In Profile: The Oxford SU President Candidates (Part One)

Profile

Image Description: A turquoise and white banner with the words “Student Union Election 2021: Meet the Candidates” overlaid over a black and white image of the Radcliffe Camera.

In the run up to the SU President By-Election, the Oxford Student has put together a series of interviews with the candidates to find out more about them and their vision for the SU. All candidates were posed the same questions to see how they compare on similar topics.

This is part one of a three part series profiling the SU President By-Election Candidates. Candidate profiles have been arranged in alphabetical order, and interview answers may have been edited for clarity and grammar.

ANVEE BHUTANI

Why do you think that you’d make a good SU president?

I’d make a good SU president because of the amount of experience I have campaigning for various causes. Fundamentally, the SU is a union and as the Chair of the SU Campaign for Racial Awareness and Equality (CRAE) and Oxford Coalition Against Homelessness, I know what it takes to run a campaign and rally support for certain issues. At the same time, my experience working for the student press has taught me how to leverage articles for public support and I would use them to spread awareness about what goes on in the SU.

What do you think the most important part of the SU president’s job is? How would you do that well?

The most important part of being SU president is setting a vision for the entire Sabbatical officer team as well as engaging the student body effectively. My experience running a team of over 50 students across all the different sections of The Oxford Blue taught me how to lead people. Additionally, because of my involvement with several core interest groups such as Common Ground Oxford, I would be able to keep those individuals engaged and serve as a point of consultation for changes I bring to the SU.

Why are you running to be SU president?

I am running for SU president because I want to make a difference to students’ lives. The pandemic has shown that students were overwhelmingly neglected and we need a good Sabbatical officer team to take the SU forward and ensure it’s lobbying for students.  There are also many proposals that have been advocated for in the past such as providing lecture capture for all or delinking welfare services and disciplinary procedure that have not yet been implemented. I hope that my track record and experience would be able to provide the final push in getting these things done.

What would be your main priority as SU president?

My main priority would be to ensure that the SU serves more of a place in students’ lives than it currently does. At the moment, the function and value of the SU are both regularly brought into question as one of the biggest colleges decided to leave the SU this past year. My goal would be to increase transparency around the SU’s activities by providing regular updates and ensuring that student groups are consulted on major decisions. I also hope that increasing welfare provisions and access measures foster a more positive student relationship with the SU.

As we emerge from the pandemic, what’s your vision for the SU going forward?

My vision is to rally students post-pandemic and make the SU a hub for student life and activities. I want societies and clubs to be able to find a place within the physical SU space and to be well-supported in whatever way they need. I’d also want it to be a resource hub for students looking for welfare supplies. I’d also want to use the SU to raise awareness about issues that go beyond students such as paying the living wage to all staff and helping the local homeless population, both of which have been negatively impacted by COVID-19.

What’s been your proudest achievement during your time at Oxford? What’s something that you wish you’d done differently?

My proudest achievement during my time in Oxford has been putting together the fundraiser for COVID-19 relief in India. Currently, India has one of the worst COVID-19 situations in the world and over the past couple weeks, alongside several others, I have raised over £20k. I wish I had gotten more involved with lobbying and campaigning groups before the onset of the pandemic because of the limitations that the virtual year has placed on us all.

BEN DARWENT

Why do you think that you’d make a good SU president?

I think that the main quality that would make me a good SU President is a genuine passion to improve the experience of students at Oxford. I’ve been a student here for a long time and have experienced the highs and lows of student life. Coming out of this pandemic we have the opportunity to reimagine how the university should work, and I hope that as SU president I can help bring about the best possible university experience.

What do you think the most important part of the SU president’s job is? How would you do that well?

The president’s role is hard to pin down. Unlike the other Sabbatical officers there’s no clear portfolio. I think the two most important parts of the role will be working with the other Sabbs to bring about their manifesto pledges, while also acting as an intermediary who can communicate the work of the SU to the student body and the wider public. I also really hope to work closely supporting PresCom, who have done fantastic work these past few terms advocating for students.

Why are you running to be SU president?

I think the pandemic has really demonstrated the need for students to present an organised front to stand up to the government and university administration. The shambolic treatment of students who wished to return to their university accommodation shows that this government does not care about students. Additionally, we have a university administration that is more concerned with league table results and income than student welfare. I believe that together as students we have the power to challenge these bodies, and I am running as SU president to organise towards this goal.

What would be your main priority as SU president?

I think if I were to pick one policy that I could click my fingers and enact any policy, it would be reform of the university’s handling of sexual assault cases. The system at present is needlessly complex, often cruel, and frequently fails survivors. The university’s Sexual Harassment and Violence Support Service, while well intentioned, merely signposts survivors through the existing system. We need a centralised independent body to investigate serious allegations, and clear disciplinary consequences that are consistently enforced.

As we emerge from the pandemic, what’s your vision for the SU going forward?

I think there are lots of possibilities coming out of the pandemic. I think a priority will be ensuring that the fair outcomes for students policy continues into the new year. The impact of the pandemic will be felt long after the country has opened up, and we need to make sure that the measures in place reflect this. My utopian vision is for the SU to reopen Fever. Nightlife in Oxford plays a real role in student well-being, and the steady disappearance of venues is a real issue.

What’s been your proudest achievement during your time at Oxford? What’s something that you wish you’d done differently?

