The Student sat down with the winner of this year’s Student Association presidential election, Eleri Connick, to discuss her campaign, her manifesto, and being referred to as ‘Shrek girl’.
Why did you decide to run to be the Student Association’s president?
I have loved being Vice president of the sports union this year and I have loved working on widening participation, mental health and wellbeing, and sustainability projects. Sadly you can’t really work on those areas as sports union president as your main focus is on clubs. I have been going to student council and looking at the projects that Patrick and the other sabbatical officers were doing I was just like, ‘I really think I could do that,’ knowing what I could change. I’d like making things better if I can.
Why do you think your campaign was so successful and why did you choose a Shrek theme?
I think one of the reasons why it was successful was the Shrek. I think people remember that. I went with Shrek because I was trying to think back to successful campaigns…there was a Toy Story one and Bob the Builder last year. Originally, I thought to do something with dragons because I’m Welsh. My flatmates and I realised there was a dragon in Shrek, and they suggested my policies could be like onions: they could have many layers and still come together. I am so glad I went with it, I don’t think I would ever be happy to be referred to as Shrek girl but that week [election week] I was like yes, refer to me as that!
As you start your term, what do you think is one of the key issues facing the students at our university?
I think the backlash of the strike is going to be one thing because exam dates have been released but people don’t know what they are going to be assessed on. There is added stress then if students don’t get the grades they need to apply for graduate jobs, etc. Also, a key issue is rent. The fact that the average rent is £550 is ridiculous.
Going back to the industrial action you mentioned, The University has recently been through a difficult few months with the controversy around the appointment of our new principal, as well as the strikes. What do you believe should be EUSA’s role in supporting students through these times?
I think, sadly, the student association can’t be as active if it doesn’t know exactly what’s going on either. There is no way to provide all students answers. Once we get answers and go along to meetings to find out what is happening with exams we can provide feedback. It is important to help students be aware of what they should be doing and how they can still achieve whilst at uni.
You also mentioned rent prices as a key issue, do you think it’s realistic to keep down flat prices when a lot of the increase depends on the housing market and the fact that the supply of housing is likely to go down if prices are reduced, creating issues of a lack of housing.
I don’t think naming and shaming is about rent caps — think they are two different issues. We have this issue of ridiculous rent prices, but I thought it was unrealistic to put it in my manifesto. I know there is a motion at the moment in the Scottish government about rent cap. Naming and shaming is more so that if students are paying extortionate fees, they are being treated properly, and agencies that don’t do this should be called out.
My friend didn’t have water for two days. If you’re paying £500 a month you deserve to have running water. So the name and shaming is about ensuring that students are getting the right stuff for what they’re paying and being treated as any customer would.
It has recently been revealed that our university is one of the least diverse in the UK and that many BME students often feel alienated and different. As president would you try and combat this? If so, how?
I think that’s why it is so important to work with the liberation officers. Not just for BME issues but also LGBT+ inclusion. I think its great that Diva has done such an amazing job and is the incoming VP Education, so as a team we can really work on improving that community feeling at the University. Edinburgh can feel like such a bubble and sometimes a harsh community to come into. It is so important for EUSA to work with the liberation officers to ensure there are events going on. One thing Patrick began with was meeting the liberation officers once a week and I want to continue this as well. As the liberation officers are also part time students, and having done a role part time this year, I know how hard it is to get everything you want done. As a full time sabbatical officer I want to be on hand to make sure the liberation officers meet what they want to do in their manifestos too.
Speaking of manifestos, in yours you write: “More collaboration with societies, sports clubs and schools tackling big campaigns together.” Which campaigns/ societies did you have in mind?
I mean mental health awareness week, LGBT+ history month, even the sustainable ED week that we had in February. Cross collaboration [is important], so in November I organised an event in partnership with mental health awareness week and sport and mental health conversation event. We had Michael Jameson who is a former Olympic swimmer come in and tell us about how he had to retire because of depression and how it was really hard to talk about it in the elite sporting environment. It was such an interesting talk and bought in so many students that wouldn’t usually think about these kind of campaigns as they are either very much in academic schools or sports societies. The cross collaboration meant that more students came together. I think speaker events like that are really good when there is an umbrella discussion engaging more than just one group of people.
This is the first year we have had an all female or non- binary EUSA team, what do you think about this?
Out of the [original] twelve candidates running for president there were four women, so the majority were men so I think its so exciting. Every sabbatical officer is coming from a completely different area.
On a more personal note, now that you are coming to the end of your time at Edinburgh, what has been your highlight of your time as an undergraduate?
That’s so hard! The one at the top of my head is organising the sports union ball this year because it was the biggest one, we had fireworks, I wanted it to be a show, that was amazing. Also, meeting the people who are going to be my core set of good pals.
Finally, what is the best night out in Edinburgh?
Garibaldi’s, because its free (apart from on Saturday)!
Photo by Andrew Perry