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EUSA Elections 2022 News

Interview with EUSA VP Welfare Candidate, Lauren Byrne

Tell us a little bit about yourself!

Hi! I’m Lauren (she/her) and I’m a fourth-year Chemistry student. When I’m not trying to be a scientist I like cooking veggie food, exploring Edinburgh’s coffee scene and colour coordinating my outfits. I’m passionate about mental health and welfare, equality diversity and inclusion (EDI) and student support.

Why are you running for the role of VP Welfare?

I want to work in a job that actively makes things better for people, and I find myself wanting to talk about the importance of student welfare and inclusivity. The university environment is incredibly complex and I was drawn to the wide range of issues that I would be responsible for should I be elected – it’s everything I care about.

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The student experience is so much wider than what you learn in a lecture theatre. Each student is different and this variety makes the university a wonderful environment, but only if all students are represented, welcomed and supported.

What experience do you have that makes you qualified for the role of VP Welfare?

I’m the current President of Edinburgh University Women in STEM Society, which has been a great role to exemplify the importance of representation. This involves large scale organisation, commitment to change and pushing for equality. Managing our mentoring scheme has also prepared me for fostering a supportive environment. I’ve also previously been a Mentor in Violence Prevention, enhancing my ability to approach difficult situations with care and tact.

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Are there any student-led organisations that you would like to work with to help ensure the welfare of students?

There are so many! Our students constantly inspire me. I’d love to work with CERT, Tackling Elitism, StrutSafe, BlackED, The 93% Club Edinburgh and Girl Up Edinburgh, to name a few.

In your manifesto, you talk about improving mental health services at the university. What is the current system failing to do, and how do you plan on enacting change?

The current system fails to account for students needing immediate help and guidance, and it fails to acknowledge that the student counselling service is a critical resource for many students without the disposable income to seek out private counselling. With extensive wait times, I’d like to introduce email communication of specific support resources catered to the individual’s self-assessment, to provide options during the wait and to allow the sessions to focus on listening to the students.

How do you plan on supporting and representing Widening Participation students?

Some of the areas I’d like to support Widening Participation students in would be reviewing the nature of scholarships that are based on parental income for the cases of estranged students, and I’d like to push for the hybrid teaching approach to continue in order to allow more flexibility for those with caring responsibilities, disabilities or part-time jobs.

There has been a recent outcry over the university’s system for dealing with sexual violence complaints, culminating in a protest organised by third-year student Aarti Mukhedkar, FemSoc, GirlUpEdinburgh, and many other organisations. This is clearly important to students; if you were currently VP Welfare, what would you do to ensure that these students are not silenced, and the university is held to account?

These students have put admirable emotional labour into this campaign but they simply should not have to fight this hard. If elected I’d like to make sure it was the Students’ Association that was keeping up momentum and continuing to campaign for a safer campus, taking the onus off of victims and putting it onto the university, making it clear that the current response is unacceptable.

In your manifesto, you talk about facilitating ongoing support and campaigns in response to gender-based violence. What additional support would you like to see in place for students who have experienced sexual violence at the university?

Students who have experienced sexual violence should not have to provide evidence in order to apply for Special Circumstances and should be checked in by the university, and ideally the student counselling service, consistently following the incident, to maintain a level of care and support.

How has the coronavirus pandemic impacted the role of VP Welfare and student welfare issues, and what will you do to protect and improve student community issues in a world that is constantly changing as a result of the pandemic?

I think the pandemic has highlighted the inequalities and differences in individual circumstances that impact our lives. From those with financial pressures working as key workers despite individual concerns; to those who have had to face the mental and emotional impact of long-term shielding. I think we can best relate this to the VP Welfare role by considering putting a focus on listening to and consulting with others, in order to make the role representative of as many of our varied students as possible.

The pandemic has increased fear and division among students as everyone’s personal response varies. It has also burnt students out, having their experience changed so drastically so quickly and having to try and maintain your degree like nothing is happening is a tall order. This is why I think this role is more important than ever!

I will keep listening and I will push the university and students’ association to keep adapting. There is always more we can be doing to create a supportive and inclusive university, and I will advocate for this to be the top priority.

Image courtesy of Lauren Byrne