AS ROHAN ASHAR ends his term as the YUSU Activities Officer, Nouse sat down with him to discuss his reflections on the year. He explained that there are five parts to the Activities Officer role in his opinion: “nightlife and events, not an events officer, but campus bars; Raising and Giving (RAG); Volunteering; Societies and Student media” and that for him, “representing everyone that I could under my remit was crucial to me to prove this is a fantastic role.”
His desire to prove that the role is “fantastic” came from wanting to demonstrate that it is not a “poison chalice” as many before him had thought. This is in reference to the “mixed bag of Activities Officers in past years”, in particular “not having an Activities Officer for half a year was detrimental”. This is in reference to Brian Terry, who was the 2020-2021 Activities Officer and resigned mid-way through his tenure.
Rohan praised Sophie Kelly, Activities Officer 2021-2022, for bringing “stability back to the role”. On his own successes, Rohan reflected that “I think my proudest achievement is that other people have considered me to be a voice for minority groups, especially students with disabilities and BAME students. People have told me that I’ve been a voice for them and represented them on a level that they haven’t been represented previously in York [...]. Having that responsibility and being told that I’ve used it in a way which has supported others, that’s my proudest achievement.”
Despite his achievements on inclusivity and accessibility, he said that there was still a long way to go: “hopefully in the future, we won’t need a standalone BAME showcase. BAME students and their talent, that representation, should be embedded into usual practice within student groups.” A key part of Rohan’s role has been his work on Volunteering and RAG. As a result of the pandemic and other factors, they had “fallen under the radar” and alongside Part-Time Officers such as RAG Officer Ellen Rintoul, Rohan has worked to highlight the importance of both on campus.
Speaking on the subject of RAG, he praised the work of Ellen over the past year, saying that “her main priority was to bring RAG back onto campus and one of my responsibilities as Activities Officer is to help the Part-time Officer who comes under my remit achieve their manifesto. Ellen is very determined and very good at what she does so it compels you to do it.” He noted that “we know students don’t have much money” and therefore RAG for students is not about donating, but rather about giving time and effort to run campaigns or create events to persuade other people who do have the means to donate to various causes.”
Similarly, with volunteering, Rohan highlighted the importance of student volunteers and student-run volunteering projects to the University as they help “the University connect with the wider city and beyond and it’s really important that those communities in the city respect the University as an institution full of talented and caring people.”
When asked about his reflections on things in his role which didn’t go to plan, Rohan openly said that “the two things that I’ve been criticised for and questioned about a lot this year are society rewards and Activities Thursdays”. Expanding on Activities Thursdays, which was a scheme to provide a relaxed and social environment which was not alcohol focused for student groups, he said that “the honest answer is [...] we are a Union, we don’t have all the resources in the world and we don’t have funding to do everything to the standard that we want to do it.
“I think with Activities Thursdays, I realised fairly early on that it wasn’t going to be the event or project that I ideally wanted it to be [...] I think I probably tried to push it for a bit too long [...] and I could have moved on to allocate more project time to other things earlier on such as Society Rewards.”
On the subject of Society Rewards, a scheme to reward student groups for developing and growing with a focus on inclusivity, accessibility and sustainability, he said “I don’t have many regrets over Society Rewards”. He went on “I don’t think the scheme is a bad one at all [...] there are faults in the scheme that this year are quite fixable such as that it was a bit too difficult, but you’re only going to find that out once it is a bit too difficult for the people you’re doing it for.”
On 5 June, Rohan hosted the Activities Awards, which celebrated the achievements of student groups, with 26 awards in a range of categories. Rohan gave a speech which described his motivations for running for the role. Once he ended the speech, the room gave a standing ovation, a clear testament to the feelings towards Rohan’s work. When asked what this meant to him, he immediately responded: “It meant the world to me, it was just a surreal moment to be honest.”
He explained how as a representative of over 200 student groups, it has been difficult to gauge opinion in the past year, and particularly whether he has had an impact. Therefore it “[reassured] me that I have had an impact on people and taken people with me, especially students during the last year.” Finally, I asked him what advice he had for Anna Njoroge, who is his successor as Activities Officer. He summarised his handover, saying “don’t be afraid to use your voice, stand up for what you believe in and make sure you have fun. This role has lots of opportunities [...] so enjoy those, learn everything that you can and try and take it all in.”