Ellen Blundson is the newly elected and incoming Disabled Students’ Officer for 2019-2020. The Student was able to discuss her ideas for the upcoming year with her.
The conversation started with an overview of her plans for the year ahead. Ellen’s manifesto included seven major points and she said that she had started campaigning on each of these. These points include: creating a zero tolerance policy for ableism on campus; making mental health training mandatory for staff; diversifying the curriculum through the establishment of a disabled studies course; ensuring that university attempts to improve campus accessibility are based on liberation rather than compliance with minimum regulations; creating a resource and information hub for disabled students; and fostering a community for disabled students and holding weekly drop-in sessions.
Much of the early discussion focused on Ellen’s plans to ensure mental health training becomes mandatory for all staff in light of consistent failures to meet deadline targets on training. Here she expressed hope, stating that structural plans are not “set in stone.” Although she admitted that this is probably the hardest policy on her manifesto to implement, she said that if she could convince a couple of key senior management decision makers then a lot of progress could be made in the year to come.
Throughout the interview, Ellen expressed frustration that whilst the Students’ Association was already very receptive to her ideas, senior university staff are harder to convince because they are predominantly “white middle-class abled-bodies men who don’t treat liberation as seriously as they should.” Because of this Ellen expressed hope that even if some of her policies could not be implemented this year, that she would play a role in allowing future Liberation Officers to build on her platform in the years to come. She also commended previous Sabbatical Officers and Disabled Students’ Officers for their hard work and aspires to build on their success in the coming year.
Ellen remained realistic throughout, highlighting the recent controversy surrounding mandatory interruptions of studies to characterise the university establishment as “out of touch… in so many situations.” She added that the mandatory interruption of studies policy is “awful” and that she “will do literally everything in my power to stop that.”
We next discussed Ellen’s involvement with media organisations and how this has influenced her values more generally. In response, she noted that “accountability is the most important thing, especially as a liberation figure.” She also stressed that she would hope people would call her out if she were not living up to her manifesto commitments. Even though she admitted that in light of her position she might have a platform, she emphasised how the purpose of this is to elevate other’s voices. Ellen consistently stressed how privileged she was to be the facilitator of “a rich diverse community of disabled students who have amazing ideas.” She further added that whilst her manifesto may have included particular individual points, its overarching theme was the intended creation of a welcoming and accessible space for disabled students.
Before concluding, The Student was keen to find out what Ellen wanted to further highlight about her plans for the upcoming academic year. In response Ellen expressed her excitement at working with an amazing liberation team and how keen she was to get started. It was an extremely informative conversation with Ellen Blundson and it will be fascinating to follow her progress.
Image: Hannah Robinson