We chatted with your Student President, Kayla-Megan Burns, 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 the Student President?
Well, the thing is there's no two days are ever the same, some days I could come in and I could be in university meetings all day. I could be adding the student voice into policies which will affect students over the next few years and that can involve like a few hundred pages of reading per day just to make sure that I know what I'm being asked about and that I have a good and really supportive response for students.
Other days I can be doing really, really cool things like organising with students who have issues, to try and get all of those problems tackled in Uni. Or I could be bringing forward really exciting proposals, looking at the future for students at Strathclyde so things like; sustainability, supporting our women or minorities at Strathclyde and everyone's favourite topic... fees! So day in, day out you never really know what to expect. You can have your whole day planned, but something unexpected will always come out and honestly that's just half the fun of it, it never really gets boring, every day is so different.
Did you have any fears about running for the role, and if so, how did you overcome this?
Honestly, like, of course I did. I think everyone worries that they're not good enough to do something like this and even though I had been a VP before I still have that worry. I was so worried that I wasn't good enough. Like, take this on... You know, like you need to be a really cool person to like be President. It takes a lot and I was worried that I just didn't have it. But the way that I kind of looked at it is that it wasn't fair on myself to at least give it a go. Like if I didn't give it a go. I felt like would be such a waste I decided that I just let students decide whether they thought that I was a good enough President or not, whether I was good enough candidate, here we are! So it's so easy to be your own worst critic and things like that. But sometimes I think you just kind of need to be brave and put yourself out there because you can really shock yourself. That's kind of what's happened with me because I definitely had loads worries before I came into this role, but, I just gave it a go. Anyway, it's been brilliant.
How did it feel being the first female Student President in a number of years?
Honestly, this I find mental and I actually read up about it the other day, I am, I think, the seventh female President out of 88 Presidents in 90 years, which is mental. I'm the first female President in 15 years. So, those numbers are absolutely shocking and I was really, really surprised by it. Initially, I was like, wow, that's mad and I just kind of thought that it was maybe a historical saying maybe it's said about what Strathclyde used to be like and I just thought it was a kind of funny, funny fact that I had then.
But the more that the more time that I've spent in this role, the more that I've realised, actually, like, there's still quite a lot of misogyny in our culture.
I never thought that being female, would actually affect how I am as President. But every day it does, like every day is impacted by the fact that I'm female and President I think that's something that's really, really mad. It's really crazy because like obviously if if I'm, if my role is affected by my agenda then that doesn't just affect me that affects every student as well because I'm here as a student, President carry all of the students voices along with all of the VPs. If my integrity is questioned, if my role is questioned, my authority is questioned, just because I'm female, then that that affects how students views are taken on.
I think that that's really mad and really intense. But it's been, I think it's really cool as well that we get to do this and I'm really hoping to make some positive change. And some tangible change and lasting change for all of our women and minorities and stuff at Strathclyde because it's been so long since we've had someone that's been in that kind of position and like what? Seven females in total? That's mad. So it's pretty exciting to get to be one of the very few number, but hopefully we'll get some changes made and there's going to be a whole lot more. A whole lot more open for everyone. And that is the absolute goal now because there's some stuff to tackle, but I think it's great because we're on the road to tackle it.
What is your motivation to do this role?
So like straight up, I started out in the Union, just because I really liked societies and I really wanted to be able to get the most out of student life and my time at university. And so that's kind of why I started getting involved in the Union, but kind of the more time I spent in there and the more I learned and the more I kind of grown and learned about all of these issues and just became really passionate about student issues. I started focusing on the Community stuff and climate stuff as like my personal passions, but then just kind of like, suppose, it grew from that then and my core kind of motivation for all of us, just to kind of make things better for students, not just for right now, though, but also for the future as well
This isn't always as easy as straightforward as I'd like it to be. But that's kind of all I ever want to do and study and shouldn't really be a luxury. We all deserve to thrive and be supported while we're doing it and just so that we can have like the best and brightest possible future together. So that's, that's my kind of motivation. I just want things to be as good as possible for students to be supported and just to thrive together.
