What motivated you to run for President specifically?
I’ve been part of this community for four years now and I’ve been involved with the university or EUSA in many different ways. I’ve been in the diversity and inclusion committee of the School of Politics, I’ve also been elected the School Rep, and I’ve sat in various college civil committees as well. I’m currently the Student Council facilitator, so I’m the one who moderates the debate during each Student Council, making sure that I give each student a reasonable time to make their voices heard. And I loved every second. I felt that yes, I’ve been making an impact, but it would be nice for that impact to transcend into something greater. So that’s why I would love to be President.
Also, based on that experience that I have both in EUSA and the university, I do know what works and what doesn’t work, what changes the student experience and what doesn’t. I think my main frustrations with previous candidates or campaigns that I’ve seen is that there’s completely unrealistic promises that are shiny and very cool, but I guess we have to live in a thin line between what’s ideal and what’s possible. I think it’s all about cementing the groundwork for you to make long term change. But also bearing in mind that you only have a little bit less than a year.
What would you say is the most ambitious point on your manifesto?
I would say it’s definitely completely overhauling – within what’s possible, of course – our contact support system, so how you contact a support point within the university. I think the main problem we have right now is that there are many contact points, but it’s all over the place. You can contact EUSA, you can contact people within the university, but within them there’s sub-structures. For example, within the university, you can go to your School, you can go to your Personal Tutor, to your Student Support Officer… So I think when students, and I’m including myself in this, are seeking out help, they get very overwhelmed with information and don’t really know who to talk to.
How do you plan to change this?
I think the main way to change that is to streamline the whole process while also taking into account what students need and want. So making it kind of like when you go to the doctor and they give you a form to fill out with all your details, that way everything can be taken into account, for example, disability, neurodivergence or if you seek support from a person of a specific race or gender. Also just centralising all the information. Because all the resources that we have are out there, but they’re not visible or easy to navigate. And I don’t think it’s a hard fix, I don’t think it’s gonna take years to do, and I think it’s something that’s quite overdue as well.
If there was one thing you could change about student democracy or EUSA, what would it be?
Probably making it more visible. If you look at the numbers of people that vote or even participate or engage with EUSA in any sort of way, it’s extremely slow. It’s quite sad. But if you take that into account and compare it with the satisfaction rate, that’s also very low. So it’s low engagement and low satisfaction. And I think it’s partly because a lot of people don’t know about what EUSA actively does. I think when people think about EUSA, they think about Teviot and Big Cheese. In fact, when I told my friends that I was running for President, they had no idea that the Sabbatical Officer roles are full-time, paid jobs. And these people have been at the university for three, four years now. So there’s clearly a lack of visibility. And I think we need to completely re-engineer how we engage with our students. Cause I feel like there’s a very big disconnect between our democracy and who partakes in that democracy.
How do you plan to represent such a big and diverse student population?
I’m Mexican, but I kind of grew up everywhere because of my dad’s job, so I’ve lived in Latin America, Africa, and Europe. I’ve had exposure to that diversity and what it means to be in a place that you’re not used to, and understanding that just because you have one right way of doing things, it doesn’t necessarily mean it’s the only right way. And I think our university is exactly that; it’s extremely pluralistic. I think my responsibility as President is to make sure that everybody feels represented equally, which is not the case right now.
What sort of groups would you like to engage with more?
I would like to engage more with our Asian community, particularly Chinese students, and generally to intertwine the international community with the local one more. Also speaking from my own experience, I’m Latin American, and we’re an invisible ethnicity in the UK, we’re the fastest growing ethnicity in Scotland and we’re not even in the census. It always frustrated me, even when I was applying to university, that I had to put myself as ‘other’. There’s actually a campaign that I’m launching later on with the Sabbatical officers that’s going to be called #MoreThanOther, because we are more than ‘other’. I want to tell other people that don’t feel represented in EUSA that to some extend I do know what it’s like to feel, at least on paper, invisible. And I wanna help you to not feel that way, because I’ve been there.
