Pierrick Roger: "I’m ready to go full-on in my campaigns"


The incoming YUSU President sets out his plans for the year ahead

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Image by YUSU

By Luke Brown

Pierrick Roger, elected YUSU President in February, is a man on a mission.

He has spent the last year as YUSU’s Environment Officer, managing to set up the new Sustainability Committee to push the University and YUSU to take practical action on environmental challenges.

“YUSU declaring a climate crisis isn’t enough,” he says. “It’s just words unless we actually practise what we preach.”

Indeed, Pierrick hasn’t shied away from conflict as Environment Officer.

“There are people in charge at YUSU who I often disagree with. It gets tense so often.”

Pierrick has a history of being vocal about environmental issues. He has worked with Extinction Rebellion and York Strikes for Climate, amongst others, over the past four years. Fittingly, he is currently studying a Masters in Biology.

He credits his background with shaping his commitment to sustainability. Born in France but raised in Singapore, he understands the threat posed by climate change better than most.

“Singapore will be underwater by the end of this century,” he says. “If you know your home’s going to disappear, it makes you take environmental problems more seriously.”

Now Pierrick is set to start his new role as President in July, and to receive the £21,000 salary that comes with it. Pierrick will be the first BAME (black, asian and minority ethnicity) President in ten years, alongside two other BAME Sabbatical Officers. “Such a big win for diversity,” he gushes.

What will be his priority from day one? “Non-disclosure agreements,” Pierrick says without hesitation. He calls them “hush agreements”, as they prevent the staff and students that sign them from speaking out.

In particular, Pierrick is concerned with NDAs that YUSU has reportedly made some students sign in alleged sexual abuse cases. Given the confidential nature of the agreements, the scale of the problem is not clear.

Pierrick tells Nouse that several students approached him when he announced his candidacy to raise this issue: “It wasn’t something I was aware of until other students told me about it. Now that I know about it, it’s a key priority for me.”

To get to the bottom of the matter, Pierrick is planning to launch an investigation into YUSU’s use of NDAs.

“I want to know how many have been used, and how many students are involved,” he declares. “We shouldn’t be silencing anyone. YUSU controls these agreements. We can change this, and I’m going to give it my best shot.”

Patrick O’Donnell, the current YUSU President, said: “YUSU has never previously used, nor ever would use a non-disclosure agreement and we consider the use of legal gagging on student complaints to be both inappropriate and unnecessary. We look forward to working with incoming elected representatives to help them understand our processes and approach.

“We routinely ask students to be mindful about confidentiality in relation to complaints processes but to be clear this is for the purpose of enabling unimpeded investigations to take place, and help ensure that no activity prejudices complaints or case work.

“There may be genuine confusion with a national campaign to encourage universities to sign a pledge against the use of NDAs, and we are pleased that York was one of the first institutions to sign it.”

After NDAs, sustainability is next on the list. Pierrick recognises that his “structural change” during his tenure as Environment Officer is only a first step- “so far, it seems to be working but we need to go further on practi- cal action.”

And then there's the big-ticket pledge from Pierrick’s manifesto: to take on First Bus.

“First Bus has become worse and worse in my four years at York. It’s not acceptable.

“Disabled students, commuting students and students waiting for the bus between East and West campuses are the most impacted by the inadequate service First Bus is offering.

"And this also means that more students are driving to campus now, and encouraging people to take public transport is central to fighting climate change.”

Previous Sabbatical Officers have tried and failed to engage with First Bus. Pierrick says: “First Bus doesn’t treat students with respect. Kelly Balmer [the outgoing Community & Wellbeing Officer] told me that First Bus has cancelled meetings without telling her before.”

Pierrick believes that a new strategy is needed. “First Bus has shown that they won’t listen to students, so the University should engage with First Bus directly rather than leaving it to the Sabbatical Officers,” he says.

“First Bus isn’t a new problem. But their contract with the University ends soon. That presents a perfect opportunity to give First Bus an ultimatum: either you improve or we’ll find someone else.”

Pierrick stresses that his first move will not be to show First Bus the door. “Dialogue before more drastic action,” he insists.

But, if Pierrick does end up persuading the University to ditch First Bus, which bus company would replace it? “Any company offering a better service at a lower price,” comes his reply.

Tackling rising rent is also high on Pierrick’s lengthy to-do list. Can he really succeed where so many previous Presidents have failed?

“I think that previous Sabbatical Officers have been too polite to the University. The difference is that I love direct action. The things I’ve done as Environment Officer have all been about instigating the University. I’m going to make a lot of noise, so there will be more pressure on the University to cap rent than in the past.”

On election night, Pierrick won the presidency convincingly with almost an outright majority in the first round of votes (YUSU uses Single Transferable Vote for its elections). Could Pierrick be a two-term president? “Already?” he smirks. “If I don’t deliver as President, then no. But until I’ve actually started my first term, it’s way too early to be thinking about a second one.”

Previous YUSU Presidents have faced major setbacks in trying to implement their lofty manifesto pledges. Pierrick has experience of the inner workings of YUSU, so is he prepared to face resistance to his plans? “Of course. I’m not coming into this role expecting the University and YUSU to listen to everything I say. From day one, I know it’s going to be tough.”

If he can’t overcome resistance from the University and YUSU, would he be satisfied with just small changes? “No, not at all. But small change is better than no change.”

Pierrick knows what he wants to do and how much he will have to fight to achieve it. Before he leaves, he ends with a call to action: “No one should have any doubt — I’m ready to go full-on in my campaigns.”