Vice presidential candidate Lizzie Rhoades on affordable housing, the importance of volunteering, and conflict-free investments.
In your manifesto you state that you want to work with the university and the city council to ensure that drivers aren’t putting pedestrians’ and cyclists’ lives in danger. What practical approaches will you take to see this policy through?
Well there are multiple ways. First of all, drivers tend to not understand that cyclists and pedestrians deserve a lot more space than they are currently being given, which is really bad as they do not have airbags like drivers do. One of the first ways I want to (achieve this policy) is by running courses for drivers to learn how to give space to cyclists and pedestrians. A lot of drivers and cyclists don’t know that drivers should give enough space to a cyclist so that two cyclists can ride side-by-side on the side of the road.
Another thing is that drivers tend to consider cyclists and pedestrians as kind of inhuman – they don’t consider that their lives are at risk. So I want to run a campaign to remind drivers that these people are human, and that if you hit them this can be really bad. I also want to improve the infrastructure. The roads are so bad; it’s why you see a lot of cyclists going on to the pavement, which is illegal and they shouldn’t be doing it, but it’s because they don’t feel safe on the road. Stuff like that the City Council is not really paying attention to.
You want to make housing more affordable. What are some of the ways in which this can be done?
The first thing is purpose-built student housing, which has been a big thing this year. It’s incredibly expensive and it shouldn’t be. I want to make sure that a certain amount of those rooms are cheaper and more affordable for students. There is also the issue of private landlords, making sure that they are following the rules and that they’re not upping their prices just because they can, especially for students without UK guarantors. So I definitely want to make sure [landlords] are following the rules, and implement new rules to ensure that students are safe when they go to get housing and are not being scammed.
The university’s guarantor scheme is a great start but it’s just not advertised well. I worked this year to try and improve it because it was set up very oddly so that nobody would ever apply for it. I want to continue that work and get the University to set up more schemes and aim to to provide cheaper accommodation and safer accommodation.
The Housing Co-ops is a fantastic initiative; I think we need more of them. Right now there is just the one and not everybody is going to get in – I know I applied and didn’t get in. I think we should have hundreds of them across the city and they should be the norm rather than the alternative housing.
You want the university to only make conflict-free investments. Could you please define this concept?
The university just divested from fossil fuels, but they haven’t divested from arms or completely divested from conflict-minerals. We need to make sure that the supplies that they are procuring are ethical and conflict-free. There are all sorts of things the university hasn’t done yet. Fossil fuels is a great first step but we need to go further with the arms, and the conflict minerals, and any of the items that they are procuring to sell in their shops.
But is it not the case that if the University divested from all companies involved in some form of conflict there would be hardly any goods to sell and investments to make?
In some cases you might find that you have very few, and I think then you have to choose the lesser of two evils. You may have to say well this company is horrific and shows no interest in changing the ways they are acting, and this company has made some substitutions. But for the most part there are a huge amount of new start-ups, even just in Edinburgh, that are focused on conflict-free made products that the university can invest in instead. And then it also supports small entrepreneurs both in the local city and world wide.
How has your time as volunteering rep prepared you for a role as VP Community?
Volunteering is a huge part of the VP Community role and it’s often just overlooked. I know just by talking to other activities reps that they forget that volunteering is so huge and makes such a huge impact on the community. I’ve had the chance this year to really learn how important volunteering is and how important international students are to volunteering. I’ve taken this year to really learn how I can work on these things. Every one of my manifesto points I’ve been working on for a year as the volunteering rep, like listening to people. I’ve also been working recently on providing a minibus driver scheme, because that’s what our society needs. Having a year of experience working on that has really prepared me for being able to listen in a VP Community role, and do what students need me to do and not just what I want to do.
At a Student Council meeting this semester the Chair advised attendees to refrain from using the word ‘ridiculous’ when referring to other people’s policies or ideas. Do you support freedom of speech on campus and do you believe that the Chair’s request was reasonable?
I definitely believe in freedom of speech. In terms of that Student Council meeting it did get to the point in the meeting that many of us felt that people were being rudely responded to when they bought points up, and so I definitely agree with the Chair’s decision to ask people to refrain from using the word ‘ridiculous’. It’s not a bad word, I quite like using the word, but not when I’m referring to somebody else’s opinions that are well-founded and based on facts. I might not agree with those opinions but its not my right to call them ridiculous and offend them.
In 2017 the university’s budget surplus was £132, 635, 000, that is larger than that of all other universities in Scotland combined. Do you feel this money is being invested wisely, and if not how would you lobby the University to change this?
In some cases yes, I think it is. But going back to the divestment points there are definitely still conflicts within their investments that they need to go over again and make sure this is what they want to invest in and be remembered for. So yes, I definitely think there are better ways for the university to invest their money. There have been moves recently to invest more money into the community, which I think is a great start, and I think we can push that even further and use that money to improve the community and through that improve the world.
Of your manifesto points, which is the most important to you?
Probably affordable housing and safe housing. As an international student it is so difficult. I’ve gone through so many hoops and it’s just not okay. I think this issue can be improved for every student. There was recently an article released saying that because of rent increases some students are expected to live on or around one pound a day. This is ridiculous and really needs to change.
Which of your manifesto points do you believe will be the most difficult to achieve?
I think affordable housing will be the most difficult. It’s been a thing that’s gone on for years so now it’s all about the next steps.
Image: Lizzie Rhoades