Can you tell us one thing people might not know about you?
Yeah, so this one is a bit mad and I really feel like I'm coming out or something by saying this, but I actually have Colitis and it's an autoimmune disease, which affects my entire digestive system. It also just kind of generally affects how I live my life and it can make it really difficult to eat, to sleep, to do kind of things that I like and it's, it's an invisible illness and which I'm going to have for the rest of my life. I was diagnosed, and I was like 17 and it still kind of something that I'm coming to terms with which is a bit mad. Because no one likes to think of themselves as like ill or having something wrong with them. So that's something I'm still kind of working on and get getting through, but it's part of my life now. An interesting thing is actually I nearly dropped out of elections because because of the politeness and stuff few months ago because my health had started going downhill, and I was a bit worried about managing it all.
I can find it quite embarrassing to talk about, but it's also something that I think is really important to talk about because the problem with invisible disabilities and invisible illnesses, is that they are invisible and there isn't often like a lot of attention brought to them, but I think it's really important to talk about just to try and empower anyone else who has disabilities or invisible illnesses and things like that because there is such, it's all about like getting that kind of balance, you know, making sure that it doesn't stop you, while also looking after yourself being able to be sick and not let your condition define you. Also like actually making sure that you're healthy and you're well and all of those kind of self care things as well and it really is about a balance. I think right now as well, ableism so often rife and I've been challenged so many times about my condition and you know whether I'm really disabled or whether I actually need all of these extra things. Whenever I say extra things, I mean like sometimes I use it a disabled toilet. I don't have a radar key and people really don't like that sometimes and got, you know, why do you have that, you know, it's like it's, there's not real, there's nothing wrong with you and it's like, how can really say um, but yeah.
So I'm still it's still something I'm learning a lot about and kind of dealing with every day but I suppose. Yeah, it's all about kind of empowering other people who have like these kind of things going on as well because sometimes I do work odd on and sometimes I have to take time out for my health, but it really doesn't prevent me from doing my job, for carrying my passions or for generally just being a valid President and funny enough, this there this week, last week it was Crohn's and Colitis awareness week as well so I thought would be really cool to kind of put that out there and get the discussion going about it.
There's so much ableism going about, particularly with the pandemic and people sometimes aren't even aware of what ableism is, so I kind of like getting those discussions going but yeah that's that's my interest and interesting fact about me something that people don't know I have Colitis, but it doesn't define me.
How do you hear about student issues?
Kind of a bit of everything! You know; Facebook, emails, Instagram, petitions, honestly, if you wanted to contact me using the can on a string I'd still be happy to take that, like I'm more than happy to listen! Whatever way works for students. Whatever way works to get to me. I am there for it. That's my job. Always happy to listen and do in whatever way that I can do things and whether that's getting words from clubs, societies like our reps. Student Group, Student Parliament, Student Forums and like I think it's really good because this year, in particular, we've used such a diverse way to kind of contact students to reach out. Honestly, I love getting in contact with students like any way possible. If there was a can on a string that came through my window and it was students wanting to get on about some issues, I would be all over it. So loads of different ways. That's something that I really love as well. It mixes up and it keeps it exciting.
What are some of the key issues students have asked you to deal with this year?
I mean like straight off the bat we obviously, I feel like it's big elephant in the room, we have fees and we have Covid. They have been the two issues which have totally and utterly dominated this year, and rightly so, I mean, it's been chaos this year, and it's been so difficult for literally every single human so there's been a lot to tackle there. Another thing we've had as well from this year and we've had a lot of hate over the summer which was really, really rubbish and really, really disheartening and you know from things like backlash about Black Lives Matter from the refugees protests in Glasgow and just kind of the pandemic in general and and i think it's so important. We've had students come to us with these kind of issues that they're facing like hate and things like that And I think that right now like, that's one of the most important things that we really need to be tackling.
