1) Rachel, tell us why you think you are the strongest candidate to lead QUBSU as VP Equality & Diversity next year?
I believe I am the strongest candidate for the role for a number of reasons. I’ve been at Queens for six years, through my undergraduate degree in Politics, Philosophy and economics, and my current masters in Conflict Transformation and Social Justice. In terms of research, my postgraduate focus has been on Equality and Discrimination law, intersectionality, International Human Rights Law and Queer Theory. I have experienced many of the challenges students can face in academic live, in relation to postgraduate funding shortages, removals of bursaries for low-income students, and the limiting of disabled student’s allowance and I’m ready to fight for change in these areas.
I am extremely passionate about gender equality, LGBT+ and non-binary issues, disabled student’s welfare, lobbying for underrepresented students and creating greater social justice development.
2) What experiences have you built at Queen’s University, in an outside of the Union, which you believe will help you in this role?
I am currently an elected Postgraduate Councillor at QUB SU council, bringing forward the perspective of postgraduate, part-time and disabled students. These are student’s whose voices are often underrepresented within the university and I believe this needs to change. I currently work in Volunteer SU, recruiting volunteers for the Homework Clubs initiative, a programme that provides educational support to children and young people from areas of educational underachievement. This includes children from low income areas, refugees and asylum seekers.
This ties in with my additional activism, as the Social Media Manager for a charity named TZ Rising. This charity works in the community to fundraise scholarships for girls in Tanzania to attend school and provide empowerment. Only 7% of girls in Tanzania attend school and we are working to try and create long-term sustainable funding to change that; as education is a RIGHT not a privilege!
My work with other National and Regional Unions this year has included attending as a QUB delegate at the NUS-USI Women’s Conference, the NUS-USI Disabled Student’s Conference and the USI Women’s Leadership Conference 2017.
My previous Experience in QUB’s Academic Affairs has enabled me to recognise that the role of VP Equality and Diversity not only includes challenging discrimination, but also working in the Academic lives of Students. At an undergraduate of Queen’s and now a part-time, postgraduate student, I have experienced the varying academic challenges students can face. This has included issues around part-time fees, funding shortages, removals of bursaries for low-income students and the limiting of Disabled Student’s Allowance.
My work experience has included working in the US House of Representatives, through the Washington Ireland Programme, and working within the local government through the Department for Enterprise, Trade and Investment in the European Support Unit. These roles have given me extensive knowledge of ways to lobby the local government to fight for the rights of students on a range of intersectional issues.
3) What key platforms do you stand on for your campaign for this role?
My key platforms are gender equality and reproductive rights, disabled student’s welfare, LGBTQ+ and non-binary issues, representing underrepresented students (international students, low-income students and postgraduate students), working with the new trade union alliance and creating a social justice development week to promote greater tolerance, understanding and inclusivity. You can check these out in more detail in my manifesto (it’s worth a wee read!)
4) What do you pledge to do to ensure an ongoing movement against tuition fees, casualisation of staff contracts and course closures?
I have stated throughout my manifesto that I will work with the trade union alliance extensively following the success of the Take Back Queens referendum. This will involve continuing to strengthen the staff-student alliance and ensuring that all know of their rights in relation to what I feel is a wholly unethical approach to education. Education is a right, not a privilege, and I will continue to remind those behind the marketisation of Queens of this while continuing to grow the student opposition to this. We have the power to direct our education and I will create means to make education more accessible in the short-term, while fighting against tuition fees, casualisation of staff contracts and course closures consistently throughout and creating mandates that will prevent this in the long-term.
5) Student apathy is as present as ever. What will you do to tackle it?
I believe following the recent Assembly election, there is a real appetite for change within Northern Ireland right now and we need to utilise this within the student body. Student activism has been key in making changes within society when institutions have been failing to meet the needs of citizens and grass-root movements can never be underestimated. I believe students do care, and they are engaged in varying ways through volunteering, clubs and societies and other forms of community-based engagement, and I want to call upon these groups and call for collectivism and solidarity in a range of issues that need immediate action, such as marriage equality, reproductive rights and opposing the disproportionate impact of welfare reform on disabled people.
I would organise workshops with Alliance for Choice and the Medics for Choice, lobby collectively against welfare reform and for marriage equality. I will create a trans and non-binary action plan, have workshops with the LGBT+ society on the importance of pronouns, ally-ship training and tackling bi-erasure and transphobia.
6) What are the main challenges facing an officer in this position?
The main challenges in this role include fighting for students on huge societal issues relating to welfare reform and reproductive rights. In order to do this, I will create educational workshops and create strategic workplans to ensure that within Queen’s and the student movement more generally, there is a firm understanding of why the issues in my manifesto are of the utmost importance and creative collective, grass-root movements to tackle these. It will be necessary to work within the university, but also with outside organisations that can provide effective training and information on our options.
Given the global political climate, a lot of young people have been feeling disillusioned and many have been shocked by certain political events. I would try to overcome these situations by creating a space for open discussion, education on the importance of fighting for social justice issues, and ensuring this union fully represents the diverse nature of students that make it.