The Student contacted LGBT+ Liberation candidate Rosie regarding her campaign and manifesto. To read Rosie’s manifesto, click here
What motivated you to run for this position?
Coming to Edinburgh was such a turning point in accepting my own identity and strength. During my first year, I really struggled with feeling so isolated and not knowing where to get support, especially with a disability and a difficult relationship with my sexuality. The past year I’ve worked really hard through WellComm, as a Wellbeing Officer, and with the Wellbeing Services to make support more visible to all students. But there’s still so much to be done, especially in the LGBT+ community, where so many feel disillusioned or disempowered. I think that there is nothing more liberating than finding spaces in which you can be yourself without having to apologise or think twice, and I have learnt so much about my own identity, and the identities and expressions of others, that it feels as though my old life was in grayscale. I’d love for other students to have fewer barriers to seeing in technicolour.
What are your thoughts on the mandatory interruptions policy?
I have far too much to say on this in such a small space. I support and echo the Edinburgh University Students’ Association’s opposition, but recognise that the current disciplinary pathway is not right either. I’m a student who almost didn’t make it to university: after a real breaking point, I had to take a year out. I wasn’t in the right place to make an informed decision about my fitness to study, and in the end, the decision was taken away from me, so I understand that in some cases a student may need this measure.
But what the new proposal doesn’t recognise is the flaws in the existing policy it plans to build on, which has so far failed to reduce the numbers of students needing ‘extreme’ measures. The policy would also disproportionately affect students from marginalised groups, and students who can’t go ‘home’ to a support network or may not have the means to finance a year of interruption. I believe the policy would perpetuate the culture of silence around lesser understood conditions or behaviours, and lead to struggling students dodging disclosure out of fear.
What is the most ambitious point on your manifesto and how do you plan to tackle it?
The Queer Quorums will be a lot of work – both pragmatically and in working to show people the value behind them, and getting them to engage. However, I know that through the contact I have had with the Director of Student Wellbeing, the Students’ Association and staff on the Equality & Diversity committees, that I have the networks to see this come to fruition – more communication with students is what the university knows it needs, and LGBT students, particularly those with intersectional identities, are the voices that most need to be amplified.
Antisemitic graffiti was found in the toilets of the Old Medical School on Thursday. Transphobic graffiti has also been found in university bathrooms. How should the university be tackling hate crime and does our university have a hate problem?
Our university, and in fact the whole of Edinburgh, does have a hate problem. What is most worrying is the lack of a firm public statement from the university’s most key players; whenever we see hate, we have to take a united and powerful stance against it. If we allow students to feel unsafe, unheard or disrespected on campus, we aren’t the institution we should be. The burden also shouldn’t fall on minorities – it’s up to allies to show their mettle by stepping up to tackle hate crimes.
King’s building doesn’t have an LGBT+ society. What else needs to be done so that the whole university becomes inclusive?
I think we need to improve the existing circles of solidarity and safety that we have, widening them to include students from all backgrounds. Raising awareness of some of the brilliant networks that already exist is key too. The LGBT+ Medics and the groups for QTIPOC and LGBT+ people of faith should be given more resources to expand their outreach. I have already worked hard to run more events out at King’s Buildings for LGBT+ History Month, and this would be a huge focus for me next year. The Queer Quorums would provide common space for LGBT+ students of all backgrounds and interests to network.
You mention you want to ensure students and staff learn about diverse identities together. What would you do to ensure Edinburgh’s staff feel welcome at your events?
From my work with WellComm and as a Wellbeing Officer, I know already that many staff are so keen to grow their knowledge when it comes to LGBT+ communities – including the Equality & Diversity committee and the staff in the university’s Wellbeing Services. I think that an informal, inclusive environment is the way forward: getting to know each other outwith the classroom as people, with diverse ideas and needs. Inviting staff to join students for lunch, coffee or cake would be so easy to do, and would also improve day-to-day communications as well as understanding.
Finally, is there anything in particular about your manifesto/campaign that you want to draw students’ attention to? What is your favourite policy?
I’m really passionate about widening our communities into the Edinburgh area: the work Sexpression, the Staff Pride Network and local organisations do is incredible, and I think as Queer students we should take the opportunity to give back, providing young people with the kind of information, history and representation some of us needed so desperately when we were that age. I’m also super excited to organise a non-gendered fashion show!
The following is a transcription of Rosie’s responses during the Liberation Candidate’s Question Time which took place on Friday 1 March 2019.
Some answers may have been edited for clarity.
I had a bit of an existential crisis when I realised I had to introduce myself because I just wrote on this piece of paper “who am I!” and stared at it. I use she/her pronouns and I’m second-year Biological Sciences student. My main passion – beyond cheesecake and Hayley Kiyoko – is student activism and I really believe that at the moment we have a really engaged core of students. You’re all here and that’s lovely, but what I really want to do is to engage people that aren’t already taking part in LGBT+ societies, activities and campaigns.
My main aims include shaping and changing the university – I want to hold regular Queer Quorums where we celebrate our achievements as LGBT students, highlighting projects from students of colour, trans students and disabled students, and open have a dialogue with the university’s staff and allies about what they could be doing better. I want to get the university to take a firm public stance against the unacceptable transphobia around campus. I want to improve access to gender-neutral facilities. It’s not about meeting the bare minimum: it’s about making them useable, accessible and friendly. My second focus is connecting and creating: I want to create a non-gendered fashion show to build on the amazing work of the Queer Arts Collective supported by Natasha this year. I would like to continue working with LGBT Scotland and Sexpression to work with youth outreach, to do talks about relationships, inclusivity, safety and identities. I want to support the networks that already exist in terms of the amazing communities that support people of colour, faith and LGBT medics. I want those to grow but I want them to remain autonomous.
