We chatted with your VP Inclusion, Rachel Cairns about what is involved in her role, how she listens to student concerns, her advice for students running next year and her reflections on 2020. Read the full interview below!
Can you describe what you do in your role as a VP Inclusion?
Okay, it's my job to represent students at University level also run lots of cool campaigns. I work with liberation groups on campus specifically as BP inclusion, which means that I work with, like the LGBT society, LGBT rep and our BAME rep and which is the thing that we have now, which is very exciting and our disability reps. And I also write papers and take them to committee meetings and yeah, I guess I get some cool stuff and things done!
Did you have any fears about running for the role, and if so, how did you overcome this?
When I ran for the role it was kind of weird and kind of different because I decided literally, the day before the election nomination period closed that I was going to run and I didn't really know entirely what I was running for! It was like, why not just try it and very quickly realised what the job was and then was like "oh no I have fear", but it was too late to fear because I'd already put myself out there. And and as soon as you put yourself out there. I feel like, oh, the fear just has to disappear. Yeah, suck it up and deal with it or you back out and I ain't going back out. I don't think it's that scary once you actually get into it, right, like you're literally just communicating and representing the community that you're already a part of, like, there's a reason that people run for these possessions and it's because they love the community that they're in.
What is your motivation to do this role?
Um, my motivation was just just loving the community I was part of! Partially, challenging myself, I was like, I'm gonna I'm gonna run for this, I didn't seriously think that I'd end up represent anyone at first. Then I realised like, as I was running like doing the flyering and they talking to people, this is something I really want to do! Because I think I care about the community that I'm part of and I want to make an impact! Like, I hope that in 10 years time people who come to Strathclyde are impacted by something that I've done at university. I just want to do something that makes someone's university experience just as good. I've said this to people before but I've been really lucky, you know, I went from a high school where like, I didn't really feel like I fit in very well, whatever to like, immediately fitting it in uni and being like, Oh yeah, like this is this is it. This is like a community that I'm comfortable with and I love and I always get really sad when I hear about people who haven't had the same experience as me? I want to make sure that people do have that experience that like they get to walk away from their first day of unique going oh! Like, that's where I'm supposed to be.
Can you tell us one thing people might not know about you?
This is like that, like, oh, like, tell us a fun fact about yourself question. I don't want to do it haha, I kid, I kid, I could go really easy and simple and say the D&D thing, right. I play the D&D thing. I feel like it's something that everyone secretly relates to, because a bunch of people play D&D without really admitting that they play D&D. I play a lot that you can see my dice in the background (of the video). The, the cute little bag that I have of them there, although that's not my only dice. I have far too many dice that's maybe a better facts about me, I'm a dice hoarder. I'm one of those people. Should I spend 70 quid on some dice? Then I do it, and then I don't have any money for the rest of the month, because I've decided to spend it all on dice that I don't get to roll because we're in a pandemic! I am a dice hoarder. There you go!
How do you hear about student issues?
I mostly get messages from people and it kind of sucks that we're in a pandemic. My favourite thing ever about this job is being able to go down for coffee in the Union and meeting a student on my way there and like having a conversation about something that matters to us and then being able to build off of that until like a larger campaign or a piece of work. You don't really get to do that in a pandemic. So I usually hear about things from messages or emails. But I guess my favourite thing to do now when I get those messages or emails, say, Okay, let's have like a zoom meeting and it's not quite come on over to the Union, and we'll meet for coffee and talk about it, but you still get kind-of the same vibe and because I think the best part about this job is being able to actually connect one to one with students.
What are some of the key issues students have asked you to deal with this year?
