. Our college has now moved from four part-time tutors to one full-time graduate tutor. It’s a great system because our new tutor, Mark, has a better degree of knowledge about the topic. We’ve also introduced peer support in sport. The idea being that men in particular are more likely to go to a mate with a mental health issue than Mike or Mark. The real focus for us is in tackling the male mental health crisis, which is a really important goal.
You’ve completely re-done James merch this year. I was wondering if you could talk me through what merch does for the committee?
We held a competition to design it in term one. We’ve also undergone a James Sport rebrand too. We have termed the new clothing line the ‘classic collection’, and I've spent far too long over the summer talking to suppliers to get it sorted. Putting it together was a nightmare, but I’m really pleased with the result. On every jumper, we make £8, and every fleece we make £10. That may sound like quite a lot, but our philosophy is that we want to make events as open and available as possible, so we can’t reasonably fund a committee without having a reasonable revenue stream coming from somewhere. I’d rather charge more for merch and less for events.
The new James Sport logo looks a little bit like a knock-off Nouse logo...
Maybe it does a little bit. It's flying swan, not a goose... I just wanted to clarify that.
With elections coming up, I want to ask you a few general questions about your philosophy around colleges. My first relates to the role colleges play beyond first year. Do you think that as the University ages, they will play more of a role?
I may be slightly controversial. I do think colleges are for first years. The University generally does a poor job at making the college relevant beyond your first year. Our modern system means a great team of support staff, a great number of weekly events and trips. It’s up to students how much they engage there, and I can’t force people to engage, even if we advertise it to everyone.
If we try and make the experience as good as possible for first years, then hopefully people will want to stay involved. The STYC system is a great way of doing that. We have one of the best participation rates for STYCs of any college: 200 STYCs for 500 freshers. Sport is another great way of getting involved in college, as people run for captain positions.
Final question, and it's a pretentious one. What makes a good college chair?
I think you’ve got to be available to your students. Furthermore, the role of college chair is not operational, it’s strategic. You’re the student representative for your college, and you should be taking concerns to the University too. The more available you are, the better at this job you will be.