SU Officer elections 2018: Meet the candidates

By Cameron McIntosh and Tania Chakraborti

With campaigning underway and voting open for the election of Durham’s Students’ Union Officers, Palatinate talks to the candidates about their aims, ideas and policies.


Maciej Matuszewski (Opportunities)

(PhD Mathematical Physics)

Why do you want to be elected?

Probably it’s because I’ve been so involved with the Students’ Union and student societies and student opportunities. Very much here but also during my own undergraduate degree at Imperial College where I was in lots of societies.

Here in Durham I have been President of the SciFi society, of the Quiz Society and I’ve been on the government and grants committee and I found that really rewarding, but that has also shown me lots of places where things can be improved. A lot of Students’ Union decisions are seen as a bit opaque by the student body, a lot of students find it difficult to engage with the Students’ Union because they don’t really feel that they are part of it, they kind of feel that it’s a body they can join rather than them being the Students’ Union, which is what it should be and lots of groups of students, in particular, postgraduates, find it really difficult to engage with the Students’ Union. So I think all that needs to be improved.

What is your main priority for the year?

I want there to be more opportunities for students, both within the union and outside the union and I want students to feel that the union is something that they’re in charge of, that it’s not something that has decisions made in some far off committee that they know nothing about, but that all the major decisions come from the student body and that they feel comfortable with engaging with us to make those decisions, and to provide the services that they want.

What’s your favourite thing about Durham?

The vibrancy of the city and of the university. At Imperial it was all sciences, which was great – we were really focused – but here I really love mixing with students from all the different courses and public lectures from the different departments

What’s your favourite film?

The film that I most enjoy is probably Stardust. It’s just so fun, so colourful and I never fail to leave smiling.


Charlie Walker (Opportunities)

(Current Opportunities Officer)

Why do you want to be (re)elected?

There are two big reasons why I want to carry on in this role. The first is that there are so many amazing opportunities in Durham and they’re rich and varied and you can do them in colleges and here in the Students’ Union through Experience Durham. But people say that the two biggest barriers to get involved in them are time and money, which is fairly obvious. I can’t do much about time – I can’t create more hours in the day- but there are things that can be done about money and there are things where things are just too expensive or perhaps you’re paying for something and it’s subsidising something else, and that’s maybe not very fair. All these kind of issues need to be looked at, so I want to keep trying to address that issue.

Secondly, Durham students are really talented and they come here and they get the privilege of one of the best university educations in the world. Durham likes to say it’s a top 100 university. We don’t do much with that while we’re here, we don’t go out and contribute to the community as much as we could do… I’m interested in how we can get people involved in that and leave Durham not only having improved it, but having gained the skills to actually make change in their local community.

What would you say has been your biggest achievement since you became Opportunities Officer?

I think my biggest achievement is yet to come because the frustration with this role is that you come in and you spend three months getting trained and working out how all the big complex machinery of the university works and how you can actually influence that to change things. Then you spend, from the start of Michaelmas until around now, doing research and working out, like getting your papers ready for the right university committee, and then now you start to just about make changes. For example, I’m just about to take the Durham Awards stuff to consultation with student group leaders, and we’re getting towards having a new Durham Award, which I would say is my proudest achievement so far. It’s going to be really amazing, it’s frustrating that I can’t talk about it publicly yet too much because it’s still gradually going out to further ways of consultation.

What’s your favourite thing about Durham?

My college – Chad’s. That’s where I feel like I’m at home. It will always be where I go back to the bar and sit on those, sometimes slightly grimey seats, and just think ‘Ah I’m at home now’ and just relax and I’m sure I’ll be coming back in 20 years and feeling the same way.

What’s your favourite film?

I’d have to say The Grand Budapest Hotel. It’s so whimsical and funny yet deep at the same time and bizarre…and I like the aesthetic of it as well.


Meg Haskins (Welfare and Liberation)

(Third Year Theology)

Why do you want to be elected?

So since coming to Durham I’ve been involved with quite a lot of welfare work in particular. So I was the female welfare officer at my college, Collingwood, in first and second year and then this last year I’ve been the Director of Durham Nightline and … In general, I’ve sat on my college exec for two years. One thing I’ve really noticed is how much of a disconnect there is in general between the Union and all the colleges. The Colleges, in general, do some really great things in the running of our own common rooms and that’s great, but you’re not going to effectively have cultural change happen within the University if you don’t actually get people working together, so that’s something I really want to push to getting JCRs, MCRs, Associations to all actually collaborate a lot more so that you can actually see shifts happen.