Aarti Mukhedkar, who launched a petition against the university’s sexual assault redressal system after her experience going through the process, said on her Instagram: “Marco Garcia Mendez is running for EUSA President. I want people to know that he was on the student disciplinary committee for my case. He saw me at a club a few days before my hearing, knew a lot of my friends and didn’t mention this until after the case. Apart from the clear conflict of interest, he is also part of the committee that gaslit and victim blamed me and countless others. Finally, he is part of the group that took the decision to overturn my case, when there was no reason to do so. If he doesn’t step down from running, which he should because he is complicit in the oppression of survivors of sexual violence, please do not vote for him.”
What is your response to that?
It’s been a very rough day, I’ve gotten a lot of hate on the street and online, a lot of verbal abuse. Obviously what Aarti says that happened to her is horrible. I don’t wish that on anyone.
I’ve been part of the student disciplinary committee for three years now. It’s made up of both students and staff, we get intense training and we know how to deal with this while also taking into account the privacy of everybody involved. I think why people come to us – and I encourage everybody who feels like they’ve been wronged by the university or by anybody in the university community to come forward to the committee – is because we take their privacy very seriously, this is not about dragging people through the mud in public, it’s not a public show. I think it is wrong to pretend to blame a singular person for what was a decision of an entire committee, a discussed decision that was made based on the evidence that we have. I don’t think that anybody in that committee goes in with the intent to dismiss cases that have any merit. We’re here to protect the student community.
I’m completely open to dialogue with anybody who wants to talk about the redressal system. I think partly because I’ve been on the committee for three years, I know how it can be changed in a real way. The system is going to be reviewed next year, it will be important to get feedback on how to change things, and I think that, given the opportunity to be President, I have that experience and unique skills of dealing with quite sentitive information, so I could potentially bring about real change.
I’m really sorry that Aarti feels wronged by the system. If she wants to bring her case forward to any other authority that she feels is relevant, like the police, I encourage her to do so and I support her. But I definitely think it is unfair to single out a single person for what was the entire process that we tried to support her through. I cannot comment on the specifics of the case, because I’m legally not allowed. I need to respect the privacy not only of myself but of Aarti, the person that was accused, and the fellow community members that sat in that meeting. So I’m not legally or morally comfortable speaking about the details of the case. I know Aarti has, and I think that’s unfortunate. I can only tell people how the student disciplinary committee works in general.
Do you think that the decision that you made in this particular case was the right decision?
It’s a decision made by a group of people. Aarti doesn’t know how I voted. She doesn’t know what we said or what we discussed and we cannot publicly say so. I’m pretty sure that if I debouched the public details of this, I would feel more morally absolved. I know I did nothing wrong. In this type of hearing, we don’t challenge the people that are involved, we don’t say ‘you’re lying’, the only thing we do is ask questions, and we deliberate in private. And I’m sad that this wasn’t handled more privately.
It seems that by her talking about it publicly, Aarti has encouraged other people to care about the redressal system and what’s wrong with it, potentially.
Of course, definitely, I one hundred per cent agree. But what I’m saying is, I didn’t unilaterally decide this and I cannot specify on the results.
What about the claim that you met at a club a few days before the hearing?
I used to work at a club, and two days later after the hearing, during my shift, she came in with her friends who also happened to be some of my friends. I didn’t know her before the hearing. If there was a conflict of interest, I would be forced to step down from the committee. But I have no relationship to her whatsoever. I was at the club working, it wasn’t like I danced with her or had a drink with her. I didn’t even talk to them because I was working and also because this was after the hearing, and I didn’t want to trigger any sort of reaction from anyone.
Is there anything else that you would like to add?
I would like to say to everybody that verbal harassment or to single out people on the street, under any circumstances, is not correct. People don’t know me, they don’t know all the facts, they don’t know what I said or didn’t say in that meeting, I didn’t unilaterally decide this. And also, this is something that’s not related to me, but for example Jaime, who is running for LGBTQ Officer had their posters vandalised too. So I would like to tell everybody that the election period can get a little bit heated, but for everybody to keep it cool regardless.
Image courtesy of EUSA