I am unfortunatley only human, which means that habits are hard to create and I have not yet gotten into the habit of making blog updates. But as always, I will do my best and set reminders in my calendar so that future posts should not be as long. For now though, I recommend getting a nice cup of tea or coffee (or water if you are healthier than me!) and getting comfortable. I am very certain that at least some part of this update will be relevant and appeal to you! Or maybe you just enjoy reading about my struggles and insecruties, but either way, I appreciate your time - and I apologise for the lack of entertaining pictures (or even spell check!).
Before I became a Sabbatical Officer, before I had even been elected, I enjoyed a nice and productive relationship with Lawson Ogubie (previous Student President). Lawson thaught me many things about AUSA and the University, and got me hooked on the idea of being a Sabbatical Officer. I wanted to be part of enacting change - but not abstract change, I wanted physical change I could see happen and be part of it and see the impact it had on students. So I wrote a manifesto, had a complete burnout during elections as I was struggling not to fail my course and my thesis (shout out to all my fellow students who are trying their best despite it rarely seeming to be enough!), and somehow it turns out the changes I wanted to enact resonated with enough students that I got elected. I am immensely grateful for this. However, despite my personal and working relationship with Lawson, and my awareness of how busy his schedule was, starting this job and living it day to day, I don't think many things could have prepared me for how many things you need to do and how much is expected of you.
Most of my summer was spend in Inductions to learn what I needed to survive in this role, or in University meetings regardng University matters, such as Fees & Scholarships, the Science Teaching Hub, the Kings Quarter and MacRobert redevelopments, the Aberdeen 2040 Strategy, University Court, Univeristy Management Group, Policy & Resource Committee, Governance and Nominations Committee, Student Experience Committee, Student Partnership Agreement, Information Governanace Committee, Democratic Review Meetings, and on and on, I think you get the point. Some weeks I feel like I am always in meetings, and I look towards my fellow Sabbatical Officers with something akin to jealousy as they work on their manifestos, as they meet with students. They are doing great work, and I wish I could be as great of a Sabbatical as they are. Alexander and Dariya has such passion for their topics, Louise is incredibly relentless and will not be travelling to Amsterdam via train as she refuses to compromise on her beliefs, and I am not sure where Isla's determination comes from but it is clear and it is strong, and I hope I learn many things from my team this year. This is not to say that all these meetings are pointless - I always go and I highlight issues that it seems like the University might have overlooked or been ignorent of, and I insist on things and changes, and seeing University staff agreeing with me and promising these changes is great and incredibly satisfying (although this does not mean I have won anything, I will still need to check during the next meeting that they have not forgotten what was discussed in the last one).
I have met with Convenor from the Trans Forum (email@example.com), Lilidh Jack, who taught me about issued that transgendered students face on our campus. She was also able to shed some light on hardships that disabled students face, and I take this knowledge with me to any meeting I attend, especially for the redevlopment of MacRobert/Johnston and the Kings Quarters. Gender Neutral bathrooms have been an argument the University has bought, and I have discovered that if you have a good reason for your requests, the staff will listen. Explaining the necessity of gender neutral bathrooms, especially for nonbinary and transgender students who might face violence within bathrooms - the university listens and what we now need to do is remind them every time they seem to forget. I have also been discussing with Registry, when possible, their updates with how students lists themselves online. I have now been updated that student can choose 'Mx' as a title, and I will be hounding them about ensuring that students will not have to go and report to a staff member when they wish to have a name or gender change - no students should have to come out against their will. I will be posting updates on this once more progress has been made, but the department is having issues with the legality of it when certain nationalities are involved, unfortunatley. I now spend time in my free time to learn more about issues concering PVG students so that I can be more aware, pass the information along, and be more sensitive in my actions and language.
I have also met with the LGBT+ Forum Convenor (firstname.lastname@example.org.), Laura Morrison, about what kind of support AUSA and the Sabbatical Officers can give forums. The short answer is 'almost anything, you just need to ask'. Of course, there is no way we could do everything but we do strive to be as supportive and empowering of our forums as possible, but unless we are told what is needed, we won't know what support to give. If you are part of any forum, don't hesistat to get in touch if you are unsure of your role within AUSA, within the Student Council, and what we can do. You are running your forum, and you are the best person to know what your forum needs, but we are here to assist you! I really enjoyed both my conversations with Lilidh and Laura, and if there are any other students who wish to meet, then don't hesistate to get in touch with me. Alternatively, you can always contact any of the other Sabbaticals!
Together with Alexander and Louise, I met with Ivana Drdakova from the International Student Forum about the Post Study Work Visa. Despite the news statements about the new 2-year post study visa for interntional students, the fights is not over, especially as no actual policy change has happened yet, so if you are passionate about this, I urge you to get in contact with the campaign (email@example.com)!
