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Alcuin Chair Emily Victoria on being chair, college stereotypes and freshers' week

"I don’t know why we get called boring - I don't think we're ever going to lose that stigma"

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Image Credit: Alcuin CSAC

Hi, thanks for taking the time to talk to us. Firstly I’d just like to know: In your opinion, what has been the biggest achievement you have had as Alcuin College President?

There’s two: so one of my main aims when I campaigned for president was that I wanted the committee to feel more accessible to people whether they were on it or not, because I think it’s very easy to run for a position and then it’s very easy to get into that bubble. So one of my aims was to make sure people were aware of what the committee were doing. Also, I think one of my other big things this year was our silent disco. I’m really proud of my events subcom for organising it – it sold out, and there have been so many other colleges that have done silent discos leading from the popularity of our one and it just means that people are starting to think - ‘what do we not have on campus?’ and ‘what can we provide students with that they don’t have anywhere else?’ If you’re going to do an on-campus event don’t just do something that’s like Timewarp or Marmite.

That sounds great. So, the new college presidents were recently elected, in lieu of this what advice would you give new chairs?

Enjoy it. Being involved in a college committee has been one of the best things I’ve done at university, but being chair has been the best thing that I’ve done out of all it. It gives you so much freedom, it’s so much responsibility and there are times where you do feel the weight of that but there are so many opportunities for you to get involved in the University and YUSU and change what the student life is like in York. There are times where it’s going to feel really rubbish but look for the positives in it and even if you run an event and five people show up, that’s still five people that have benefitted from some - thing you have run that they wouldn’t have been able to do had you not organised it – just looking at those positives and thinking about how you are actually making a difference.

I was looking at your Facebook page and I saw that for next year’s CSAC there are (at the time of interview ) currently 13 positions left unfilled, why do you think people weren’t keen to run for positions this year?

I think the difficulty was that college elections were a week earlier this year. Last year we got a bit more engagement, especially from freshers who are more likely to get engaged with things going on in the college as they live within it, because of that extra week – it gives them more time to feel settled. I know a week doesn’t sound like a lot, but it does make a difference. I also think that what puts people off is that it is promoted as an election and as nominations, and I think the current political climate feeds into it and people think that elections and campaigning and voting are a big deal but really running for a college committee can be one of the most relaxed campaigns of your life. My advice for next year would be to promote the elections earlier, and even more focus on both the opportunities and skills you get out of being in the committee should hopefully boost turnout.

As I think everyone knows, Alcuin has traditionally held the title of being the most boring college, why do you think that is and how do you think Alcuin can go about changing this negative preconception?

Alcuin has always had that stereotype, and I think it’s very easy to go into being president and to say ‘by the end of the year, people are going to think Alcuin is the new Derwent’ and it’s just not going to happen. I don’t know why people think we’re boring, I know we don’t have an amazing history of parties and jumping into the lake like Derwent has, and we’re not sporty like James, but I think people think we’re boring because we don’t shout i n people’s faces about how amazing we are. We have a huge focus on wellbeing but we don’t get a reputation for being ‘the wellbeing college’ – it’s not very catchy, is it? We are an amazing mix of people – there’s always going to be someone in Alcuin that you can go and have a chill movie night in with and there’s always going to be someone who wants to go out every night. I don’t know why we get called boring, I have just learnt to ignore it – I don’t think we’re ever going to lose that stigma.

Following from that, what are your thoughts on stigmas attached to colleges overall?

I think they’re silly. Yes, come to York and look at what the colleges are known for, but also take the time and look into what each college is doing and what events they’re putting on, as that actually gives you a better idea of what they’re about.

So, were there any horror stories from freshers’ which you would like to share?

There weren’t actually, it was a pretty chill week! More of our horror stories came before freshers’ week. I had a really nice chat with Ollie about it and he just told me to look at freshers’ week as one big party that you’re throwing for you and your college and just love it. At the end of the day, all I was worried about was whether the Head STYCs, the STYCs and the freshers were having a good time.

Well that’s definitely a good position to be in. So finally, why are college committees so important for our University?

That’s a good question. I just think they’re a really essential part of the student voice. There are concerns from students that we can raise in meetings, and that people can come to us with which we can then raise with YUSU or with the college, and the committees are a really good way for students, even if they don’t want to actively engage in the committee, to channel into the University and into the direction everything is going. The people in charge at the minute seem to be really keen to listen to student voices, and I think that is amazing because this University is here for students and their experience should be about both their education and what they do at University. The committee is essential for creating a community in a college, and for the people that want to be within that community; my biggest goal for Alcuin was for it to feel like a home – I know it’s not going to feel like a home for everyone, but for as many people as possible I’d like it to feel welcoming and like a home away from home. The biggest compliment came last week when a fresher came up to me and said, “Alcuin feels like home” and it made me cry in Flares. That is what college committees are here for – they’re here to get students involved in whatever they want to be involved in. It’s just about creating a community and a nice place for people to live.

There was criticism of freshers’ for most colleges in regards to there being less club events for the same price as freshers’ last year. Why were there less club nights offered this year?

Club nights on freshers’ week can be a stressful thing. Obviously, everyone saw the news about Fibbers, and there’s always a club closing down and that put a lot of strain on colleges chairs and events VPs on what was actually going to happen with their freshers’ week and I think unfortunately for Alcuin we were trying to push for the same number of club nights - we still wanted to have a club night every night - but unfortunately we got notified that the club we wanted on the Wednesday night wasn’t going to be able to host us and we had to make the decision between either doing a really good on-campus night that people can drink at or not drink but still enjoy either way, or we just drop a night completely, so we made the decision that we were going to try and  make a bigger deal out of our live lounge event and get people going to that. Quite a lot of the feedback we got from last year’s freshers’ week was that its either clubbing or non-drinking and we wanted an event that could do both – just because you don’t drink doesn’t mean you can’t sit and join in with those who do. Also, quite a lot of the feedback we’re getting is that quite a lot of students are coming to York and are choosing not to drink, and we didn’t want those people to feel as though freshers week was only for those who like to drink. The reason that the price was still £35 was because it isn’t actually the club events that cost us the money; it is the non-drinking events, freshers packs and transport that cost us the most money. Also, we wanted to make sure we could give our STYCs back a larger proportion of their deposit back this year – we didn’t want our STYCs to feel as though they are paying £35 to babysit for a week, all we asked for our STYCs to cover was the cost of their T-shirts and club entry, so that’s why it stayed the same.

Interviewed by Matthew King, News Editor

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