Interview: VP Welfare Kai O’Doherty Talks Inclusivity and Anti-Oppression

The Student sat down with VP of Welfare, Kai O’Doherty, to discuss inclusivity, controversy surrounding pronoun badges, and more. 

What made you run for VP of Welfare?

Last year I was VP of Activities and Services and it was incredible to see how much change you could make as a sabbatical officer. This year, I wanted to focus more on the work VP of Welfare does: mental, physical, and sexual health. I also aim to focus on liberation work, which has been where my interests have always been. 

How does this align with your personal interests? 

As a trans and queer person who grew up in a very conservative country, Bermuda, i’ve been doing activism work since I was young. I started with the understanding that some places would not accept me for who I was and certain countries don’t support difference. Knowing and fighting against this has lead me to my point of study, volunteer work, and my fight for marginalised people. 

What did you feel like was lacking in the university that led to you running for this role as the VP of welfare? 

Fundamentally questioning the structures and norms that form our university the population is something I wanted to understand and change. Whether this is what root causes of sexual violence and the failure of our systems or also why marginalised students feel so fundamentally out of place at their own school. 

Going off of your manifesto, how do you plan on improving anti-sexual violence resources? 

One of the important aspects of fighting against sexual violence, though not the only one, is awareness raising. This Monday we are launching our new anti-sexual harassment campaign: #NoExcuse. This is something we’ve worked on with the University all summer, and have spent a lot of time and money to ensure it is as influential as possible. Another aspect of enabling students with the right resources is on the side of policy and procedure. Many students who have faced sexual violence have been let down by the University when trying to get help. We want to change this and ensure all pathways are pro-survivor. 

How do you plan on improving mental health services? 

My focus this year is going to be encouraging mental health activities and services beyond George Square, focusing more on mens mental health, and considering the connection between liberation of marginalised groups and mental health. Another big project is to try and improve the University’s  mental health strategy, which I would argue is not specific enough. 

Another point on your manifesto is centring on anti-oppression — what do you mean by this? 

Though liberation work has always been a part of the Student’s Association, I feel as if it should be the core to everything we do. This means we shouldn’t just have individual anti-oppression headers, but rather every action we take should be considered through the lens of marginalised groups and how this may effect them. Action can’t just be taken against smaller issues, but also the systems in which we all function. For this reason, I’m dedicated a third of my time to supporting the work of our amazing Liberation Officers. This area may be more vague because I’m not the one deciding what each Liberation Officer focuses on, but rather offering support as a Sabbatical Officer. Another main goal this year though this is to employ a Trans Liberation Officer. 

Last year you helped introduce gender-natural toilets. Was that difficult to implement?

It was a really cool project. We got students together that essentially created a convertible toilet criteria that could be accessible by all students. It was then talked to with the estates department, and now we make sure these facilities are always available. I was prepared for a fight and didn’t have much of one. You look at national and international news and bathrooms are the big topic — but actually, the head of estates at the University agreed it was common sense and was happy to help. 

This year you’ve introduced pronoun badges — why did you decide to do this? 

This is not a revolutionary new idea — LGBT+ and student groups have been doing this for years. I saw similar badges at a conference and spent 15 whole minutes thinking about whether it was a good idea and doable — which it was. Then, I spent 15 whole other minutes with the marketing team designing the badges…and then we ordered them. Half an hour of my life, and another week and a half of my life dealing with the backlash. 

Half an hour of your life only — but how big will the impact be? 

Ironically, I think the negative press coverage has helped make more of an impact. Because of all the news, people know about them, and I feel like this is a positive in terms of people understanding how pronoun badges work. The benefit is more cis gender students will wear these badges as solidarity and trans students will feel seen and not feel like the only ones who have to out themselves. Most importantly, this shows that the Student’s Association are allies with the trans community. 

What happened with all the backlash? 

I actually tweeted about the pronoun badges on a Friday and got a full 7 likes. Then, I woke up on Sunday and The Telegraph had made an article referencing my tweet and the university’s pronoun guide. The article was very critical because, unfortunately, transphobia sells. What people don’t realise is that pronoun badges, or trans rights, shouldn’t be sensationalised. That’s what causes so much uproar. It was also covered by The Sun and other U.K. news sources, some American and Australian fake news sites, and now a Swiss news source is coming to our Freshers. Though the transphobia has not effected my mental health in any positive way, at least it’s out there and being publicised as something our university is taking the step to doing. 

As someone who identifies themselves as they/them, how would have badges helped you? 

I think having pronoun badges would have shown me that my Students Union recognised and cared about trans students. Being able to wear a badge would also not force me to out myself continuously. Instead, its a conversation starter. An option, and a way to be seen. 

What are you most excited for this year? 

Probably to get conversations going. Conversations on liberation between all our students.

Image: Andrew Perry

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