What is your main priority for the year?

How I’ve framed my main campaign is that that’s my main priority [collaboration between the SU and colleges] and then everything I want to achieve kind of comes under that. So I have three other priorities which are student housing- so basically, housing in Durham as we know is a huge issue. I basically want to create a landlord rating scheme which will hold landlords fully accountable and act as an incentive for them to improve the quality of their housing and also to give students a forum in which they can raise their voice about it.

My next priority is Mental Health. What I wanted to focus on with that is mental health provision and ensuring that there’s adequate and suitable levels of care. Because obviously, not everyone is at the same point with their mental health. Some people might be before crisis point say, whilst others get to crisis point- so you need to be able to cater for everyone along the spectrum, if you view it like that. So I want to ensure there is suitable provision being provided by the University.

The final priority is campus accessibility. Basically, as it stands I don’t think there’s enough being done to ensure that not only is there accessibility in a physical way but also in terms of like, gender neutral toilets, to ensure that everyone feels like they have a safe space within the University. One of the things I would want to do is write policy which mandates the union into lobbying the University to guarantee that all new and refurbished buildings are accessible. 

What’s your favourite thing about Durham?

I think there is a really lovely sense of community and I think there are so many different avenues you can go down to find that community…and also the fact, in general, you can do things at high or levels, that kind of vibe…I always love the coffee shops!

What’s your favourite film?

A great film is Amélie!


Amelia McLoughlan (Welfare and Liberation)

(Anthropology)

Why do you want to be elected?

Because I’ve been President of one of the associations for quite a long time. I’ve been President of the Students with Disabilities Association and I actually was one of the founding exec that relaunched it three years ago now. I’ve been quite involved in welfare and liberation and I’m on the NUS Disabled Students’ Committee as well, so I’ve kind of been around the sphere of it without actually doing the job. So it’d be quite nice to do the job. So that’s why I want to be elected.

What are your main priorities?

I have three. My first is having a more diverse student body and celebrating diversity. One of the things I’ve found is that a lot of students come up to me and say ‘I’m not a typical Durham student’ or ‘I don’t identify as this mythical Durham student’ – that doesn’t really exist. My ethos behind that is creating more diverse campaigns so that every student feels they are respected and valued and they belong in Durham.

Secondly, I would like to support the student services which is ongoing. In the time of big changes in Durham, it’s one of the huge aspects of what welfare is – having a well-funded, professional counselling and disability service. Making sure that everyone has equal access to college welfare because all the welfare college units are different in their own ways.

Finally student housing. The housing campaign happens every year but this massive panic over student housing because there’s a national crisis – but we don’t actually have a housing shortage in Durham. People were trying to get housemates in freshers’ week which, to me, it’s becoming so early that no-one is enjoying their first year in college anymore because they’re so preoccupied with getting houses. It’s just making sure everyone has the confidence in housing.

What’s your favourite thing about Durham?

I like wheeling down South Road in two and a half minutes from my college to my department. Going up South Hill is not my favourite thing, but going down it is very fun.

What’s your favourite film?

The Fifth Element, I’m a SciFi geek.


Saul Cahill (Undergraduate Academic)

(Third year PPE)

Why do you want to be elected?

I’m running because I want to make sure that every student in Durham gets a chance to make the most out of their education, that all students can use the facilities that are available to them and that the University provides everything that students need to succeed.

How do you think you can engage the student body?

While we, as a Students’ Union, have our main priorities, it’s a case of having campaigns that are directly relevant to students interests. So something I think we could fight for is a 24/7 library, that’s the sort of thing that makes students know that the Students’ Union is something that’s fighting for their day-to-day interests and their day-to-day needs. It’s a case of making sure we’re constantly running relevant, dynamic campaigns, so everyone feels that the Students’ Union is a part of their university life and is an organisation that’s there for them.

What’s your favourite thing about Durham?

It would be the students. It’s the friends who you go out drinking with. It’s the fact you walk around Durham and you recognise just about every other face as well because it’s a very close-knit community.

What’s your favourite film?

Solaris by Andrei Tarkovsky. He’s a really interesting director. He presents ideas to you and challenges you to see yourself and develop an understanding of yourself.


Mary Wohrle (Undergraduate Academic)

(Third Year Archaeology and Anthropology)

Why do you want to be elected?

