With their campaign underway and voting open, Palatinate talks to Kate McIntosh, your candidate for President of the Durham’s Student’ Union, about their key aims, ideas and policies.
Kate McIntosh – Presidential Candidate
(Fourth Year History and Politics)
Why do you want to take on this role?
I want to be SU President because I love Durham, I’ve really enjoyed my four years here, but I know it can be so much better, and I want the freshers that are arriving in October and in the year after that, to have a much better 3 years than I’ve had. I think that Durham is at a turning point now, and the city could be unrecognisable in 10 years now given the massive expansions, student numbers and international student numbers are rising at a really fast rate. You can see this from the amount of developments in the city centre at them moment. That provides us with some really serious challenges about in the quality of student experience and the support we get in the future. We already have a crisis with student mental health, so you can imagine what it will be like in 5 years time when investment in counselling services is not met. I know that at this point that i have the ideas and the passion and the expertise to be the person who leads the student union and make sure that in 10 years time, we have a Durham that is inclusive and diverse.
What are Durham’s problems at the moment? Specifically, what are the biggest issues facing students at the moment?
I think we have a culture that allows sexual violence and harassment to happen all too regularly, and this is something that I’ve written about before for Palatinate. It is an issue that I, as SU President, will take on wholeheartedly. I have a plan to push the SU towards a bigger, bolder strategy on combating sexual harassment and violence. I want to implement a common standard for security staff in all the pubs and clubs in the city and their responses to sexual harasmanet and violence, roll out active bystander training to more student leaders, and also diversify our support for LGBT+, black and ethnic minority and disabled students, because their experiences of sexual violence and harassment in Durham often aren’t catered for. In terms of other issues, the rising student numbers really jeopardizing our relationship with the community. The SU have already started doing work on a student engagement strategy this year, and i think there are some really important points to take forward from that campaign. This issue will only become more and more important as we move towards higher student numbers. Another thing to point out: a huge issue in Durham that we do not talk about enough is the support for international students. These students don’t have a huge voice and the students union does not support international students very much at the moment, so I think we need to do more for these students who pay so much to come here. They often struggle to find places to live, because you need a UK Guarantor to rent a house, and lots of international students have to go and have a police interview every year. We need to develop what we are doing currently to support international students.
How will you address concerns raised by student representatives to improve undergraduate academic experience?
International students are a really good example of the need for communication. I think the SU needs to be better at explaining how we do things, what we are, and this is particularly relevant to international students. Many will come from countries where SU’s don’t exist. International students need more representation in the SU, they are ⅓ of the student population but don’t get much of a voice. I want to establish a committee of international college reps, so they can work together and share their problems and receive more support to build their own international communities in college. In terms of wider students consultation, we have democratic bodies at the moment that exist within the Student’s Union, and I want them to be more transparent. I will be dedicated to reporting everything that is going on and will try to reach as many people as possible through simple, broken down facts.
How will you ensure students are made aware of any changes you implement?
I think we have to go to students where they are. We need to support students union reps on JCR execs to give them a strong voice and the tools and resources to communicate what the SU is doing on a college level. This applies to international students too with college reps for international students. We should be communicating what we are doing on social media, and making it obvious that we exist to serve students, and opening up the Student’s union to more student consultations. We need to be more dynamic and engaging.
What’s the biggest thing you’d like to achieve?
I want Durham to be much more accessible for lower-income students. This is a long term project because it is a big problem. If in a few years time, because of the things I’ve managed to achieve as SU President, there is a group of students who would not have been able to come to Durham before, who can benefit from the Durham experience, then I would be chuffed.
What do you hope to improve on from the work of the current Officer?
I think the “Ripped off” campaign needs to be refocussed and expanded. I think we need a clear set of aims, we need a bullet point list of aims that we think the university should be doing in terms of consulting students, the fact that we want a freeze of fees, and we want to know how they will go about that. We need a much more diverse range of tactics about what the campaign will involve, how colleges can get involved. We need to promote awareness of sexual and violence harassment for minority students. I think the results of “Pincident” have been really interesting, and it is the first step to understanding why Durham University has a culture of sexual violence, and how we can start to change it. I think we can do a lot in terms of branding Pincident to explain that it is not just a tool for mapping sexual harassment and violence, but also for mapping hate crime (which can be motivated by racial or religious reasons). Also, I think the SU needs to consult students more often, we need to be looking for students to be the experts about what it is to be a student in Durham. It is generally about having a reality check as President sometimes, and knowing that most people do not understand the inner workings of the students union, making it the president’s job to explain all the decisions that are made and what is planned for the future. I would be really interested in exploring office hours but having them in college dining halls rather than in the Students’ Unions to reach students where they are.
How do you feel about going this role being unopposed?
It is not ideal, I would’ve liked a competitor. I was really ready to have a big vibrant campaign – we’re still going to have that, but it changes the nature of the campaign. It is a huge opportunity for me to convince people of my platform. People often say (although I don’t think this is true) that Durham students are apathetic and unengaged, but that couldn’t be further from the truth. We really do care a lot about issues such as spiralling student numbers, the housing crisis, our relationship with the local community. These are all issues I am really passionate about, and I know this is my chance to show that Durham students are too. This campaign is a chance to have a united voice in support of these issues and for a more progressive vision of Durham.
Voting (open to all Durham students) begins at 8:00, Sunday 17th February and closes at 17:00, Wednesday 20th February.