Something else I have been working on to make existing study spaces on Campus more accesible and well known. I have been in touch with different people within Estates to do this - who have then been liasing with the IT department after I pointed out how outdated the existing information is. I will be having a meeting with the Director of Estates, Angus Donaldson, and Richard Lynch who works with servce management. My original goal was to get more builindg to be open later, and more rooms unlocked for students to use, but after extensive conversations with Angus, my current goal is to get the available spaced signposted properly. I still distinctly remember that awkward and uncomfortable feeling when you would be studying in a room and a tutorial would arrive and I couldn't be sure quite is I was allowed in there or not. I was shown some statistics that showed that there allegedly is enough study spaces on campus - however, I believe that the statistics show the underutilisation of spaces because we don't even know where we are allowed to study. As we came here to the University of Aberdeen to study, being able to study cofmortably and productively, and knowing when and where we can do this, is essential. I will keep you posted after my next meeting with Angus and Richard regarding this!
Another point in my manifesto is Brexit Awareness, no student should have to walk around in a state of uncertainty or worry (although I know this is unavoidable, I am also worried that will happen to me after a no-deal Brexit). Once per week, I am meeting with various people from the University to discuss Brexit, what it means for students (and staff) and what the University is doing to give support. A page on the abdn.ac.uk has been set up now (https://www.abdn.ac.uk/news/brexit/) where you can find out more about Brexit, about the University's stance, and what they are doing - there will also be some information sessions for students regarding pre-settles status, as soon as dates have been confirmed then I will share that with you. There is also a FAQ section on the page, but if you have questions about things that are not mentioned then you can email firstname.lastname@example.org for more information (and if you do not receive a response, let me know!).
Last year, when I was a 4th year student, I was involved with the working group for the Democratic Review. This simply means that I spent most of my Fridays promoting the Democratic review survey and bribing people with AUSA water bottles to fill it out. Now, though, as Student President, I am involved with the implemetation of the Review. In simple terms, this is not easy. We are currently working on updating and simplifying the byelaws, working out how to open up Student Council for all students (another of my manifesto pledges), and, as a Sabbatical Team, we are working on how to best and properly implement the change is sabbatical structures for the next year. This is absolutley exciting work, but time consuming and difficult because there are so many variables, continuities, implications to consider. I look forward to see where we end up with it.
Another of my manifesto pledges is for AUSA to organise Black History Month events. This is something I started doing as soon as I started this job in July, and I have learnt a lot these past months. I have been working mostly with the Black and Ethnic Minority Forum and the African Caribbean Society to ensure the events are approrpiate, and despite the short time to plan events, I think the few that we have managed to organise will turn out well. Hopefully next year, Black History Month can be planned much further in advance and be much bigger. My wish is for October Black History Month to be a wholly interactive, inclusive, enteratining, and educational month in the future. So far, I have organised a film screening of the 1980s movie Babylon in the Union Brew on the 3rd October. The BME forum recommended the movie, and I am thrilled we got permission to screen it. Please show up if you are available and keen, I think it will be a very interesting evening. I have also assisted the ACS to organise Pub Quix for the 15th October, and I absolutely urge you to come - you would be helping ACS raise some fund but also they have managed to secure some absolutley insane prizes through their partnerships. For the 23rd of October, AUSA will be hosting a Braiding and Live Performance event between 2 and 6PM, in which 3 student braiders will be coming to braid students hair for free. I have also been contacted by a student who wishes to sell homemade ankar bags, so that will something else for you to look forward to! If you want to perform on this day (whether singing, stand up, playing an instrument, etc), you can either just show up on the day, fill out this typeform https://ceciliawallback.typeform.com/to/C94mGt or email me at email@example.com. Through conversations with Colin at the Belmont Filmhouse, they have agreed to a special October price for AUSA members (that's you!) which is £4 per screening, just show your Student ID at the Box Office. For Black History Month, they will be showing Belle, I Am Not A With and I Am Not Your Negro. You can find out more about events happening in October on AUSA's What's On page and the AUSA Events app.
So far, I have had three open sessions, one in the Union Brew, one in Foresterhill, and one in AUSA Hillhead. My goal is to hold these regularly, although not always at the same time. This is a great opportunity to meet with me to disucss anything, but that doesn't mean that you can't find me in my office (when I am not in meetings...) or shoot me an email to set up a meeting. It is a time that I have put aside specifically if anyone wish to see me and ask me what I am doing, or talk to me about anything, so please don't feel hesitant to approach me even if you see me on my laptop. At my Union Brew open session, I met a few students and they told me about what they like with the Student Union Building and changes they might wish to see, and at Foresterhill I was talking with students about the Living Rent sessions Louise is running, Black History Month, and what they might wish AUSA could do better for them. So far, during the AUSA Building sessions, it's just been me, an AberGreen employee, and SwapShop - if you still wish to meet me in less formal settings, you can find me in the AUSA building most Saturdays between 11AM and 3PM, together with my cat Michele as we chill here and help tidy up the HillHead Swapshop, and distribute the donated Tesco food.
I don't have a ver good, natural conclusion to this post. Writing this all up has been a bit tiring, and I am now hungry and clueless how to tie the post up. I have much more I could write about, but that will have to wait for another blog update that will hopefully be posted before end of next week. You can always contact me or comment if there is anything you wish me to write about specifically. If you made it this far, well done, and I hope the message I was trying to convey - this is a very stressful and demanding job, but I'm doing my best and so far I think I have been doing pretty alright - has come across.