I want to be elected because I’ve been involved in academic representation and, with every year, I’ve been going slightly higher and I just realised there’s so many things you can actually do with an engaged academic officer. I want to be that person to finally make things move. The fact that great moments such as when they managed to get the eating in the lunch area in the library and I think we need to try and get more products that genuinely help students and give students things that they want, such as food in the library, hot drinks in the library but also more spaces in the library and a University that actually answers the questions that they have. My campaign is called ‘Open Up Durham’ because I want to make Durham University and the Durham Students’ Union both more open to student concerns because I think, especially this year, a lot of concerns just went past both Students’ Union and the University and I don’t think that’s okay.

How would you make the Students’ Union more engaged with the student body?

What I’ve learned is that when you actually start explaining to people what you can do and how you do it, it’s so much easier to get people involved. I think the Students’ Union at times is very guilty of just assuming that people know what a course rep does and how academic representation works. When in reality someone sits in their course and thinks they can’t deal with what’s going on but don’t know who to talk to. I want to open up the structure of the Students’ Union and clear up what’s happening to allow students to have their voices heard.

What’s your favourite thing about Durham?

The people. It’s definitely the people.

What’s your favourite film?

Hairspray. I like the idea of people singing randomly on the street.


Spencer Payne (Postgraduate Academic)

(MA English Literature)

Why do you want to be elected?

Since I’ve got here, I’ve just seen the academic services at Durham are not quite up to par with lots of other universities around the country. So whereas lots of students get to expect a 24/7 library during term time, Durham students don’t. The software is often pretty bad. It’s a really limited range on the computers. That would be another thing that should be improved. I’ve had a hard time myself with the new masters loan system, I think the University has to do something to sync up the schedules making sure people aren’t being hit quite hard by… basically, money is going out before student finance is going in at the moment, which is just a shambles really.

Why are your main priorities?

To have sorted out that masters loan system because it’s brand new, it’s understandable that there are kinks at the moment, but that does need to be fixed. Getting the library open 24/7 or certainly at least having larger shifts than at the moment. Moving along towards that as a target is a big one…It’s only open 80 days of term time a year, whereas there are over 180 days of term time. When you’re a student who has assignments in for that other 100 days, or if you’ve got a job during the daytime in the 100 days, then you’re just getting penalised.

Then definitely just getting some of the new software, which would be very very simply done as long as we say ‘we want to spend some of this money on licensing this’.

What’s your favourite thing about Durham?

The collegiate system because this is something I didn’t have in my undergrad and I love having these little communities…it’s a society and it’s a home, and I think it’s a fantastic thing.

What’s your favourite film?

Casablanca. It’s just one you can watch over and over again and there’s so much heart in it.


David Evans (Postgraduate Academic)

(PhD Mathematics)

Why do you want to be elected?

I’ve been postgraduate president at Josephine Butler for a couple of years before this so I’ve had to deal with a lot of postgraduates and they’ve come to me with a lot of complaints and issues and I’ve started off very much in the colleges when I came here in 2009, but I’ve gradually moved towards the Students’ Union and seen how much more of an effect you can have in a full-time role. I want to take all the complaints I’ve received over the years and try and do something about them with a full-time role.

What are your main priorities?

My principal one is postgraduate pay. I took it upon myself to investigate what the pay situation has been over a number of years. It’s not changed in ten years. Before that, there was a 5% pay rise one year and 3% the year before that. But since then the University has covered up the fact that it used to increment that pay quite frequently and it has just left it static for a long time.

The University has dodged out of giving postgraduates a fair deal. That, in turn, affects everyone because postgraduates aren’t being paid, then they are not motivated to teach and they do so much teaching for undergraduates as well in the University. So that’s a real issue that affects all students even though it’s one that the postgraduate academic officer would be addressing.

Another one is that I’ve had fairly disappointing stories about people having to leave the University because their supervision relationship has broken down…I think we need some better guidelines on best practice for supervisions and also where to go if things go wrong so that people can continue their studies.

I’ve been very involved in accommodation fees as well and I’ll be very much supporting the whole officer team in making sure that it’s affordable to live in colleges in Durham.

What’s your favourite thing about Durham?

It’s the community of volunteers that will just do things for free and support change in the University and the colleges that really makes this a very vibrant and active and successful place.

What’s your favourite film?

It’s Hot Fuzz. I was thinking should I go political – no, It’s Hot Fuzz. I just like silly car chases and double-meanings of words – it’s just good fun.

For the interviews with the Presidential candidates CLICK HERE

Photograph: Durham Students’ Union

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

 

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

© Palatinate 2010-2017