• Tue. Jun 18th, 2024

Interview with EUSA Presidential candidate, Niamh Roberts

Niamh Roberts

What motivated you to run for the role of President specifically?

I got really excited when I found out that the Sabbatical officer roles existed. I thought it was such a great way for students to be represented. And then I realised that there seems to be quite a disconnect, not only between students and the Sabbatical officer roles, but with students and EUSA as a whole. I’m really passionate about ensuring people are heard, that people are understood and that they have power in making decisions that affect them. So I want to become President because I genuinely think that some of my manifesto points or my ideas can make a difference in improving representation and bridging that gap between EUSA and students.

One of your manifesto points is to have a Citizens’ Assembly. How is that different to the Student Council?

It’s a completely different structure and the value of students is completely different.

With the Student Council, students are invited to hold the Sabbatical officers accountable, hold representatives accountable, and they can bring ideas forward. But the purpose of a Citizens’ Assembly is to educate, to encourage unity and dialogue between different groups and between different levels of authority. So it not only serves the purpose of helping to create policy as the Student Council does. It also makes sure that students understand actually what’s going on at the university while being able to affect change in those spaces.

A Citizens Assembly by nature is representative in that it takes a stratified sample of students, whereas the Student Council is self-selecting. So it means that students who are overwhelmed, which is most of us, end up not going because they’re too busy or they don’t know about Student Council, or they don’t see it as a legitimate force for change. 

But the Citizen’s Assembly will be putting the power in students’ hands rather than students always having to make the effort to understand what’s going on.

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With having a stratified sample of the student population, does that mean that students get picked to be in the Citizens’ Assembly? Couldn’t that also be overwhelming?

That is one possible option, but of course, we couldn’t force anyone to get involved. Also with the Citizens’ Assembly, people are reimbursed for the time they are contributing. Because the whole idea is that your perspective is seen as really valuable, no matter what you bring. One version would be for students to be picked randomly. But that doesn’t have to be how it would go. Cause I want to make it so that it doesn’t feel overwhelming, so students would be consulted on how to run the Citizens’ Assembly as well. That’s the beauty of it. 

Another one of my manifesto points is about student fatigue. As students, we are being overwhelmed and overburdened with emails and constant contacting – here’s this new service, new mechanism, a new app that you should download. I want to solve this in tandem with creating the Citizens’ Assembly so that by the time the assembly is realised, communication between EUSA, the university and the student body would be more meaningful, more streamlined.

Apart from planning and organising the Citizens’ Assembly, what would you focus on throughout the year?

I’m not gonna only focus on my manifesto points. That’s not the purpose of a President, just to have their own agenda. I would be really focusing on keeping my finger on the button because one issue with this university is that a lot of departments don’t speak to each other. A lot of individuals, staff, students don’t really understand what’s going on. It often takes a really chance encounter for you to learn about some major issue that’s affecting one group of students or staff. So I would be focusing on keeping my finger on the button, ensuring that I understood what was happening in all departments and then responding to challenges as they came. I think that so much of the role is about helping other Sabbatical officers and Liberation officers and amplifying their manifesto points.

One of my plans is also to put in place a mandatory module at the start of the semester for students and staff about unconscious bias training, active bystander training, sexual violence prevention training… That’s actually something already in the works that I’ve been putting my time into, which gives me a unique skill set that a lot of other candidates don’t have, in that the things that I have on my manifesto, I know can be realized because I’m already working on them. 

I would also be focusing on protecting the small everyday occurrences of student life, like the King’s shuttle bus or improving accessibility and choice in EUSA buildings, and responding to whatever crisis comes next because the university seems to be in incapable of avoiding huge crises every semester. And if we do end up having another round of strikes, preparing for that, supporting staff while also encouraging hybrid learning to work in such a way that students don’t have to miss out on their learning during those weeks of striking.

If there was one thing you could change about student democracy or the Students’ Association, what would it be?

I would make it more meaningful and transparent, so that information’s actually accessible and the EUSA website is easy to navigate, it’s easy to find information because it’s right there in your face. Everyone’s clued up, everyone knows what’s going on. Everyone can hold the university to account and they actually have the power to do so. Students are actually involved in the co-creation of solutions. I would change student democracy so that it’s not always the same groups of people carrying the burden of change on their shoulders and other people get the privilege of not having any idea what’s going on. I have been in that privileged position and I think it’s time I carry the burden for a little while. 

And in terms of representation, students should be able to represent themselves, I want to get them in that decision-making space, in the room with executives and staff, so that they can say exactly what has been bothering them during the school year and it doesn’t have to be filtered through several different representatives.

You can read Niamh’s full manifesto here.

Image courtesy of Niamh Roberts.

By Eliška Suchochlebová

Writer, News Editor, Inclusivity Officer