Right now we're in such a period of change and how we navigate this and how we tackle this can really define how we approach, all of these issues for the next few years. I think that that's really, really important. So those are some of the main things that have been brought up to this been brought up to us this year, but there's been so much. It's been mad and but it's just so important to kind of, like, try and tackle those now because particularly we're all in the one boat and this isn't specifically a Strathclyde thing. This is definitely like a much broader thing and it's been great, because we've been able to work with other Unis, other Student Unions and NUS, so many other groups of people facing the same stuff and it's been lovely to have that support and be able to tackle it together and share best practice and things like that, um, because there's been a lot this year and it has been a really challenging year for so many people.
What was the outcome?
So we've made some really, really cool progress this year. In the past few months, we've gotten absolutely amazing things done. Like we've got an unlimited Covid scholarship set up, we had a rent freeze and investment in halls. We got the University to divest from fossil fuels, we got an extra 100k into the Covid hardship fund and we've increased bathroom provisions.
We're getting increased bathroom provisions on campus for whenever that opens up again, including gender neutral and accessible facilities. We got a no-detriment policy, secured the university's first net zero carbon target on are working on advanced that target.
We've made partnerships with other organisations such as 'Action on Prejudice' to make sure that we're as informed and as effective as possible to look after and care for all of our students! We've set up a Care Experience Students Scholarship and we've increased the Alumni student fee discount. We're working on setting up 'Glasgow Student Tenants Union' and that's just to name a few things that we've done and that has only been within a few months, which is mental that we've got so much done.
To think that we have another six months to go to like achieve things again! I'm really excited for that because so far I'm amazed, or what I what we've got done this year and the fact that this is only half of it done and we've got that much. At like I can't wait. I'm really excited because I think there's actual real tangible change there that hopefully is going to have a real effect in Strathclyde for years to come. So I can't even go on to describe all of the outcomes that we have. But yeah, it's been brilliant. It's been amazing.
What is the process for achieving the outcome?
I mean there's loads different ways that we can approach it and I think that that's also like another really exciting thing. We never handle two issues in the same way and I think it's really great that we're able to be that that kind of flexible. So sometimes we write papers and proposals for University committees. Other times we use petitions and campaigns. In the past few months, we've worked a lot with the NUS on larger national issues, things like fees and Covid in order to make sure that student voices are heard even on a government level, to try and affect the change we need right from the top. We work with other officers and other student groups as well across the UK. To try and share best practice tackle issues together sometimes you know we forwarded letters on to the government. Sometimes I've collected data, and one time I was asked by the government for that that own students use, which was mad. There's so many tools available to us make this change. That's, that's a really exciting thing, whether it's working with other Student Unions, petitions, campaigns, whether it's student driven things or us driven things or whether it's like, you know, late night texts to the Principal being like, right we need to get this sorted. What are we going to do? There's so many different kind of tools and methods that we use on which is really exciting. because no two issues are the same stuff should never be handled in the same way. So every time was different. And I think that's, that's something that's pretty exciting as well.
What are you looking forward to in 2021?
I don't actually know. Like, this is really bad. I don't actually know... I feel like we've just done so much work this year, I'm so excited. Like, Obviously, we've done a lot of kind of firefighting this year with Covid and there's been a lot of things that we didn't see coming, or that we hadn't quite prepared for, the University hadn't prepared for that have just been like emergencies this needs to be handled now, we've been in really kind of short focus, rather than long term focus, but I'm really hoping that in 2021 we, you know, we've done this before. And we've we've had a semester and a half of this kind of Covid world I'm really hoping that in the second semester there will be much less firefighting, and we'll get to do that really exciting constructive work for the future where we'll be able to go right well, what do we want Strathclyde to look like in a few years? You know? How do we put that together and how best do we kind of look after all of our students on what can we do that, will leave that lasting impact for them? I think there's so many opportunities out there.
I'm currently networking with different groups and different Unis to see how they've made these lasting impacts and for their students so that we can kind of do the same thing and we can really use right now as a pivotal moment. There's so much power for change. I'm really excited for 2021 to be able to kind of grab that change. Grab that power of this kind of like mental situation and use it to create a really kind of positive future for students and build some really useful amazing stuff to make all of our experience so much better and in the coming years. So that's my real big hope is for 2021!