Well, okay. There's the inescapable one... there's Covid and you know I think that the team have overwhelmingly got messages about Covid and making sure that students are are safe, well and comfortable on campus and off campus during Covid. That's been a big one this year and but I also inevitably get messages about accessibility stuff and about, particularly Black Lives Matter was a big thing this year, and I hope that it's a thing that we continue to push for, as a general public, as we go on into 2021. But inevitably you know we're quite an activist uni like the campus is full of people who really cared about things and are willing to stand up for those things and so, you know, I think it's important that we take initiative following things like Black Lives Matter and we try and decolonise our curriculum and try and decolonise our campus and like the culture that we have at Strathclyde. I get quite a lot people telling me how passionate they are about that which is actually really heartening to see!
What is the process for achieving the outcome?
I think for me, there's always a process when students come to me about an issue. It's like I said, I like talking to people, one on one. Because I think when you talk to someone directly and unfortunately we're not getting a lot of that because of the pandemic. You actually get the bigger picture of it. What's going on in their life, and you can offer them more support. So usually when a student messages me I will try and go my way to meet them or to have a longer conversation with them and from there you know will come up with actions, you know, is this going to go to the university? Can I direct you towards a support system within the university? Is there a larger campaign within this and if there is a larger campaign or a larger piece of work, you know, I'll get the team together we'll come up with a plan and then we'll get planning for the campaign and we run lots of those and and they're stressful but very fun! So that's kind of the process that people go through to get stuff hip-happening with me.
What was the outcome?
Okay, so I guess one example, off the top of my head is The Anti-Hate Campaign that myself and Kayla are working on it is just about ready to launch and a lot of work has gone into it and that aas essentially formed following the Black Lives Matter protest. We had students who came to us saying that, having gone to the protest, they experienced like some really not great behaviour towards them. That was things like you know hate speech, threats, physical violence and we from there were like, okay, what can we do about this? I always I always like to approach things like my Mum taught me. OK, you have a problem... What can and What can you do and what can you do about this? I will always ask. What can we do about this and then we'll come up with tangible actions, which is what we did with the Anti-Hate Campaign. And then we formed a campaign it!
We contacted experts who knew more about the issue than we did. We're not always experts and things and it's good to consult people who know about better about topics. So we contacted sector experts and who had a lot more information on hate speech and hate crime and then from there, we built a campaign that was informed by not only our students experiences, but also, the advice of sector leading experts.
What do you hope that you are achieving for students?
I think there's a vibe, right, like there's a vibe when you come to Uni. And I had it like, I got to Uni was like, oh yeah, vibe. I think part of my inspiration, I have said this to people before, is that, I think of my younger siblings. I think, right okay, if they were to come to Uni after me, what are the things that I would want to change about their experience and what would I want to ensure that they have?
I'd want to ensure that they come to uni and they have like that moment that I had, that whole, like, oh, like this is where I'm supposed to be! These are my people and like this is where I'm going to meet new friends and I want to make sure everyone has that. I would hate for and a few years time my sister to apply to Strathclyde and get into Strathclyde and she starts on her first day and to come home feeling like, oh, like I didn't meet anyone that I vibed with, I didn't find any clubs or societies that I didn't like, I feel excluded.
I would hate for her to have that experience. And so I guess my hope is that I can recreate the experience that I had for everyone because no matter who you are, like, whether you are: black, disabled, LGBT, that shouldn't affect your experience as a student. It shouldn't change it, everyone should have an excellent student experience as they come into Uni and I would hate for me to do this job like a full two years and then for my sister to go to uni and feel like she's excluded. So that's I guess where I get my inspiration. Like, I hope, I hope that I can change things so that she has a good time.
What are you looking forward to in 2021?
I'm most looking forward to the work that I can get done and you know I'm finishing up next year. And I've done this now for over a year, a year and a half now, BIT MAD! Hey, and I'm looking forward to, like, getting the things that I really want to achieve done and making sure that whoever's in the position after me and you know, has the groundwork to keep improving and to keep working on things.
I'm also looking forward to hopefully getting back on campus. I'm really, I'm really missing it like, I miss the ten floors of fun, miss Livi tower and miss just being able to meet students and have a chat. Before I was in this position, I helped run a society and I'm looking forward to seeing society's up and running again seeing some some wee open mics, some poems and maybe I'll rock up to the the D&D society. Maybe that will be a thing that I do when I inevitably end up back as a student again haha. Maybe! Perhaps! We shall see...
