Meet the Student Union's new Vice-President (Community and Wellbeing)...
Tell us about the role?
It has changed to incorporate more about our wellbeing. It used to be just VP Community but my predecessors have moved strongly forwards with the mental health agenda so we’ve added wellbeing to the title, and not before time. As the part-time Women’s Officer for the past two years, I’m particularly keen to improve the wellbeing of women but also of student parents and carers. We all have stresses, so we need to create safety nets to catch us and support systems when we need lifting back up. Community is such an important role because everything is the community and the Uni cares so much about this idea and rightly so. I’ve always thought of LJMU as the university for Liverpool as so many of us are from the geographical area. That’s a lot of people invested in this uni and the local area.
How does it work in practice?
The ongoing Free Period Products scheme is a good example of what community means. The SU found that 80% of female students were missing lectures and seminars and going home because they couldn’t afford tampons or pads. We must make sure students are well and happy and are able to engage with their chosen course and flourish. At uni, you’re on pins all the time being in charge of yourself for the first time and that can manifest itself by putting you on course for burnout by the age of 30! I feel it is my responsibility to unpick and reshape that, making sure our work-til-you-drop mindset is challenged.
What are your objectives for this academic year?
Firstly to establish a permanent internal foodbank. Even before COVID, many students were struggling. Some are supporting relatives, and although many are in receipt of bursaries, it is only £500 – so the question for the SU is how else can we help? I’d like to see the university establish contracts with external suppliers and with their help we can ensure they have access, not only to food but also cleaning products, period products and toiletries. It is this sort of initiative, I believe, which can transform the relationship between the Uni and its students with impacts on the attainment gap, retention and in-course and graduate prospects.
Secondly, an internal phone-line to support mental health. One thing we hear a lot is long waiting times for counselling. We can do better. It doesn’t have to be 24-hours. But if you’re having a mental health issue, we need greater accessibility and a quicker turn-around. It will require investment and staffing. We don’t even know the size of the problem yet.
How did you get involved with the Student Union?
I had joined the Feminist Society as a Fresher, and also the Labour Society and the Socialist Society. I also really enjoyed the Conservation Society – we would go to Crosby Beach to litter pick and make hedgehog houses and such like, it was great. As a History student, I was in the John Foster Building, so I probably wandered in for a drink and realised it must be the SU as I remember seeing the faces of the officers on the walls. Only 20% of our students are even aware the SU exists let alone get involved. Our new home in the SLB is something we’re hoping will turn that around.
We have great societies, which is brilliant but it also makes me a little sad that more people are not able to benefit from them. We have so many people with so many incredible ideas.
Leader, organiser, protester – how would you describe yourself?
We do quite a few personality tests and mine always come up as activist, campaigner, advocate. I guess my area is vocalising and being bold on things. I’ve always been very aware of inequalities. When I was 11, I went to a wedding where the bridesmaids had their make-up paid for, all except for one of them. I was annoyed because it was an inequality. I’ve always been looking for ways to help people and the SU is a great place to do that. I think I’ve always wanted to make sure everyone gets the same opportunity.
We need new perspectives on opportunity. Anyone who has characteristics that are not white, straight and male, has experiences that are so different, but society is so unwilling to see that. It’s cool that LJMU is committed to evolving; we have decolonising the curriculum and decolonising the university as some of our ongoing campaigns. It’s about an awareness of making things fair and accessible.
This idea of community – how do we create community?
It is something we have to work hard to build. There are lots of students who engage with the SU but out of 26,000 it’s 6% or so – we need more. To change that, we need to be better at communicating what we do, to be shouting louder about what we are proud of – like the Free Period Products campaign, which was a first for an English uni. The city’s new Racial Equality Hub – that’s incredible too. There’s loads of great stuff happening here in Liverpool.
In short, I guess community happens when everybody knows that they are wanted and belong and can see themselves as a part of things.
The role is just one academic year, so are you already thinking about a career beyond LJMU?
Yes, it’s a short gig and we can only plant seeds and hope they will grow! My personal plan was to be an advocate for the UN for women and children’s rights but now I’m looking at the Civil Service Fast Stream – diplomacy or working with marginal groups and how they interact with things like the welfare state. I’m not convinced that really works under an austerity government. Maybe I’m going to have to learn to keep my mouth shut; or maybe I’ll have to shout louder.