Interview with Sabbatical Offiers as nominations open for 2019/20

News Editors Hajira Kamran and Mei Futonaka sat down with the Sabbatical Team from the Edinburgh University Students’ Association this month to discuss their accomplishments in 2018, tips for those interested in running for the positions in the next academic year, and what’s left to come in the remainder of their term. 

Are there points from your manifesto that you feel like you have confidently achieved or made progress on this past semester?

Eleri Connick (President): One of the main things we worked on this semester was for university cards to be available on student’s phones. It seems small, but it would make going in and out of campus buildings much easier for a majority of students. We have secured funding for this project, and there will be a trial soon where a group of students will test out the phone-based cards to see how they work for facilities such as the library. 

Diva Mukherji (Vice President Education): I’ve worked on decolonising the curriculum with students and staff this semester. The term ‘decolonising the curriculum’ has been taken out of context countless times by British media, but holding workshops has allowed for students and staff to further understand what this actually looks like and work together on reshaping the way our curriculum works. Another aspect that has gone into this is creating subject-specific guides to diversify curriculums exclusive to subject areas, which has tied into the Student Partnership Agreement so students and staff can collaborate and get funding for these projects.

Georgie Harris (Vice President Community): A huge thing for me this semester was automatic voting registration. This doesn’t seem like an exciting policy, but it is so important to get students further involved in local and regional politics. How this basically works is through online registration for the University, there will be an option to also pass on your details to an electoral register. This would be a choice, but it would find a swift and easy way for students to do this before everyone gets so busy and forgets. 

All of you have your own personal, yet also overlapping, goals – what has it been like working together this last semester? 

Diva: I think it’s interesting because we’re all quite different people, especially within our working styles. At the beginning it was quite intense…like, be best friends right now! But thankfully it worked out, we have gained so much from each other’s work ethics and ideas that collaboration has come naturally. When you come into this role you have to be open about how others work. 

Eleri: It’s a very intense job, and in my mind it was all about navigating how to get stuff done whilst also getting to know each other in what is, honestly, a short period of time. Our diverse backgrounds have pushed us to come in with unique experiences so we aren’t just chatting to an echo chamber. 

Shenan Davis-Williams (Vice President Activities and Services): Community and Activities very rarely overlap, but we noticed that we had very similar roles, revolving around sustainability, that allowed us to work together. This manifested into the vegetarian and vegan options at university, whilst also considering sustainable options and alternatives for students in their everyday lives. This work environment is so unique… we don’t have managers, we’re just accountable to students so we manage each other and grow together. 

What are some key things other students who want to run for Sabbatical Officers should keep in mind?

Eleri: One thing that is so important is to realise how everyone does these roles differently. It differs so greatly – do not compare yourself at all. You mould the role into what you want! 

Kai O’Doherty (Vice President Welfare): What often prevents people from nominating themselves is campaigning. However, there is no golden ticket way to do it, and everyone has their own unique method. Some people work in teams, some people work alone, some people are more online based, and the only thing that is necessary is to talk to people. Take your own strengths and turn that into your campaign. This job is the most exhausting and exciting thing I’ve ever done in my life. 

Shenan: Even if you have very little knowledge on the Students’ Association, but have ideas and things you want to change, you should go for it. You learn so quickly, and your background won’t impact the role as long as you have motivation and strong opinions. 

Georgie: It is so special to be on the table and be so directly involved in change. It’s a privilege and something that people should look into because it does make a direct impact. 

What kinds of projects have you continued to develop in the long term?

Kai: Something we have seen a continuity in is the prioritising of students’ needs, facilitating student leadership and change, and a will to make the University of Edinburgh a better place for all of us. 

Now that you (Kai) have been a Sabbatical Officer for the second year, do you see progress and continuity not only with the goals that this year’s team is setting, but between last year and this year’s officers?

Kai: Both teams have been very different, in great ways. There is definitely continuity though – prioritising students, facilitating student leadership and change, working on collaboration between activities – a will to make this a better place for students. Specific projects have continued like with the KeepCup and Latte Levy, along with the work on anti-expansion at the university. 

Do you feel that these roles as Sabbatical Officers have in any way shaped the trajectory that you want to take in the future, in the long run of your respective careers?

Eleri: Professionally, I have aspirations for what I want to achieve – in education, people, storytelling – that’s still what I’m passionate about and what I want to do in the future . But this job has personally changed my mindset that you can’t let work take over your life – it’s so easy when you’re in such a tight time frame of wanting to get things done, that you work to the bones. Personally, it was a lot of changing on how I operate.

Georgie: [The job] has redefined for me that I care about certain areas – higher education as well as the third sector and sustainability. Personally, this job is so beneficial to personal growth and development. You get loads of training in this job – public speaking, chairing a meeting etc.

Diva: I’d like to do a masters after this. This job changes the way you approach different things. You quickly start to realise how important it is to have that voice there – speaking on behalf of students, voicing change. I would have been scared of doing that before, but you realise that you have to make the most of [being in the role].

Kai: I had been studying policy studies, and frankly still don’t know what that means, but I know that I learnt way more about it in this job. It’s a mix of honing personal skills, speaking, chairing, campaigning and learning how to prioritise, as well as on the professional side, understanding a different form of activism. To not only see why a policy is not okay but proposing constructive alternatives and have something to push people towards and not away from – which I think will be helpful in future advocacy work that I will do.

Shenan: The skills I learnt from this skill will definitely be helpful. Also, when I was a student I realise that I was quite naive. In this role, there are so many aspects to learn from – you learn so much about other people and their experiences — which will change my perspective and the way I think forever.

Any final notes on nominations for 2019/20?

Kai: What does make people nominate themselves is being asked or suggested by a friend. So if you know someone, spread the word.

Georgie: Feel free to email or get in touch with any of us.

Eleri: Come for a coffee, we’ll chat about the role.

 

Image: Shannen Tioniwar

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