Interview conducted by Kylie Noble, editor, @noble_kylie
Why do you want to run for VP Equality & Diversity?
My experience as a postgraduate, a student parent and a student with a mental health disability, and as a student rep to the PG Forum, plus my school has taught me that certain categories of students enjoy equality of opportunity only on paper. At times, I have even doubted of the actual utility of the Students’ Union itself. Now, I believe it’s time to change things and it is time for the SU to take a more pro-active or even activist stance, on fighting the inequality of opportunity and of access to resources that exists for vulnerable students.
The role of Equality and Diversity Officer fundamentally concerns representing marginalised groups. As a student, do you feel that you can relate to this aspect of the role?
Indeed. My experience as a student parent and as a student with an invisible disability taught me how hard it is to be a student and at the same time be ‘invisible’ within much of the student body. We risk lagging behind in our studies for reasons that are no fault of our own, or better, that should not be a fault. The University should be for us a place of development and personal growth, not a nightmare or a very rocky road.
During your time thus far as a QUB student, what aspects of campaigning and activism can you say you’ve been involved in?
As soon as I started my PhD in 2011, I became research cluster representative in my school. In 2012, I was chosen as school representative to the PG forum, but in September 2013 I stepped down from both roles due to personal and health reasons. I am not interested in university politics or in politics at all. Obviously I want to work for the representation of all students, including those who support same-sex marriage and those who are involved in the pro-choice/pro-life debate. You don’t need to be politically active – you just need to be human to understand respect for the opinions and feelings of all.
You state in your manifesto that students experience prejudice due to their backgrounds. Can you expand on this, and give examples of what you would do to combat such incidents?
As I have an international background (I’m half Italian, I grew up there and studied there), I tend to be friends with international students. I was very saddened to hear what a Chinese friend of mine went through during her first year in Belfast, going through discrimination of all kinds, due to her gender, her appearance and her race. Sometimes, not all students know how to interact with students from different cultures. Sometimes even those who do have prejudice don’t know they have it. What I would like to do to counter this would be to organise a series of workshops in the schools about difference and diversity. I would like to help inspire students to think of themselves in other people’s shoes – people from other cultures, religious backgrounds and social classes.
You highlight in your manifesto that 80% of student parents and mature students and nearly 70% of students from interface areas admit regularly worrying about not having enough money to meet basic living needs. How to do you aim to decrease these worries? In an era of cuts, is it realistic to expand the student support and hardship funds?
Unfortunately, I alone cannot decrease these worries. If elected, I will fiercely campaign for these inequality issues to be addressed. I am aware we are experiencing an era of cuts, and also of cuts scaremongering. Whilst funding cannot be created out of thin air, existing funding could be re-directed where there is more need.
You state you wish to see QUB promote a culture of the individual, does this jar with promoting community conclusion among a diverse student body?
I may not have phrased that very clearly, and I apologise for this. What I mean by ‘a culture of the individual’ is a communal culture where individual human beings are not labelled and ‘classified’ according to the group they fall into. And here I am referring to race, nationality, sexual orientation, gender, appearance, age and so on. I would like to see a student body where one is not described anymore as being part of a category, but as a human being, an individual as we all are.
You’re the only student with children running in the elections. Has there been any ways in which even the election system and culture is inaccessible and if elected would you work to change any elements?
There are so many ways in which the whole university system, and the election process has been no exception, has proved difficult to access. The lack of childcare arrangements and help with childcare fees for postgraduate students makes it difficult for me to be on campus at all times, and it is very difficult to keep up with all that is happening in the Union. I believe things need to be changed and can be changed, and at the same time I believe that only a student who knows what it is like to go through anything like I have been going through for the past three years would be knowledgeable and motivated enough to work towards a change in this direction.