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

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 two 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.

MADELEINE ROSS

Why do you think that you’d make a good SU president?
I don’t think that. I know it. Or maybe it’s a justified true belief. Or conjecture.

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

Obviously advocating for students is pretty important, but I would say that lots of students are pretty good at advocating for themselves. So probably the communication with the central University. I read all my emails so I am sure that will be fine.

Why are you running to be SU president? 
Why not?

What would be your main priority as SU president?
Rent.

As we emerge from the pandemic, what’s your vision for the SU going forward? 
The Oxford SU doesn’t have the best reputation among many students because it’s not seen as efficient or effective. Common Rooms do most of what an SU does at other universities. So the SU should support JCRs and MCRs rather than taking a leading role, by providing technical and administrative support and training. Then it will have more purpose and direction, and also far better information on what students actually want it to do.

What’s been your proudest achievement during your time at Oxford? What’s something that you wish you’d done differently?
My proudest achievement was going a week without eating from a kebab van. Then I wished I hadn’t.

 

MARCIN PISANSKI

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

I worked on committees of different student societies from my first year and have the experience to reform the SU and make it truly representative. My focus on engaging with students from different backgrounds and ensuring that we adopt a common sense approach to changing the organisation resonated with over 750 students who voted for me last term. I’m here now to finish the job and use my experience to make the SU an organisation truly run for and by students rather than a bureaucratic nightmare it can be now.

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

The key challenge for the next SU President is two-way communication with students. The organisation can’t keep operating in the shadows without making sure that it is seen as representative by most students. If elected, I will stay in touch with JCR/MCR Officers every week, reach out to societies and allow every student to provide anonymous feedback to SU Officers. We need to finally burst the bubble full of hacks who only talk to students during the leadership elections.

Why are you running to be SU president?

The SU is in turmoil, often seen as too bureaucratic and out-of-touch. As someone who had tried to change it from the inside but could not do so without getting higher up in the organisation, I know that there is a lot of unfulfilled potential that we can tap into. The SU can affect a lot of change within the University and can support the Common Rooms if we manage to reform it to make it more representative, transparent and accountable.

What would be your main priority as SU president?

Representation, representation, representation. Every other issue in my manifesto – from mental health and access, through additional funding for societies and welfare equality to support for graduate and international students – revolves around doing what students already want the SU to do but can’t achieve without a proper model for representation. Speaking with students of all backgrounds and staying in contact with Common Room Officers, society leaders and activists will allow me to achieve everything else I pledged to do.

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

The pandemic is a good opportunity for the SU to rethink its approach to fighting for students. We need a more interactive system where students can engage with SU Officers throughout the year and also see their work and achievements week by week. More extensive use of social media and closer cooperation with different non-SU organisations could make it possible. If elected, I would attend JCR and MCR meetings at every college (as often as physically possible) to hear directly from students rather than relying on open letters and formal consultations.

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

I am very proud (and grateful) about the great many students who supported my vision for a different SU last term. From discussing SU’s role in fighting climate change to campaigning on improving mental health provisions and better support for societies, I am immensely proud of all the support I received. Speaking of doing things differently, I’d definitely get engaged with more societies from an earlier stage of my degree – something that won’t be a problem if we implement my pledge of year-round societies’ fairs!

 

RICHARD MIFSUD

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

I don’t. I know I might be unique amongst the candidates, but my entire campaign is that I don’t think there should be a paid SU president. I think I am strong willed enough to say no to being a president, and to say to the University and to the SU as a whole that there shouldn’t be one. If you want an Oxford SU president at a cost of over £20,000, I am certain that all the other candidates will be brilliant. If you want there not to be a president at all, then I’m the perfect choice for this position!

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

I don’t think the president has that important a role. Outside of this election campaign if you ask any students what the president does, they would be unaware of their role and as a result I don’t think that a president needs to be here. Therefore I think I will do a fantastic job – I will do better than any previous candidate. I will be able to do nothing much better than anyone before, as I won’t be in the position! Plus I will save the SU over £20000 which could be spent on much better things, such as studentships!

Why are you running to be SU president?

I am running because I genuinely believe that there should be a choice as to whether or not there is a president next year that we have to pay a salary for. Nothing would make me happier than to lose this election and that the student body decides that actually having a paid president is important. However I think this choice needs to be there as I think it allows people who are unhappy with the situation to have that choice. I therefore hope that my campaign will encourage more people to vote in this election, both for me and against me.

What would be your main priority as SU president?

My main priority is to ensure that there is no president who is taking a salary for the following year. I do not believe that the SU needs to have such a person.

