SU Presidential Election – Meet the candidates: Rashmi Samant

Rashmi is a reading for an MSc in energy systems at Linacre college, having moved from India to the UK 5 months ago. She is currently involved in the Student Union as a divisional rep for all MPLS taught courses, and was previously a Saab officer at her university in India.

What would your priority be as SU president?

I have four priorities, One is decolonization and inclusivity. Another is to have COVID interventions for all. Another one is access to quality mental health resources because I feel like, no matter how much you do you just have to keep doing more. I know that Nikita did run on this, and she did a lot. I am truly in awe of all her efforts, but I feel it’s a continuous journey. Each candidate needs to build on it every year for us to truly have the best mental health resources available to our students. The last one is of course decarbonizing the university because it’s something very close to my heart. I’m also working on the university sustainability strategy as a part of one of my graded courses so I know it really well to see where the problems are. We need to lobby for it to be perfect.

My major goal is just that I want to make sure that every student no matter their background and their identity, feels like they belong here. I’m really happy to get here, and I was super proud that I made it here but it’s taken me a while to feel to convince myself that I do belong. And I feel like it should be an instant thing, apart from the homesickness and everything. Belongingness is something that should come naturally. When you move to another university there shouldn’t be as many hurdles.

The SU President has had a tough job, especially in the last year, standing up to the university over some quite difficult issues. How would you meet that challenge?

Lobby constantly. Don’t get disheartened. I’ve been to smaller committees myself: I sit on the education committee, I sit on the divisional board, the smaller committees, and I do get the kind of opposition that Nikita [current President] must be facing on a smaller level. But I know that if you persist with a positive attitude, they’re bound to listen. They’ve done it before, and they will do it again so keep a positive attitude, keep up the optimism and keep persisting, and I’m sure change will come

How would you seek to reform the SU to deliver the sort of changes that students want to see?

Reform Oxford is my tagline. I don’t actually have a very concrete plan as to how I’m going to reform the SU but I’m about reforming the university. I feel if I push for the right kind of policies, then it’s going to reform the situation and environment that we live in and it’s going to gradually trickle down to a point where everybody feels there is change. Change is never enough but I feel like I’m pushing to make it better and possibly encourage more people to be a part of the student council. I think that would be a key success factor for us to get more people to engage with it.

The Cambridge Student Union recently voted to support the demands of the rent strike. And some people are calling on Oxford SU do this here. What would your position be on that?

I totally am for it, I pay £610 for this room. People who have jobs have been furloughed, and people have been compensated in one way or the other by the government, except for students, where there’s been absolutely no compensation. The students I think I would definitely vote in favour. Somebody would have to bring up the motion. It’d be too late when I was in office in July. But if someone did bring up that motion in Student Council, I would vote for it.

How seriously should students consider your personal politics when deciding whether or not to give you their first preference?

I think that should be immaterial because in my role as the SU president my foremost responsibility is to change policies for the university and within the university. I wouldn’t personally make any statements, unless I’d been mandated by the student council to make such a statement. I don’t think I would use this position to make any independent political statements of my own. So my position on any political matters would be immaterial.

This is a big commitment. Why have you decided to run? 

I was a sabb officer before in India, and there were a lot more students than there are here, and I loved it. I just enjoy being among people doing lobbying work . It would be a dream job. Even though the pay is not that great, it would be really like something I really enjoy doing. This would probably be the last time I get to do a student role of sorts, because I’ve been so involved throughout my life doing these things, and it’s something I genuinely just love doing. So that’s why I want to do it. No other ulterior reasons.

What is the number one thing you think you would like to see change at Oxford?

Decolonisation of syllabi. I want the Oxford courses to celebrate and educate Oxford students about the achievements of diverse scholarly voices. It’s just very male and very white right now. I want female writers, trans women, people of all identities to be studied and appreciated.

If you were to be elected as the president of the SU. What would you like your legacy to look like this time next year?

Among the candidates running, I would not want one of the five candidates to be a female, I would rather five of five be female or at least more than 50%, or 50%, female candidates. I want my victory to resonate, because if you look at the other positions, you see so many women running. Why do women not come and run for the President? I would definitely want to see a woman or trans woman. I’m the only brown person running for president too and I don’t want that to be happening. I want more people of colour to be running, and I want that to be my legacy, just to see more people running.

In a sentence, why should students at Oxford put you first on the ballot?

I know what I want to do, I’ve got a plan, and I’m going to see through it.

The Oxford Student have interviewed all 5 candidates for the SU President position. You can read the other interviews on our website.