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EUSA Elections 2022 News

Interview with EUSA VP Community Candidate, Isi Williams

Tell us a little bit about yourself!

I’m currently a final year Sculpture student! Alongside my art practice, I’m a keen writer and editor-in-chief of a student newspaper called the Rattlecap. I started getting involved in student politics at the start of the pandemic where I led a campaign to get studio spaces for students who needed them. The campaign was unsuccessful and was my first taste of how difficult the university administration can be to work with, but it lit a fire in me. 

Why are you running for the role of VP Community?

I’ve been a part of so many student campaigns over the past few years and as a Student Representative, I’ve been battling hard for art students. I genuinely feel like I could help all students if I held this role. Students need someone to fight on behalf of their interests and needs. Now more than ever there needs to be someone who can fight for affordable housing, sustainability and more community spaces! 

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What experiences do you have that make you qualified for the role of VP Community?

As I mentioned, I have taken the lead on several campaigns to make students’ lives better, including fighting for studio spaces for students who couldn’t work from home during the pandemic, more equipment for students and more community spaces at ECA. I’m incredibly interested in student politics and feel like I can be trusted to genuinely put students and their needs first. 

The role of VP Community includes representing the voices of disadvantaged student groups. Are there any student-led organisations you would like to work with when it comes to highlighting the student community?

This is a good question and something I’ve been thinking about a lot! Both The 93% Club (which I was a part of in 2020) and Tackling Elitism do amazing work for widening participation students and I’m really keen to have a working relationship with them next year. I’ve reached out to People and Planet during my campaign too as I think it would be good to gather feedback on sustainability from them.

What does the university need to do better, and how will you help them do it?

I think the University handles most things badly – the housing crisis, supporting widening participation students, sustainability and student welfare. I definitely want to demand change where it’s possible in regards to their student support. Students are facing one of the worst housing crises in Edinburgh to date and some have to go months sofa surfing or renting expensive short term lets. I want to know that the University is doing everything within its power to house students living without secure accommodation. 

I also want to push them on their sustainability goals and green investment. They’re a massive institution with the power to make big environmental changes but we just aren’t seeing the results of many of those promises. Working with student groups to think of practical and radical ways to make changes on campus will be one of my main goals next year.

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In your manifesto, you talk about tackling food poverty and reducing food waste on campus. How do you plan on enacting this?

Currently, all the waste from cafes and bars at EUSA gets recycled or sold on Too Good To Go, but I want to create a way for this food to go to students who may be experiencing food poverty. By taking the Too Good To Go model (where people pay a small amount to pick up food that would be thrown away otherwise) you could create a way to get that food to people who really need it but can’t afford it. This would encourage sustainability, reduce waste and genuinely help students!

In terms of protecting working-class students, it’s brilliant to see you highlighting the various bursaries available to Widening Participation students, as well as your support for initiatives such as the 93% Club and Tackling Elitism. However, with issues such as the current student housing crisis, do you believe other financial assistance should be available to students?

Yes definitely! A lot of the bursaries and funding for students have been cut over the past few years – arguably when students need them the most – so I want to fight to restore them to their former amount. I also want to create a more accessible resource hub where students can access information about bursaries and I want to make sure this is distributed at freshers week so people know exactly what they’re entitled to. 

How do you plan on extending the support you want to advocate for in ECA, such as more community spaces and adaptations because of the pandemic, to the rest of the university spaces? Are you primarily interested in ECA students, or do you aim to improve the circumstances of all students?

My fight for more community spaces may have bloomed in ECA but I’m really keen to make this a university-wide campaign. I will be focussing on Kings Buildings and ECA with this issue as they’re more isolated from the central campus but my aim is definitely to improve student life for everyone, especially in relation to adaptations post-Covid. 

There is currently a student housing crisis in Edinburgh. If you were elected as VP Community, what would you do to improve this?

It’s a really complex issue that definitely won’t happen overnight. There’s a multitude of reasons for housing being scarce in Edinburgh – the main reasons are that the University is taking in more students than ever and flats are being turned into short term lets by landlords who want to make money off of tourists. MSPs are already working hard to tackle the Airbnb crisis and have confirmed that by April 2023, any holiday rentals will have to apply for a licence. I’d like to create a good working relationship with MSPs fighting this on the ground and support Living Rent Edinburgh who do AMAZING work for renters in Edinburgh. On top of that, I want to demand that Edinburgh University support students who haven’t found anywhere to live by offering them space in hotels or hostels owned by the University (as a short term solution for students who may otherwise be homeless). 

Are there any sustainability initiatives or campaigns you would like to start?

Yes! As I previously spoke about, I’m really keen to tackle food poverty among students by redistributing food that would otherwise be thrown away by EUSA cafes. But this isn’t all I aim to do. I also want to have more student swaps or free-use hubs like the ones at ECA. Essentially it’s like a big in-person Meadows Share where people share things they no longer need. It will help to reduce waste and may stop students from turning to places like Amazon. 

One of the main things a VP Community officer deals with is transport. The university has many commuter students – what should the university be doing to support these students, and how do you plan on enacting this change? 

Recently we got a win with the under 22s free bus pass. Getting the word out about that to freshers will be a priority in September. Of course, not every student is under 22; I myself don’t fall under that category and still have to pay for buses. This is why I think maintaining the Kings Buildings shuttle bus is SO important. Students have consistently had to battle to keep it despite it being incredibly popular. If elected, I’ll absolutely be in solidarity with students wanting to maintain this. 

How has the coronavirus pandemic impacted the role of VP Community and student community issues?

I think it’s made the role even more important. Covid has had a huge impact on housing, travel and sustainability, which are all things that fall under the VP Community’s remit. Now, more than ever, we need a VPC who has the passion and drive to fight for students’ needs.

The student community has been completely blown apart by the pandemic. Students are struggling to find housing, they’re engaging less with societies and events, and they’re struggling financially too. I think this is why we need to think about more community spaces for students, and why we need to push the university on their housing stance. 

What will you do to protect and improve student community issues in a world that is constantly changing as a result of the pandemic?

As you said, the world is constantly changing as a result of the pandemic, which means security has become so important. Making sure students have access to affordable housing and accessible transport are big issues that are constantly in flux – but pushing the University to help students will be a priority of mine as at the moment, the uni seems to be leaving people to drown on their own.

Image courtesy of Isi Williams