Any new year's resolutions?
Um, no. Sorry!
What is one positive thing from 2020 that's your carry into 2021?
I mean, honestly. This year has been chaos. No one saw this year coming no one was prepared for this year. But there's been some terrible stuff that has happened and that's awful. But at the same time we're never going to get such an opportunity for this much change again. No one would have ever imagined, you know, if you would have said right let's put University online. And if you would have said that at this time last year.
Everyone would have thought that you were mental, you know, and it never would have happened. There. We've got all of that will be like a 10 year project and it will take so much building, whatever, and in March. It just happened. And now we're having to re-evaluate how we do everything. And I think it's just such we have such an opportunity right now. To make the most out of that change. You know, we don't go back to the old normal, we create a new normal which isn't lockdowns and isn't these things where we're all stuck in our bedrooms, but a more constructive future, more sustainable future, a stronger future on a brighter future together and that's that's what I really, really want to take from this year.
What would you like to say to students running this year?
Honestly, I think that you can really be your own worst enemy in these things. Um, I think that it's so easy, just feel like "Sure, who would vote for me, you know, like, what, what, what am I really bring into the table that that someone else can bring to the table?" And the answer is, you! One can no one else can bring you to the table only you can do that. And I think it's like it's such a challenging, such a scary step to take but I have, I've learned so much I've grown so much from being in this role like more than I ever would have imagined when I first set foot on the campus.
I'm the first in my family to go to university and I'm the first in my family to even like finish school and like I never even knew that this whole world of Student Unions and things existed. So I think it's so easy to kind of not put yourself forward and not take those mad steps, but I would just encourage every student. If you have any type of inclination, just go for it!
Just put yourself out there, whether that is for an Exec position or whether it's for a rep position, a class rep, or just to join the society or a sport or something. Just take the step because you never know what will unfold from there. The reason that I'm here right now is because I really just wanted to play some music when I was at Uni and I joined the band society and I thought wakeboard and look fun so I hopped on down to their come and try and a few things like that, along the way, and now here I am, and I never ever would have seen that coming. So just I suppose, yeah, just put yourself out there. Give it a go. Never underestimate yourself because once you put yourself out there, that's the hardest bit. After that it's all just learning and growing. So just once you've gone for it. That's it, you're in it and you will be amazed.
What is your hope for the future of the Students' Union?
I just hope that we're able to kind of continue to grow and continue to learn and adapt to whatever comes our way. I think Student Unions are changing. I think University is changing. And I just really hope that the Student Union is able to stay as that hope for students, it's able to stay is that place for students and where we can kind of we're there for anyone's needs and we learn to adapt to them.
I know we kind of learned to be there for students and whatever kind of new way, new format that we need to be to make sure that we are as easy to access for students as possible. We are a supportive to students as possible and so that we can really foster that sense of community together but it really feels like we're together. That's what I kind of hope for Strath Union for the future. In days gone by and years gone by, the Students Union used to be like the heart of University and it was just part of the... it was ingrained into the culture. I think that was certainly the case that Strathclyde I really hope that that's how we remain. That's how we stay in the future. That's what we kind of become in the future because I think it's nice that every, every student has a place, I think every student needs to have a place and feel like they're really part of the community of Strathclyde no matter what their background is, and that's kind of what I hope for.
There is one thing that I would like to say to students. Is just like this has been such a hard year. I really want to thank students because they've put up with so much and this hasn't been an easy time but they have gone to such lengths to continue with their degree. They've also been so keen to get involved, they've been so passionate and it's been amazing, you know, to have them on our backs and to have so many students so like ready and so keen. That has been absolutely amazing. So yeah, I suppose, I just want to thank students for this year, it's been so tough and they have been stunning. You know, it's been a tough one. I hope that I really, really hope that everyone gets a really restful break a Christmas and over the holidays and just yeah let's come back and smash it again next semester.
Huge thanks to Kayla for taking the time to talk to us!
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