YUSU Elections Debate Night – Full Report

The evening kicked off with short speeches from the two hosts, Scott Dawson (himself a former Community and Well-Being Officer) and Matthew Ingram, before the debate proceeded in rounds starting with Sport, and then progressing through Community and Well-Being, Activities and Academic before finishing with Prez. The hosts asked a few questions themselves, before throwing the debate open to questions from Twitter and the audience.

 

Sport President (Alexander Lake, Josie Phillipps, Peter Fisher, Laura Carruthers):

York Sport kicked off by discussing inclusivity with all four candidates encouraging an expansion and destigmatisation of disability sport. Laura Carruthers suggested expanding college Varsity, while Volleyball captain Peter Fisher championed the achievements of sitting volleyball and encouraged sports clubs to employ welfare and disability officers.

The conversation turned to college vs. uni sport: Alexander Lake suggested sharing equipment to help college teams get off the ground: “I want to give the smaller clubs the option of using University kit”. Josie Phillipps championed creating a combined college sport website to help with finding sponsorship and getting people involved.

On personal development, Laura Carruthers talked about a new system for giving people qualifications for their work, and emphasised the transferable skills that sporting leadership roles could provide. She also highlighted the mental health benefits of physical exercise, a point echoed by Alexander Lake.

A question from Ellie Wintour then tackled the issue of lad culture in University sports clubs: Alexander Lake suggested workshops, Phillipps emphasised the toxic masculinity lent by sports socials and initiations, while Peter Fisher took a stronger stance by suggesting establishing procedures for tackling incidents. Laura Carruthers suggested a “grass roots” approach, and also took aim at initiations.

 

Community and Well-Being Officer (Mia Chaudhuri-Julyan, Thomas Underwood):

Both candidates struck an amicable tone, having recently released a joint campaign video with one another to take on ableism within the electoral process. However, the natures of their policies differed widely.

Mia, hoping to stay on message throughout the questioning, emphasised a need for welfare data collection to gauge what students needed, while Thomas wanted to restrict letting agents’ access to housing fairs and advertisement and create a student response unit to speakers invited to campus.

In response to the inevitable question regarding Open Door, Thomas pointed to the £500 000 invested in mental health (£120 000 of which has been received so far), and suggested taking strain off the service by creating extra support services at a college level. Mia outlined one of her key policies – centralising welfare requests through e:Vision, lightening the administrative burden and using it to collect anonymous statistics.

On student engagement Mia suggested an increased social media presence for Part-Time Officers (such as Disabled Students Officer, LGBTQ Officer etc.) and an opt-in form for freshers to help them engage with support and liberation networks and societies. Thomas also pointed to the PTOs, promising to personally work more closely with them in office.

The first question from the audience concerned supporting students who live off-campus. Thomas pointed to two of his main manifesto policies – recruiting neighbourhood reps to report on off campus issues, and regulating the operations of letting agencies. Mia emphasised the need to improve and simplify access through centralising welfare.

Incumbent Community and Wellbeing Officer Dom Smithies then asked a question on “snowflake culture” [safe spaces, trigger warnings etc.]. Mia initially did not understand the term, but on explanation referred to data collection as a way of gauging student opinion. Thomas was much more forward, saying that the whole conversation had become “pretty boring” and defending trigger warning as “not something that needs to be debated”.

In response to a question on how to help international students after the Brexit vote, posed by current Activities Officer Alex Lusty, Mia pointed to a college parent scheme, one of her manifesto policies, as well supporting specific issues such as homesickness and culture shock. Tom singled out housing as a particular issue: having spoken to International Officer Roberto Avelar, he espoused greater dissemination of housing information for those going into 2nd and 3rd year.

In light of low turnout for BAME Part-Time role, both candidates agreed that BAME students are underrepresented. Mia returned to data collection as a way of gaining more demographical understanding, while Thomas said he would “rather give the community a microphone than speak for them”.

 

Activities Officer (Daniel Bowen, Mikey Collinson):

Dan started by saying he wants to improve communication between the Union and societies. Mikey proposed the introduction of a societies’ reward scheme and a matchmaking system to connect individual students with appropriate volunteering opportunities.

There was some agreement on one key issue: freedom of speech. Mikey is open to controversial speakers on campus, he says, but, “the priority needs to be the safety of students”, and both sides of any debate must be given airtime. Dan says Activities Officers should stand for the freedom of students.

Next up is RAG and volunteering. Dan thinks the biggest problem with RAG is that it isn’t coordinated properly with the students’ union. Mikey believes RAG needs lower fundraising targets. To increase volunteering Mikey wants to use his matchmaking idea and introduce a volunteering awards ceremony.  Dan would like to promote smaller projects and tie volunteering to existing university programmes like Give it A Go.

Questions from the floor raised further issues. Secretary of History Society asked how support for societies could be improved. Dan recommended networking while Mikey said more of a deal should be made of small societies. he added that societies cannot necessarily be grouped together: Activities officers need to be there for each and every society.

To make societies more accessible to freshers both candidates felt additional training could be useful. Mikey proposed training in how to welcome new members; Dan on inclusivity and improving diversity.

