For those of you that didn’t already know, this week marks our last official week as your EUSA sabbatical officers – next week we’ll be welcoming your new sabbs and working alongside them until June 9th when we’ll be passing the organisation into their very capable hands.
As a sort of goodbye post, I thought I’d outline a few of the things I’ve been most proud of this year as well as taking the opportunity to say thank you to the fabulous reps, societies, volunteering groups and amazing students I’ve worked with throughout the year. I’m constantly amazed at your enthusiasm, drive, fantastic ideas and commitment to progressive and exciting politics.
All year I’ve been updating a colour-coded manifesto which you can find here if you’re interested in seeing how I got on with everything I pledged, but here are my top 5 achievements from the year…
1. Sexual Harassment Work
I promised in my manifesto that I would run dedicated campaigns on sexual harassment and consent in freshers week and throughout the year and we’ve done all that and more. September saw the launch of our ‘Have You Seen That Monster?’ campaign in EUSA venues, a campaign that has run all year since and been really positively received by our students. Alongside this we ensured training for all our commercial staff in how to call out inappropriate behaviour and respond to complaints of this nature – not to mention that we’ve kickstarted a process of policy development with regards to our Zero Tolerance policy. As part of this, we’ve worked with student group Sexpression to commission a venue-based consent campaign to complement our other campaigning work this year. As I write this we’re in the middle of the design process and I’m really excited by some of the ideas our designer has come up with, and can’t wait to watch from afar when the campaign launches in September!
Alongside public facing campaigning work I’ve dedicated a lot of time to lobbying and influencing on this particular issue, ensuring it is dealt with properly and sensitively and with survivors’ best interests at heart. I’ve represented students on the Council’s Community Safety Group where I made the case against victim-blaming and myth-perpetuating responses to sexual assaults around the city, and I’ve kept the pressure on the University all year to deal with the fraternity leaked minutes appropriately as well as dealing with the wider issue of rape culture and the minimising of assault on our campus. A particularly proud moment – in a roundabout sort of way – was our Rally Against Rape Culture in response to the leaked minutes and the fact that their content was indicative of a deeply entrenched societal problem. We shouldn’t have had to have the rally, but the fact that the support for it was so overwhleming and mobilised a whole load of new activists was really important, and illustrated support for the arguments I’ve been presenting to the University all year. As a result of this pressure, the University have agreed to set up a Sexual Harassment Strategy Group to come up with a strategic response to this huge issue, encompassing policy development, staff training and publicity campaigns. This is long overdue and I’m so proud to have played a part in finally getting this started.
2. ‘Is Your Halloween Costume Offensive?’ Campaign
In October we launched our campaign against racist and culturally appropriative Halloween costumes, displaying publicity material around our venues to get people thinking about the issue, and kitting out our website with comprehensive guidance. We also briefed staff on what to look out for and how to deal with incidents. The campaign was really well received – it got the most hits for any campaign on our website and we had a record low number of people turned away from our Halloween Party in Teviot. It was also nominated for NUS Scotland’s ‘Campaign of The Year’!
3. ‘All In’
I’ve spent a lot of this year loudly remarking to anyone that would listen that my role is hugely broad and difficult to balance, and SHOULD PROBABLY BE TWO SEPARATE ROLES PLEASE (FAO: the University) but I was also proud of work I did this year to bring both sides of the role together. ‘All In’ was a brand new campaign aimed at addressing barriers to participation in extra-curricular activity, and it was a collaboration with a number of different University departments including the Sports Union, Disability Service and Widening Participation. We put on a week of workshops and sessions aimed both at students who felt they experienced barriers, and those who were running societies, teams and clubs and wanted to do what they could to remove these barriers. We successfully made the case for diverse involvement in activities, publishing comprehensive guidance online about these and training a number of students across a wide range of activities in everything from leadership skills to ensuring their activities weren’t pricing other students out.
4. Parents and Carers
I promised in my manifesto that I would lobby on childcare provision as well as setting up a parents and carers network, and I’ve done both this year. I’ve worked with the University to carry out research into childcare in comparable institutions and I’ve audited our own services and venues to assess their child-friendliness, coming up with some recommendations for improvements going forward. I’m most proud that in doing this work around parents and carers I built relationships with a number of students, many of whom hadn’t really engaged with us before but had such amazing stories to tell and brilliant ideas for things we could do better based on their experiences. I worked with them to bring a policy to student council and despite it being quite a feat of democracy (it was a regulations change which meant it required 50 votes in favour, 2 student councils in a row) we successfully passed the policy and have established the group in our democratic structures, ready for a Convener to be elected in October’s by-election.
5. Mental Health
Student mental health and the University’s support for students affected comes up year on year in manifestos and it has been traditionally really difficult to make much progress on given limitations to funding and resource amongst other things. I’m really proud that this year the University responded to our pressure by setting up a Student Mental Health Strategy group where we’ve been able to feed in and influence on exactly the key issues we know students care about – developing policy to support students who are suffering, looking at how we deal with crisis situations, and investigating how we can better equip staff throughout the University to deal with these issues appropriately. Alongside this we’ve also worked on a peer support campaign in Pollock Halls around mental health, running events and information sessions with the aim of equipping students to look out for one another.
There is so much more I could talk about – I’ve had such a fantastic year and I’m proud of a number of other things, including putting together EUSA’s first ever Liberation 101 Toolkit, feeding into what the Pleasance redevelopment should look like in order to best suit student activites, making steps towards a bigger and better Societies Awards and more. We’ve also recruited some amazing staff including newly created positions in Equality representation and our Volunteering team, allowing us to better carry out this work in future. I’m excited to see what next year’s officer team do and I look forward to seeing EUSA go from strength to strength. I graduated last year so won’t be around the University to see it but rest assured I’ll be keepin an interested eye on everything from afar 😉
Thanks to everyone I’ve worked with this year – keep in touch and keep on fighting the good fight!