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

I think that the SU needs to shrink in many ways. One of the SU’s biggest flaws this year is that they didn’t manage to run an effective freshers’ fair. Their official freshers’ fair was too expensive and the unofficial one managed to do an equal if not better job. I also worry that student politics inside the SU is not representative of the student body as a whole. I therefore think that having a small SU without a paid president role will be much better. I’m not going to lie, but I also have a vision of an SU handing out free biscuits and chocolate because I think that will make them vastly more popular than they currently are!

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

My proudest achievement has been Morris dancing on May morning. Who else amongst the other candidates can say that they helped move celestial bodies – namely that I was able to help the Sun rise on the 1st May. If I am able to move heavenly bodies, then I am certain that I will be able to ensure that there is no president this coming year should I be elected. I wish that I could grow a longer beard and that I had started to grow it longer earlier, but it is getting there and so I’m rectifying this regret!

 

SOPHIE CAWS

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

I want to take SU politics back to basics to make sure that we’re actually making a difference. I don’t take myself too seriously, and I’m open to feedback and criticism. Most of all, I just really, really want to help Oxford students. I will be honest and open about the progress we can make as the SU, and I won’t set unrealistic goals that will lead to disappointment. What I will do is communicate with the student body to find out what they want, and how they want it done. Only then can I go to the university and tell them those things. I would also act swiftly and decisively in moments of crisis, and the voice of the student body would again be critical in those moments. In terms of the technical side of the job, I love an admin moment and I’m chatty so I won’t shut up in committee meetings. I also think I’m pretty friendly and approachable (though if you know me, feel free to tell me I’m wrong).

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

Undoubtedly the most important part of the President’s role is to represent the student voice. The SU’s job is to be a union – a uniting force for all elements of the collegiate university. As President, I would support colleges, SU campaigns and student societies by attending their meetings and holding events similar to PresCom where students could give me their feedback and ideas. What’s more, institutional issues like the decolonisation of the university fundamentally affect the student experience – it’s absolutely critical that we ask students how exactly they would like to see these vital changes happen. For me, it’s about restoring our faith that Oxford can be a better place for us all.

Why are you running to be SU president?

I love Oxford, but I also see its flaws. My journey here hasn’t been the most conventional, but that means that I’ve got more uni experience than the average undergrad. I’ve seen many different sides to this university, and some of them are pretty ugly. We think that Oxford has to be a one-size-fits-all experience, but that’s not necessarily the case for disabled students, students from BAME backgrounds, students from first generation backgrounds, for international students… I could go on. I myself am a BAME, disabled student, and the first person in my family to go to Oxbridge. ‘Union’ is one of the keywords of my campaign, because that’s exactly what we need right now – an SU that brings students together by asking them what they want. Seems pretty simple to me.

What would be your main priority as SU president?

My main priority would be re-connection. I think a lot of students feel disconnected to the SU because much of its work is done behind the scenes, so getting out into the student community is going to be so important over the coming year. As I’ve said, I would get out into as many JCR and MCR meetings as possible during the course of the year, as well as holding more events to reconnect the wider student body with each other and our incredible university city. I would use that sense of connection to get the student body’s perspective on bigger institutional issues, such as decolonisation and improving our welfare strategy. As I write this, I’ve just read that an emergency student council meeting will be held to condemn the violence being committed against the Palestinian people. It’s that kind of swift, decisive action from student leadership that is necessary and just.

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

The SU has done incredible work in fighting for exam adjustments and welfare support, and I would continue that by closely monitoring student feedback as we return to in-person teaching. What’s more, this year has been a long, hard slog, and I think the least we deserve is a bit of fun. I’m thinking club nights, picnics, activities fairs – even the odd welfare dog walk. I want to complement that with a campaign on student safety, particularly as nightlife begins again. Having read their manifestos and followed their campaigns, I know that the Sabbatical Officers-Elect are full of passion and ideas to improve their particular areas, and I’m keen to support them whilst not encroaching on their expertise. I think we could create a really open, vibrant space with room to grow throughout the year and into the next.

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

Proudest achievement? Other than just making it through my degree, it’s probably becoming the JCR Disability Officer at Teddy Hall. I stepped into the role in MT last year after being abroad, and being able to chat to people and hear their individual experiences was really fulfilling. As for what I would have done differently – how long have you got? In all seriousness, I spent much of my time at Oxford believing that I wasn’t good enough to be here. It automatically stressed me out, and, looking back on it, there was no need for it at all. I wish that I’d believed in myself more and taken more ownership of my experience. (I probably would have read a few more books, as well.)

All candidate manifestos are available on the SU website. 

Header image credits: Jonas Muschalski 

 

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