The issue of funding (with which many societies struggle) was raised and Dan highlighted the importance of feedback from YUSU on funding applications.

In their closing statements the candidates both stressed their experience in working for societies, Mikey witih Nightsafe and Pantsoc and Dan with LGBTQ Soc. Mikey  said he is really experienced so he knows how the different aspects of Activities work, adding, “Passion comes from seeing the success of his society”. Dan stressed his two years’ experience and said he thinks running a society has been the most valuable part of his university experience.

 

Academic Officer (Jay Edevane, Julian Porch):

Jay highlights her experience as TFTV department rep. She wants to reduce textbook costs, have part-time officers attend rep meetings, and update teaching methods. ”Lectures aren’t cutting it,’ she says, and should be replaced with seminars: Lectures “aren’t attended” and can be boring.

Julian wants to negotiate with departments to reduce book costs through a rental system for core modules, and thinks that the current course rep system is undemocratic. He’d like to see a ‘trickle down support system’ from faculty to department.

Both candidates agree that YUSU should not campaign to abolish student fees.

They agree too that academics and writers from minorities needed to be better represented. ‘Why is my curriculum white?’ working group has not been given enough resources to bring it forward, says Jay while Julian points out that his manifesto includes having meetings with BAME and LGBTQ to liberate the curriculum and revitalise the working group.

Jay thinks that rep retention is an issue. Department reps should liaise with course reps who should be empowered to do their jobs, not have blocks put in their way.

She would like to see data from module feedback forms and the NSS retained so that in later years students can be asked questions that reveal whether the problems identified have been fixed.

Julian says there isn’t enough communication between departments that host joint honours students so students end up being caught in the gap between them. Jay thinks adding programme reps are the best way to academically represent joint honours students.

With regards to disabled students, Julian thinks the departments cannot all be tacked as one, but need to be dealt with individually. .

Jay says faculty reps have taken a role on representation and wants to get more people into faculty forums. Julian agrees, saying faculty forums are excellent spaces for student voices. The key is to get students more engaged, he says, referencing the depleted room.

Julian thinks his manifesto is much more specific than Jay’s; Jay says hers is more implementable.

When it comes to closing statements, Jay says she hasn’t prepared one as she wants to speak from the heart. She thanks the audience for remaining and says she has passion and a great track record in academic representation and fixing problems.

Julian says students at York deserve more and that he is the one to provide it; his  manifesto offers an achievable means to represent the academic interests of students, and he has the ideas and the means to execute it.

 

Student President (Max Flynn, Alex Urquhart, Roberto Avelar, Charlie Chester, Will Batchelor, Tom Arnold, Jed Fulwell):

In an frequently disjointed debate, often broken up by monosyllabic answers and less-than-serious responses, both candidates and hosts struggled a little for rhythm.

In his opening statement, Jed Fulwell recited a vbar themed parody of Smash Mouth song All Star, in which he admitted that he was “running as a joke”. Charlie Chester received probably the biggest laughs of the night when he quipped, “my total lack of policies is good for you” and “I have a lot of experience being rejected from these positions”, while Tom Arnold, resplendent in a pink suit, drew on his experiences as Vanbrugh bar and music rep. Will Batchelor outlined his main policies (napping areas on campus, and bottled sauces in campus food outlets), and pointed out that “when there are joke candidates, turnout increases”. In his closing statement he urged viewers to vote for “one of the real candidates”.

Avelar, Flynn and Urquhart provided longer, more issues-driven answers, capitalising on their experiences respectively as International Officer, Chair of James, and Chair of Derwent.

When asked how they would lead a SABB team that disagreed with their policies, Avelar pointed to the mandate he would have in such a situation and said the onus would be on the SABB team to sort out their differences. Flynn espoused consulting the student body, and emphasised the importance of engagement – “the majority of students don’t know what a PTO [Part-Time Officer] is”. Urquhart suggested that if the SABB team could tackle more issues by separating out their responsibilities, then they should do so.

Conversation turned to the NUS: Avelar and Urqhart agreed that the NUS had its flaws (with Avelar remembering that when he’d been deported the year before, the NUS International Officer had been “useless”), while Flynn emphasised the benefits of the NUS for the Liberation Networks.

On the ever-present topic of mental health, all candidates agreed that more needed to be done. Avelar highlighted wheelchair accessibility and pointed to his manifesto, while Urquhart suggested that more support and communication between students could relieve pressure on professionals. Flynn championed extra funding and highlighted the structures surrounding Leave of Absences as an area of particular concern. He also suggested that the University had been lying about Open Door waiting times and promised to hold the University to account – a theme that ran through many of his policies.

The hosts then posed a question about administrative approach: “would you aim for small or big wins?” Avelar espoused big statements, leading to “big or small wins”, pushing for transparency throughout YUSU and the University, while Flynn pushed for a balanced approach (“students won’t get involved unless you talk about big topics”). Alex Urquhart opted for instead for the realistic ambitions presented by small wins; “my manifesto is not based on huge top down policies, and is all about nurturing communities from the bottom up”.

 

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