Any new year’s resolutions?
I don't have any work related New Year's resolutions, I guess like like goals and objectives for the year could be considered New Year's resolutions, but I like to think not... I'd like to think that my New Year's resolutions are like cool fun like hobby things. So I want to write more, I have been working on prose, which is the thing that I haven't done in a very long time during lockdown and I want to write more.
I want to like write for fun. I want to go along to, if I can actually get along to them after the pandemic, more open mics and read more poems and be more open and share my creative work more and I guess that could be considered a New Year's resolution.
It's not giving anything up by also don't believe in giving things up for New Year's resolutions, I think it's negative and silly. And I don't believe in saying like, oh, I'm gonna go to the gym and "improve myself" because what's to improve? Let's not constantly force ourselves to grow. Like, that's, that's a lot! Let's try something new. I read a thing that as you age, the reason your years seem to speed up is because you're not having any new exceptional experiences and so, I'd like to reverse that and try lots of new things and like push myself out there and do like things that I wouldn't like normally do. I want to make a pot! I want to go to pottery and make a pot, you know?!
What is one positive thing from 2020 that’s your carry into 2021?
Positive things this year... Well there's personal and there's work stuff. I want to carry the team into the year. The Student Exec team have just been amazing this year like genuinely, stand up amazing work. They work so hard, like I'm sitting up last night at 10pm with Chelbi and Eilidh working on campaign materials like they were working so hard and they're so enthusiastic and I want to carry that in the new year. Also things that have been really amazing and 2020 have been music! There's been some really great music to listen to, I think, has just been great. And I want to continue to listen to some really great music and... I feel like there has to be a third thing I like things being round... I guess, I am proud of myself for my work life balance this year. Despite having just said that I worked at 10pm last night and campaign materials and genuinely have been taking some time to look after myself and try new hobbies and make 35,000 d&d characters like haha. I want to continue that. I don't want to get into the new year and immediately fall back into like constantly working all the time. I think everyone needs to look after themselves because what's the quote? "Self care is not self indulgence It's an act of political warfare." [“Caring for myself is not self-indulgence, it is self-preservation, and that is an act of political warfare.” by Audre Lorde after some frantic Googling..]
What would you like to say to students running this year?
Erm... You know my brain always goes to when I'm when I'm asked like advice to give people right, like it always falls back to advice, not that was given for this job, but that I was given in general from family members. The first one being from my Gran, who always told me to "remember who and what you are, you know, don't change yourself for for running a campaign". Just be yourself unapologetically remember who and what you are and run on that, run on the back of yourself. But also, don't put too much pressure on yourself like, ultimately, the best thing about campaigning is the actual campaigning, it's not the result, results nights fun, but the real fun of campaigning is getting out with your pals and handing out flyers and like just just the most chaotic memories from campaigning. They're, they're always so fun. You know, like sitting with the whole gang of people who run, just eating pizza outside the library and continuously annoying people. That's a good piece of advice as well actually! Just do everything that you can to annoy everyone that you meet haha. You'll be fine. It will be sorted, you know, they will definitely vote for you, I assure you.
What is your hope for the future of the Students' Union?
I hope that continues being a space for radical activism. I think there's such a great history with Strathclyde and the great activism that's happened here, literally since its inception. Strathclyde is such a powerful place for people to get involved in politics, get involved in protests, you know, that's where I first got involved in this stuff. I went along to Fight For the Night a couple years ago and worked with the the Feminist Society. Yeah, I hope that it maintains its radical activism and that it maintains its feeling of community and inclusion, because that has been my experience of Strath Union. I hope it maintains and it grows and it continues to become more inclusive and become more of a space for radical activism. There you go!
Thanks to Rachel for taking the time to talk to us!
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