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A Silent Start to AUSA Elections: The First Round of SABB Debates

Updated: Mar 11

Student Officer Candidates Speak to Empty Tables in Union Brew

By Fred Byrne

By Lara Nicolis

Student Officer Candidates for VP Communities, VP Education and VP Activities gathered on Thursday 7th March for the first round of debates at Union Brew in the AUSA building, ahead of further debates on Friday. The event, announced on social media less than 24 hours before, was hosted by Chair of Student Council, Nirvan Abedi. He told The Gaudie he "was happy to provide a platform" for candidates to debate, but that communication around the event "has to be done better". Students talked amongst themselves or worked alone with headphones in, with only a few people paying attention to the panels - most of them other candidates or AUSA staff.


The day kicked off with the debate of candidates for VP Communities discussing sustainability, inclusivity and housing. Incumbent Ainhoa Aguilera defended her role against challengers Willow Daymond and Debashis Dey. Each candidate spoke about the importance of sustainability, with Ainhoa pointing out her track-record as a climate activist, lobbying University catering to go plant-based and plastic-free, and contributing to 'Re-imagining the Campus' meetings. As VP Communities, Ainhoa began the Zero Waste Shop at AUSA, but at February's Student Council meeting avoided responsibility for AUSA's silence in reaching its own goal to become carbon neutral by 2025. Willow agreed the University needed to "do more" on climate, wanted to improve standing for AUSA shops such as Book-Ends, where she volunteers, and said she would use social media to campaign on climate. Willow also perceived a "lack of community" highlighting the need for community-building, while Ainhoa saw her role as promoting existing communities. Babu John, a candidate for VP Welfare, asked how AUSA could support international students to find housing. Ainhoa responded that more student housing is needed, Willow suggested that AUSA partners with letting agencies, and Debashis proposed building a webpage for students to find suitable accommodation options.


During a short break before the VP Education candidate debate, a TV screen was set up to include a Qatar campus candidate in the debate, but with no one answering the Skype call, the screen was soon dismantled. Rhiannon Ledwell, current VP Education, did not re-run, despite her leadership to save single-honour language degrees and stop compulsory redundancies. Both VP Education candidates Kirsten Koss and Miles Rothoerl have campaigned alongside Rhiannon, and both are Student Council members. They agreed on most issues: enforcement of plagiarism policy should be consistent across all twelve Schools at the University; international students deserve an equitable student experience; and a potential merger between DHPA and LLMVC is dangerous. Asked "What sets you apart?" Kirsten discussed her experiences in NUS, Sparqs and NESCOL, and her recent diagnosis with ADHD. Miles asserted that he had extensive knowledge of University of Aberdeen structures, claiming that he knew the AUSA byelaws by heart. Miles, who recently proposed a passing Student Council Motion [4] to ensure continuous student representation in University Senate, noted that many of the 15,000 students at the University do not feel represented by AUSA, emphasising the need to embed student reps in the organisation, hold surgeries, publish Student Council digests, and start a suggestion box. Kirsten said she would conduct a review of all representation structures, and also questioned if Queen Camilla’s position as University Chancellor is compatible with decolonisation.


Finally, incumbent Tonis Tilk VP Activities defended his position in the role, saying "vote for me if you want discounted and free activities" Jane Davidson, a student and high performance athlete in Track & Field, promised to celebrate hard-working students who volunteer to make Societies successful, arguing that showcasing AUSA Activities will help increase funding. Khamisa John Chol Dak promised to remove barriers for students to access sports facilities, given that students' financial situations are often a barrier. Clement Bosin explained that in Nigeria universities are like a big family, but in Aberdeen's lecture halls "no one says hi". Clement sets out to change this by employing "multi-level marketing" tactics to grow activities for "more fun and better vibes" on campus.


Over the 3 hours of the first round debates, Union Brew emptied out, with a dozen students left chatting together or working with headphones on. AUSA staff members responsible for running the elections and communication were off sick - an explanation for the lack of publicity around the debates.

Voting for Student Officer Elections opens from Monday 11th March, 9am to Thursday 14 March, 5pm.


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