Stephanos is a finalist at St Peters, reading philosophy and Modern Languages. During his year abroad, he was involved with justice campaigns in New York, and also worked with Greenpeace and with mutual aid groups in Athens. He is currently co-chair of the Oxford Radical Forum.
As SU President, what would your priority be?
I think it’d be re-imagining what the SU can do to make it clear that the SU has quite a lot of institutional power.
My image for the SU would be to put to centre-stage the campaigns which have been put to the side as community projects or student campaigns. I’d make it clear what’s going on, where we are on all of the main issues, and what the pushback is from the university. I’d make it very clear that we stand in solidarity with the UCU and indeed, start holding more joint meetings (which I know began last year) and to coordinate a platform between the SU and the UCU. So our voices will be heard.
One of the big criticisms that we’ve heard of the SU president as a role is that it is a somewhat pointless role, and this year there is therefore an empty chair candidate again. How would you respond to this criticism?
I think it’s largely right. Many candidates run purely as a sinecure, or as padding for a future CV.
But I think it can be quite a symbolic role and that maybe isn’t where former presidents have really exploited the power. I think there are symbolic arguments to be had, nationwide as well as in the university which other SU presidents, especially in Cambridge, and some of the Northern universities have exploited. But also I think having the capacity to be able to speak to students, reach out and make it incredibly clear what the SU is doing and what its mission is, is a big part of that role.
The SU President has had quite a tough job, especially in the last year, standing up to the university over some quite difficult issues. How would you meet that challenge?
I think we meet that challenge by making it clear that the SU represents the students. A key point of my platform will be joining forces with the UCU to make it clear that the students, staff and workers are the people who make this university. It is unacceptable that the people who have to suffer the consequences of things going wrong don’t have a say over what happen. By joining in congregation, we can have a bigger voice, and we can pull together our communication resources so that it’s clear when students want a reform to sexual harassment policy or teaching, or are upset with how strikes are going on, or with staff being so upset with living conditions. We we will both stand for each other and speak with the same voice.
What would you say you’re most proud of so far from your time at Oxford?
I think the one I’m most proud of is one that will be coming to fruition in the next week or so, which is the disorientation guide. It’s a collaboration to put all the information about activism in Oxford, and more generally, into one place. It will be handed out from now on at every freshers fair. It’s a really impressive start to what I hope will be a long tradition mirroring that of many other unions in the country, where many different radical organisations and activist groups of students in the Union outside have contributed towards this with the help of the SU campaigns.
I know so many people, myself included, who came into the university not knowing very much about all the spectrum of left wing ideologies or the ins and outs of what organising is. I think it’s a really positive way to start building in the common consciousness of students the range of activism which is on offer and how they can get involved, as well as making it a bit easier to find that political home.
How would you seek to reform the SU to deliver the changes that students want to see?
I think there’s an image problem first: people just don’t know what’s going on. I think that’s been part of my wider political project in Oxford and outside, to communicate what’s happening, how to get involved, and where people can learn more about these things. This is something that I practised as a communications officer in Athens with Greenpeace, it’s something I’ve been doing with the radical forum, and the disorientation guide and it’s something that I have skills from which I can bring to this role.
You need to change the way people see the SU on the website, change the way emails are sent out and shift the focus of SU updates, and emails to the campaigns that we’re running, the things we’re trying to change. Part of my manifesto is creating annual and termly reports both on progress, and on objectives for the next time, so that they can be a source of continuity in the reforming project.
The Cambridge Student Union recently voted to support the demands of the rent strike and some have called on the Oxford SU to do the same. What’s your position on that?
I think in a university with an endowment of over £6 billion it’s absolutely unacceptable that students can be gouged for rent, and that there is such a huge disparity in rent policy as well as the actual amount of rent demanded by each different college.
The Student Union has to campaign for a standardisation of rent, a lowering of rent to more reasonable to more reasonable levels. I will lobby for there to be the creation of a university commission to see how the colleges and university can best pool their very considerable resources to provide affordable and standardised rent. From then on, I think rent rates should be pegged to inflation so that they cannot be raised again.
As a union, the work of the SU is unavoidably political. In light of this, how seriously should students consider your personal politics when deciding whether or not to give you their first preference vote?
I think, as I’m making it very clear, I am a candidate of the left. But I would say that I have something to offer to students of all political stripes. I would encourage them to read my manifesto and read my recommendations and I hope they resonate with a lot of the sentiment and the ideas put forward there. But you know, I won’t step back from the fact that my whole background has been of a radical type.
If you’re elected what would you like your legacy to look like this time next year?
I think I would like it to be both a shift in perception of the SU, and how it operates and what it’s actually trying to change, as well as what it can do. I’d also like to change the positioning of the SU and the UCU as organisations and institutions for change. I’d like to have built up in the student body, if not a complete spirit, then an awareness, of how much organising is being done, how much change is needed, and a recognition that there are people who are working really hard to do it, and that things can be done.
What is the number one thing that you would like to see change at Oxford, before you leave?
I would like to see a serious commission put in place about rent, with a serious position position put forward by the SU and UCU. I would like to see it enacted, and if not enacted to have progressed seriously and talk to the university with concrete hoops that need to be jumped through, to be able to make it work.
I’d also like that the legacy of regular conferences between the SU student campaigns as well as all the independent and student groups like the climate justice and living wage campaigns to sit down with the university administration to discuss all these sorts of issues. So that there’s a regular conference between activist groups and the university, which will be then relayed to students through various channels.
In a sentence, why should students at Oxford put you first on their ballot?
I have experience working with all the people who are trying to make change in the uni, and I have a lot of experience and training in communicating political issues and in agitational political struggles.
The Oxford Student have interviewed all 5 candidates for the SU President. You can read the other interviews on our website.