It’s really difficult to pick one moment as my proudest. I suppose sporting achievements would have to be up there, blades with Worcester College Boat Club, and varsity lacrosse. I’m also really proud of the work I did as suspended students rep at Worcester. As for what I’d do differently, probably spend less time stressing about problem sheets and more time experiencing Oxford. It’s clichéd, but it really does fly by.

 

DARA SANWAL

Why do you think that you’d make a good SU president?

I believe I have the experience needed for the position, both from within the SU, and from outside. I’m involved with two SU Campaigns – I’m Treasurer of Campaign for Racial Awareness and Equality, and on the committee of Coalition Against Homelessness. I used to serve on my JCR Committee, and served in various other societies, including in the Oxford Union’s senior leadership, where I helped manage a team of over 60 people and headed all individual speaker event logistics last term.

What do you think the most important part of the SU president’s job is? How would you do that well?

Connecting with the student body and ensuring their voice is heard. Some feel that the SU is a bit distanced from the student body, which is such a shame, given how much work SU sabbatical officers put in. I would hold weekly President’s office hours, as well as engage directly with JCRs and student societies to ensure that every student has the opportunity to reach out if needed.

Why are you running to be SU president?

After the events of the past year, I think the SU needs a fresh start. I have a perspective from both within and outside the SU, and I believe I can make use of that and my experience to ensure that the biggest issues facing the student body – the epidemic of discrimination and harassment, the mental health crisis, and the unfair treatment of students over the past year, are dealt with.

What would be your main priority as SU president?

My first and foremost priority would be to campaign for a comprehensive streamlining and overhaul of the system to report and deal with harassment and discrimination complaints. Colleges have often differed with their treatment of these complaints, and victims have often been denied information as to the outcome of their complaints. A standardised approach is needed across the university, with empathy toward victims at its heart.

As we emerge from the pandemic, what’s your vision for the SU going forward?

The pandemic has exposed a lot of systemic weaknesses in the structure of our university. The mental health of students across the university was already suffering prior to covid, and the already stretched university counselling service has been taken to the limit. The SU needs to ensure that mental health is put at the forefront of the conversation and destigmatised, and that the University expands the service to cut wait times dramatically, including by hiring more BAME and female counsellors.

What’s been your proudest achievement during your time at Oxford? What’s something that you wish you’d done differently?

My proudest achievement would be my work at the Oxford Union. I helped lead a team of over 60, and helped organise over 50 speaker events – not just with celebrities and politicians, but also with activists who have contributed so much to the promotion of human rights – from anti-FGM campaigner Nimco Ali, to Extinction Rebellion co-founder Roger Hallam. Whilst the Union has often received criticism, I believe that its ability to bring these conversations to the forefront truly matters.

 

EHTESHAM ABBASI

Why do you think that you’d make a good SU president?

Currently, I am pursuing an MSc in Sustainable Urban Development from the Department of Continuing Education. I am attached to Kellogg College.

I have studied and worked in one of the most prestigious, biggest, oldest, and highly ranked universities, Aligarh Muslim University of India, for 20 years.  I have also worked in some best ranked universities as Assistant Professor in KSA and Oman. Currently, I am associated with Green Economics Institute as Board of Trustee and Economist which is based at Tidmarsh, Reading, UK.

I have developed a very good understanding of the student’s perspective. The issues of student’s loan because of gigantic fee’s structure, academic pressure, job security and all these combined brings an unimaginable amount of mental and emotional stress on our students.

What do you think the most important part of the SU president’s job is? How would you do that well?

I believe the most important job is students’ welfare. I personally believe that all the issues related to students must have solutions through dialogue, deliberation, and discussion. I would like to provide all stakeholders at Oxford SU with my 24×7 availability, a hearing ear, a concerned heart, and a mind with solutions.

Why are you running to be SU president?

The whole world and humanity are at crossroads. Be it the political institutions, scientific bodies, environmental issues or economy, the world needs honest, human, and efficient leaders. The truthful message and actions which will emanate from Oxford SU shall be loud and clear and will have an exceptional outreach.

What would be your main priority as SU president?

a) Students of the future

We students of University of Oxford need to be futuristic and optimistic. A thorough plan needs to be envisioned to tackle the issues of mental and emotional health, especially against the backdrop of a global pandemic.

b) Bombs or Books

Almost all major economies spend a major chunk of their budgets on defence. We must stand together to urge university administration and government that higher education needs urgent attention and fee structure needs to be hugely revamped.

As we emerge from the pandemic, what’s your vision for the SU going forward?

The world shall not be the same in the new normal. The University of Oxford would not be the exception. Let’s accept and explore the challenges and opportunities. We must think of a new paradigm. Let’s come together. Hold each other’s hands and let’s say HERE WE ARE. YES, HERE WE CAN.

What’s been your proudest achievement during your time at Oxford? What’s something that you wish you’d done differently?

I have studied only one term at University of Oxford, so I don’t have any achievements, to be frank.  During the discussion with my Professors and Experts at Department of Sustainable Urban Development, we deliberated that we at SUD could involve and include lots of other areas in our curriculum. As Urbanisation includes every aspect of life in cities, we should try to include most of them – if not all.

All candidate manifestos are available on the SU website. 

Header image credits: Jonas Muschalski 

 

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