How do you plan to engage students who haven’t been involved in the LGBT campaign before, including those who are new to the university?
I think that it is really important to recognise that there are a lot of LGBT communities set up. There are a lot of barriers to people finding them and feeling like they’re truly included in those. I’d like to see more welfare training for those involved in running a LGBTQ society or group. I want to ensure they’re very welcoming especially to international students, people of colour and people of faith. I do think that there is a big barrier to including those people. I am a strong believer that there is a passion in everyone to fight for a different kind of equality or fight for a different advancement in our rights. I’d love to see more informal opportunities, and collaborations with different societies to show people that if they want to get involved there is a facility to do that and I want to support them to do it too.
How do you see yourself working alongside the other Liberation Officers to ensure that students who experience intersecting oppressions feel welcome in the LGBT+ Campaign?
I see myself doing it very well! My third point that I didn’t get to say earlier, because I’m perennially distracted, is about amplifying voices. I am a disabled student and I deal with a lot of shit that I shouldn’t really have to deal with because of the way that the university works. It’s really hard and it makes it just that little bit more difficult to participate in things that I want to do and things that I’m passionate about. I’d love to work with the new Disabled Students’ Officer to try and make that easier for people. I’m really glad that we have such amazing people running. I would love to work with the BME officer, I’m assuming we know who it is going to be, just to help make space for people of colour to talk about their experiences, and that being a space that if you go into it, you are invited into the space to learn and you’re invited into the space to listen.
Coordinating LGBT+ plus History Month is a big part of the role. What events would you like to see in 2020?
I really enjoyed this LGBT+ History Month, but I think it could’ve been better. I think it’s really important to highlight voices that are marginalised, like voices of disabled students, trans students, and people of colour, and give them a platform to do what they want and be really creative. But it’s not just about February and history, it’s about what still needs to change. I think that has been really poignant this year, especially looking at the history of LGBT+ History Month and teaching in schools and getting young people involved in accepting other identities. I’d like to see it go on all year round, taking the time to think what should we do next, and how can we keep fighting beyond February into the other 11 months to be more inclusive. I think it’d be really interesting to have staff have LGBT+ reading lists, for example having slides where they have current LGBT+ scientists. And they’d have rainbows on them, so that’d be nice!
How do you plan to work with societies and student groups to get more people involved in the LGBT+ campaign?
I’ve been running WellComm for a year now with Izzy, and it’s been really really fun, if incredibly stressful, and a lot of the stuff we’ve been doing is with student activism and community and getting people involved with things. I’d love to give societies the chance to join up and do more exciting things. I also think it’s key to make sure that societies are safe spaces for everyone and everyone feels included. I’d love to see more events that promote mental health and wellbeing, that’s a really hot point at the moment and that’s really important to me. I think focusing more on that and getting everybody to take a step back and think about their identity and how it affects them even if they aren’t aware of that is very important. Estranged students are a big worry to me. I am a student who has issues contacting my family, and I feel those students often don’t engage with societies at all. I’d love to see more informed support groups for students that are experiencing more diverse problems but can’t commit to societies for financial or social reasons.
What do you see as the biggest political issues affecting LGBT+ students on campus and beyond?
Oh my gosh, there’s so much going on right now! At the moment the most sensationalised thing is the transphobic stickers. I don’t think the university has been strong enough on condemning that. I don’t mean going undercover and find out who’s doing it, but making it clear this is unacceptable. Today is actually zero-discrimination day, and one of the things I was reading about today is the lack of law in Scotland regarding forced conversion therapy. I think it’d be interesting to look at what’s going on in parliament and how we can mobilise with action and individuals and tools to raise awareness for these issues. They’re very hard to get engaged with sometimes if you’re not familiar with policy. I do a lot of work with the Equality and Diversity Committee in the School of Science and Engineering, and I think there are a lot of staff ready to support students to take these new stances and encourage the university to do so too.
This is the first year LGBT+ officer will be working alongside with the Trans and Non-binary Officer. In that new context, how do you intend to work together to support the trans and non-binary campaign while also respecting their autonomy?
I think it’s really important for people who identify in that category to take the lead. But I also think there’s strength in numbers. I think someone who’s in the LGBT+ community but doesn’t identify as trans, should be an ally. I think that you have to take a bit of the stick, a bit of the burden off their shoulders because god knows what it’s like to study at a university where you don’t feel safe, where people are actively speaking against your identity. So I’d like to see the LGBT+ Campaign – and if I’m the Officer – I’d like to see myself taking some of that emotional labour, and really giving the Trans and Non-binary Campaign some space to breathe and give them time to be active without dealing with so much of the administrative shit.
What more should the university be doing to help estranged students and those with limited family support?
Funding. Give them funding when they need it, be there for them when they don’t have it. It’s so difficult being an estranged student, and I say this from experience. It’s crap. It needs to be better: I have friends who are rejected by their families for their identity, who might be stuck and have nowhere else to go. That’s when you get into tricky situations, that’s when mental health really takes a turn. So funding. But it’s also partially emotional support. It’s really hard to find people who would support you unconditionally like a family should. We need more staff support in terms of staff mentoring. I’m not sure how much staff training is designed and delivered to just tick boxes, but I’d like to see informal spaces for staff and students to learn about identity together as people. I want to encourage respect, not just fulfilling a requirement because I think that goes the wrong way.
Image: Isobel Cordrey