The Student Staff interviewed our new Editors in Chief, Dhruti Chakravarthi and Sam Bayliss, to discuss their groundbreaking entry into The Student, and their plans for the paper’s future.
So you two aren’t any ordinary editors, you are both groundbreaking in your own way: as the first 00s and first POC editors, what do you think this signifies about the course the newspaper is taking?
Whilst I’m privileged to be able to call myself the first Editor in Chief of The Student born in this millennium, I can’t sit here and deny that that was inevitable for the newspaper! Dhruti’s position as the first EiC to be a POC is far more important and groundbreaking; an important step forward, for sure. The fact that I am only just starting my second year and turned 19 as recently as July shows that The Student judges people on their abilities rather than anything else – something that so many companies and organisations could (and should) be doing.
One of the most penetrating tenors of the 21st century is the power and ever-increasing potential of our youth. While Sam very humbly identifies that it may not be as groundbreaking for him, a child born in the 2000s to take over such a position as just about anyone could have, I still do believe that it should be considered as a hallmark for a whole new generation of youth to carry on the legacy of this institution. And I say this only being a few months older than Sam. The Student is the oldest student-run newspaper in the UK, started by the eminent writer Robert Louis Stevenson when he was a university student, at some point carried forward by the young former Prime Minister Gordon Brown, by Lord Steel and Robin Cook – all as students. Providing these kinds of opportunities for the youth reflects how far they can potentially go, and the kind of impact they can create. Except, the problem with this narrative so far, quite evidently, is that there hasn’t been anyone other than someone of Caucasian descent running the wheels of this paper – revealing a glass ceiling. So while I am honoured to be the first Woman of Colour, one of South Asian heritage to become Editor-in-Chief in this paper’s 132-year history, it is definitely disappointing to think of the number of people who may have had the glass ceiling hindering them. Nonetheless, I am proud to think of this as a touchstone towards transformation and a reflection of what diversity can truly create.
When did you first start writing for The Student?
It was only a year ago! I remember going to the first writers meeting of the year back in September 2018, making a beeline for the Sports section and asking to write the article about England cricketer Alistair Cook’s retirement. To think that I will be standing up on the stage welcoming everyone and dishing out the instructions a year on is strange for sure. I am looking forward to being able to tell all of the excited, timid, curious freshers that I was them a year ago, and that they could be where I am in a years’ time!
Much like Sam, I wrote my piece at the beginning of first-year but as I had prioritised other extra-curricular activities and competitive commitments at that stage, I didn’t really get involved with the paper until I spontaneously wrote a feature, out of the blue, that ended up winning the Best Features Article as well as being nominated at the Student Publications Award. Soon after this, I had a cover page interview with a prominent youth-led movement that aims to end HIV AIDS by 2030. To me, this was reflective of a platform of fast growth, incredible opportunities, and a chance to build, hone and demonstrate my skill-set.
What inspired you to become EiCs?
I always knew I wanted to do it in second year, as I would be able to put the most time into it. I must be honest I was not at all considering doing it in the September-November slot, until Dhruti (who I didn’t know at all at the time) approached me, to my shock. After a bit of deliberation, I was brought round to the idea that this was the time to do it, and here we are.
Well, every experience I have had in this community has in some way or the other nudged me to run for this position. From reading about its legacy for the very first time with my father in my living room in Bangalore, my first writer’s meeting, while organising a panel event on the representation of the BAME community in journalism to writing a heartfelt piece on an aeroplane 35,000ft above human life, the times I experienced or observed racial microaggressions within the community to endless memories and long-lasting friendships I have built with some incredible people from this community, with a bond transcending far beyond our professional roles. It’s true that I did not know Sam at all when I approached him with the idea of running for Editor-in-Chief but seeing the kind of sustainable change and impact we are making as a team today, I realise how far a little bit of perseverance can go
How do you think you complement one another as joint EiCs?
Together, Sam and I are running an internal team of 31 people and constantly coordinating with numerous external forces, as well. Somehow, we have welded into one joint powerhouse and if we don’t identify and celebrate our individual strengths, we wouldn’t be able to create the kind of impact we have just one edition into our term.
Since now we’re in this role Dhruti’s word is my word and my word is her word, I was trying to work out how to compress our names into one name. ‘Dam’ or ‘Shruti’ were the highly sophisticated outcomes of this, at which point Dhruti informed me that Shruti is actually an Indian name, looked up the name on a shady numerological website and said it symbolises ‘a loyal, dedicated and hardworking person’, as well as someone who ‘commits body and soul to their partner’, to which of course I laughed.
Dhruti, as a WOC did you find any difficulties in breaking the glass ceiling?
While breaking the glass ceiling, it is interesting to reflect upon how the experiences one has outside a community avalanche over into the kind of decisions and outlook they may have in other realms. To me, I wouldn’t say I faced any specific kinds of difficulty in shattering this barrier but I wouldn’t say that the journey was easy either. Such a question involves a lot of self-reflection into understanding why I took the steps that I did, that led to this domino effect. But I can say for sure, that to a large extent, it came from a place of consistent determination and perseverance.
How would you like to change the newspaper?
We have taken the role along with the warning that every EiC over-optimistically tries to be the EiC that changes everything at The Student in a bid to be particularly memorable. Hence, we launched our manifesto on the basis that we were ‘Enthusiastically realistic for The Student’s future’. That may sound totally void of ambition, however we believe we can contribute numerous small changes that will lead to larger-scale impacts.
What are your plans for the newspaper? Any exciting upcoming projects?
As part of our plan in being enthusiastically realistic in the kind of difference we make, we have some exciting themed editions lined up revolving around the liberation movement, sustainability and careers. We will also be working closely with the Students Association and the Department of Social Responsibility and Sustainability during this time of the climate emergency, the national democratic crisis and Brexit. We aim to celebrate everyday stories, the legacy of the paper through its archives and memorialising Edinburgh’s world-class research and the impact we are creating, ranked amongst the top 20 universities in the world.
Image: Manvir Dobb