The Student sat down with the Vice President of Activities and Services Shenan Davis-Williams to discuss her new manifesto initiatives, inspiration and words of advice.
How did you become a Sabbatical Officer?
I just graduated this summer with Philosophy and in March we ran for the position in the Sabbatical/Students’ Association Elections with five of us getting positions as Officers: there is the President and then Vice Presidents (VPs) of Welfare, Community, Activities and Services and then Education. Our role is to represent the students at the Students’ Association.
We each have our own manifesto and objectives for the year and students voted us in based on that.
What inspired you to pursue your role as Vice President of Activities and Services; was there a specific person, interest, event?
During my time at Edinburgh I played lacrosse and it became my way to get away from studying, keep busy and to have a new group of friends outside of my halls. So, I thought it would be nice to encourage people to have a say on the different activities we do to help them realise there is so much you can get involved with. The Students’ Association offers so much support for students and often it goes unknown, so I want to make students more aware.
To help us and our readers understand, what are some of the roles of the Students’ Association, just how big of an organisation is it and what does it do?
It’s massive, there’s so much going on. My role specifically is working with our 300+ societies – there’s something for everyone. And if not, we help people set up societies. We also have our Advice Place, where students can get help with anything whether personal life, studies or financially. This really encouraged me to go for my role because in my first uni years, I didn’t realise that kind of support was available. We are really lucky to have that here and a lot of students need it.
Then my role more specifically is about looking at the events, bars, shops we have- so the Big Cheese, that’s run by us, but we also have CRUSH- our- LGBTQ+ night and Sports v Socs. There are also liberation and welfare campaigns going on; where people can fight for what they think needs to be done at the university.
What do you think has been overlooked in the past that you want to specifically focus on in your role?
One of the main things I want to focus on this year is an anti-cyberbullying campaign. We have had a lot of information about incoming students, Generation Z, who are more digitally advanced than myself or current students.
So, I think it’s really important to stay ahead as I feel we are less prepared for online harassment which is becoming more of a thing than in-person harassment (although this still goes on). Starting a campaign to make people aware of what is and isn’t acceptable behaviour, but also where to go to get help is something I want to work on a lot.
So how exactly is the Students’ Association and all the initiatives you want to put forward funded?
The Students’ Association receives a block grant from the university each year, and we also generate income from our commercial services – events, bars, catering and shops, and the work we do during the Edinburgh Festival. All of this gets put back in to funding the projects, initiatives, and support we deliver for students.
How would students be able to get more involved with the Students’ Association or follow in your footsteps?
There’s quite a lot of different ways. We always have student part-time jobs available in our services which are great because they work around and understand student timetables. Then we also have upcoming elections for Postgraduates and Activities Reps which is a way to make change.
We also have Programme Reps who give feedback from classmates on course matters who can impact what everyone’s studying. This is also a good step towards running for Sabbatical Officer, which is a massive way to make a change. So, there’s a lot of different ways to get involved but also through contacting or emailing us; we are always happy to speak to people and explain more.
On a different note, what are your plans for making societies and events more environmentally sustainable?
We’ve continued projects from last year’s Sabbaticals but also just launched a project where 3800 reusable coffee KeepCups are available for free in all of our outlets just now. We’ve also introduced a latte levy so disposable cups are 25p more than if you drink from any reusable cup.
A lot is about plastic reduction too – during the Fringe, all of our cups were biodegradable, which was a massive step. We also highly support the new city bike system, encouraging people to cycle rather than drive or use public transport.
We also looked at your manifesto stating that you wish to organise a discussion board for societies- what inspired this and what difference do you hope it will make?
This is so societies can work together more, as they can be quite separated, but organise the same events. Working en masse has a bigger impact. Trying to set up a discussion board is something I have been working on already.
It means say that if people are doing a fundraising event, then they can team up with other societies and fundraise a lot more money. It is so societies share skills and embrace what each other has to offer more.
Going off your manifesto again, how do you plan to launch and promote your university-wide sports day and what urged you to want to do this?
Yes, so I hope to achieve holding a sports day which brings together ESCA [Edinburgh Students Charity Appeal], the Students’ Association, but also the Sports Union. We all work with students a lot, so I thought one big event would be great where we come together, fundraise and get people active.
It wouldn’t be hard core sports, it would be egg and spoon primary school kind of sports day with bake sales to bring together all the organisations and create a fun day that all can be involved in.
On a lighter end-note what’s one thing you wish you knew when you started as a first year at Edinburgh?
I wish I’d known to join a society or sports team properly. I was lucky with my great group of friends in halls but a lot of the time people don’t have that. So I think getting involved with some form of sport or society is a really good idea as you start to know how the Students’ Association works as an organisation but you also meet so many people and take time away from your studies. Studying is a massive part of uni life but all the extra stuff is just as important.
What are you most excited for this year?
I’m most excited to see all of the different changes that the sabbaticals can bring because we all have such different objectives but we can link them together. Right now, however, I’m most excited for our Sports v Socs night, one of the massive points in my manifesto – to create a night where our sports teams and societies can come together but also gain extra funding!
Image: Shenan Davis-Williams