Interviewee: Ro Sewell
Edited by: Holly Barr
The new VP Equality & Diversity for 2017/18 answered some questions about they new role…
1. Tell us a bit about yourself
My name’s Ro, I’m 22 and from the countryside in County Durham. I’m an inter-sectional feminist and a campaigner for both Human and Animal Rights. My passions include reading, creating art, studying History, binge watching Netflix shows and good food. I first got involved with the Student’s Union from setting up my own society, the Vegetarian and Vegan Society, which won the Society Development Award at the Union Awards last year. I was also the BeMedia Societies Assistant last year where I worked on helping to curate and develop BeOnline and I am the current LGBTQ* Representative for the Union.
2. How will you get students to attend the Festival? This will need a lot of planning and potential cost to put on. How will you overcome this if the cost of things arise?
I’m sure there wouldn’t be much problem getting students to attend the culture festival. I want to make sure that the festival is fun and accessible for all with a variety of events for all students. We have a wonderfully diverse population of international students at Leeds Beckett and it’d be great to celebrate that. I’m aiming for there to be music, food, dance, talks, workshops and film screenings just to name a few things! Of course this will take a lot of planning, but we have a brilliant events planning team at the union, and everyone who I have talked to about it seemed really keen to get involved. I’d love to open up the opportunity to student societies and classes to showcase some of their talent and skills to get more students involved. For example, I went to a great event last year where the Brazilian Culture Society performed a fantastic traditional dance for everyone, and it would be wonderful to see that kind of talent and enthusiasm showcased at our event. As for the potential cost; there is a budget at the Students Union to cover a lot of the costs of the festival, however the remainder could come from fundraising events and donations from the local community. The Students Union has good connections with local businesses who could get involved with the event to provide food etc. All in all, I’d work really hard with the Union, the other Exec Officers, our Reps, Student Groups and the local community to make the event a success.
3. If a student was unsure on what liberation networks are how would you explain this to them?
The liberation networks provide a platform for students from minority and underrepresented groups so that they can come together to discuss how to make changes in the university and wider community to make student’s lives better.
At the Student’s Union we have great liberation networks for different student groups for example the Women’s Network, Black and Minority Ethnic Network etc. I’ll use the LGBTQ* Students Network as an example since I am the current Chair of the group: The LGBTQ* Student’s Rep (myself) will facilitate the meeting where any student who identifies as LGBTQ* is encouraged to come along and there are also a few student members who attend who are on the committee for the group who get more involved with helping to organise anything that comes from our discussions. In the meeting we will catch up on some of our campaigns that we have been running to benefit the lives of LGBTQ* students, write up ideas for any motions we would like to pass through student council, talk about any potential issues anyone is having at university and how to combat this and generally talk about how we can make our lives better and make a change. You can be as involved as much or as little as you like and there is no pressure or expectations from you when you come so all are really welcome! I really want to make sure that these groups are well publicised, well attended and accessible to all students so that all can have their voices heard on these really important matters.
4. Online forums are in the news for being almost a playground for people to be purposefully nasty to others. If this was to occur on these forums you would like to create, then what would you put in place so this doesn’t happen?
These forums would provide a vitally important safe space for students to talk about their problems and get support from both their peers and professional advisers. I’d want to ensure this by making sure that the forums are well moderated either by staff or a team of dedicated student volunteers so that there won’t be a space for harassment or bullying. One idea is that students will have to register with their student email so that in the case of poor conduct on their part, the moderators will know who wrote the comment and can talk with them about their comments and follow it up.
5. Is there an interest in the multi faith space needing to be open 24hr? How will you get this to happen?
From talking to students while campaigning I have heard a lot of enthusiasm and demand for a 24 hour faith space. Students are on campus at all times of the day and night as the Libraries we have are both 24 hour too and during this time many students have a need to go and pray, meditate or reflect and currently do not have to space to adequately do so. There will need to be more meetings with campus security and senior members of staff at the university to ensure this happens but I am confident that with some support from the student body we can pressure the university to make this change to benefit us.
6. How will you raise awareness for students suffering from invisible illnesses and disabilities?
This is a topic which is close to my heart as many of my friends live with invisible illnesses and disabilities and aren’t given the appropriate support from both their classmates and their tutors. I have Autism Spectrum Disorder and Anxiety (both invisible disabilities) and have found throughout my degree that some tutors can be more understanding and helpful than others when talking about disabilities and how to make reasonable adjustments in class. I want to make sure that all university staff are trained in mental health (something that Kelly-Anne, VP Welfare, has been very keen in implementing) and knowledgeable about invisible disabilities and how they may affect a student’s learning and university experience. I would also like to run a campus-wide campaign with talks, workshops and visual posters around the university for students to attend and have a great discussion about disability, illness and the university.
7. Describe the approach you are going to take for this role
I am going to help provide a strong platform for our student’s voices to be heard and make sure we listen. As a campaigner I am really excited to get stuck into the role and fight for our students and as an ally I am looking forward to working closely with the different liberation groups to ensure that all students’ views are represented. At the end of the day it is our students who we, as Sabbatical Officers, are representing so we need to make sure that our union is truly reflective of that and that our students know that they have a place to go whatever their individual needs. I will be at the heart of campus and out talking to students as much as I can and ensuring that union events and information is widely available and accessible so all students can be involved.
8. If an issue was brought to you by a student, what plan of action would you implement to address the issue?
Any issues brought to us will need to be addressed on a case by case basis depending on the issue. We have an excellent team of support advisers at the union and a variety of services available to us so all I can say is that I would take care to pay attention to the individual needs of the student and talk through what would be a suitable option to take in proceeding to tackle the issue. It’s important to me that they come away feeling reassured and that something is being done to help them.
9. How are you going to make a difference to the Students Union and University?
I’d like to come away from my time as an Officer having made the Union more visible and accessible to students so that all voices can be heard. I want to make a difference to their lives so I will work had to make sure that this happens by getting out there campaigning for change, lobbying the university and opening up important discussions which the students feel are important and relevant to them.