The Student sat down with VPAS candidate Shenan Davis-Williams to discuss the importance of society participation, mental health, and food options for all students.
Can you briefly introduce yourself to us?
I’m Shenan, running for VPAS. I study philosophy, and I’m from up-north in the highlands.
Why did you decide to run for this position?
During my time at university I’ve done a lot of activities and fundraising whilst also playing lacrosse. The lacrosse team is my family away from home, and I’ve learnt the importance of societies in finding a community and developing character. I want to enable all students to get this form of an experience.
Also, during my time at university, I have felt that a lot of services are not up-to-par. I hope to work on this as well.
Can you give a brief overview of your manifesto’s key points?
I’m trying to introduce more vegetarian, vegan, and gluten-free options at the university. I’ve been vegetarian my whole life, and a lot of the time I’m unable to eat on campus. I feel like it is the university’s responsibility to provide affordable options for everyone, so it is something I know we can work on.
I am always trying to encourage less plastic use for sustainability. I want to install more water fountains, specifically at Pollock Halls, where there are no fountains at all.
I also want to do work for the ECA. This will not only be through fostering a sense of community with the main campus, but also grants for materials. If students are expected to have certain journals, or sketchbooks, or printed pages for their courses, the university should be able to provide grants or supply such stationary to its students. Income largely varies throughout the university so support is always needed.
What do you consider most important within your manifesto?
I think it has to do with funding and getting help for our courses. There are materials we need, that some students just can’t afford. It is a divide in privilege and I know our university needs to be better to provide the required journals and stationary for major assignments.
What do you think a primary concern is facing students at the University of Edinburgh?
Trying to get help is something that I find to be really difficult at the university. Our personal tutors are not always there to help us, specifically when we need assistant for very specialised lessons. Also, if you don’t get along with your personal tutor, it is difficult to figure out who to go to.
Mental health is also something I want to concentrate on. The counselling is only available within the library, and you don’t want to trek all the way there when you need help. I want to really focus on improving our facilities for the betterment of the student body.
Give us your thoughts on the inclusivity/merging of international communities and Scottish/non-Scottish UK students on campus, with regards to the clear divide that many students feel that could be brought together.
We have our societies fair that invites everyone to get involved, but I also want to do a ‘Get Involved Fair’ that will happen in March. This will allow students to get more into societies for the next academic year, but also work towards leadership positions and getting to know their peers. There are students who really need a sense of community, and this will encourage it.
In 2017, the University of Edinburgh’s budget surplus was £132, 635,000 – larger than that of all other Scottish universities combined. Do you feel this money is being invested wisely, and if not, how would you lobby the university to change this?
I think the money is not entirely being used well. There a lot of services we need to improve that wouldn’t take much money at all. For example, with the transport for Kings Buildings, the buses should go for longer, have more stops, and go later.
Also with more food options, the university should subsidise our options to eat cheaper.
The university has recently announced its full divestment from fossil fuels. Do you welcome this decision? Do you believe there is more work to be done in making the university more sustainable?
I think this is really good. The University can be doing more though. A key area I feel like this could happen in is encouraging digital versus printed materials. We shouldn’t have to print out so many pages to turn in our work, but do it online. The same applies to trying to minimise plastic usage. This can be done through encouragement of reusable cups and flasks.
What are your opinions on the UCU industrial action and the Students’ Association’s decision to support it?
I think our lecturers deserve to strike — they need their pensions. They are so important to our academic experience, and are our gateway to a career. This is, however, very unfair to students who need help with grades, dissertations, and exams. All of this should be considered.
What are your opinions on the growing student population, do you feel that this compromises facility availability and teaching quality? If what do you think needs to be done about it?
It is great that we’re taking in more students, but we do not have the facilities required for all of them. A line should be drawn to not take anymore till we can correctly provide for everyone.
What is going to be the most difficult thing to achieve on your manifesto? Do you think you’re making unrealistic promises?
I actually think my manifesto is fairly realistic. I think everything on there are things I can definitely work to make possible and will hopefully achieve. If anything, I do think lobbying the university for grants will be tough. But not impossible.
What sets you apart from other candidates?
I think I’m easy to speak to, outgoing, and aware of the importance of societies.
What do you think the correlation is between societies and mental health? How can this be further connected to positively impact our students?
I think mental health definitely pushes people to not want to get involved. We need to make sure everyone is encouraged because a sense of community will do wonders for those having troubles. Even within societies, people suffer from mental health and a larger awareness of this will allow for character building and peer support.
Image: Shenan Davis-Williams