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Meet Your New SU Officer Team: Christina Schmid

In the first of a series, our reporter quizzed the newly elected student president as she prepares to take office on 1st July


By Fred Byrne

President-elect Christina chatting with reporter Fred Byrne. Photo credit: Lara Nicolis

Can you tell us a little about yourself?

I have just finished my degree in Politics, Spanish & Latin American Studies and I turn 25 the week of my graduation! When I'm not studying, I like to play football - I’m part of the Women's Football and Futsal clubs at Uni. I was also a committee member of the Spanish and Latin American Society, and part of the core group for the Save the Languages campaign. What else? I'm German. I lived abroad for quite a while, including San Diego, Ecuador, Bilbao and Aberdeen of course.


What have you learned by living abroad in so many places?

Different approaches, not only to political activism, but to life. I learned to take a step back and communicate proactively, because being a non-native speaker here, words get lost in translation.


Why did you choose the University of Aberdeen?

To be honest, I wasn’t picked for Edinburgh University. Looking back, I feel it was easier to connect here through Covid, with a smaller group of people than Edinburgh would have had.


Your t-shirt says ‘FEMINIST*IN’. What does feminism mean to you?

The t-shirt is from Jusos, the Young Socialists in Germany. A couple of weeks ago Bavaria forbade the use of gender inclusive language in universitied and schools, so I’m wearing this this in solidarity, and to show a little about where I’m from and what I believe. For me, feminism has different layers to it. For one, discrimination happens at all levels, and it’s important to speak about it. Feminism is to think about what could lead to more equality and liberation for all. As a white woman from Germany, I should use my privilege of circumstances to pull other people up with me. It's not going to jump up and say ‘I’m the girlboss’ while everyone underneath me stays where they are.


How will you elevate student voices in your role as Student President?

Save The Languages is an example where the SU facilitated bottom-up student campaigns. I will elevate student voices by holding protests and assemblies, for example the Climate Assembly as mandated in a recent Student Council motion. I always wish there were more people involved in campaigns, and more people who even knew what the Students’ Union is.


Communicating with students is key, so that every student knows that when they have an issue, they can directly approach Student Officers or staff, depending on the situation.

‘Save The Languages’ was not your first rodeo. How did you first get involved in politics?

After my year abroad in the US, I did an internship in an MP’s office in Germany and then I got involved in youth organisations.I played football since I was young and coached a team of mostly boys when I was 16, so I was the youngest and only female coach in our league. The boys respected me, since they knew I was a good coach, but the other male coaches would sometimes not even shake my hand. For them, having a female coach, that young, was just not an option. Being a female involved in sports, especially in football which is quite male-dominated, politcised me a lot. I did a lot of work for the Young Socialists - for example, did you know abortion is decriminalised but still illegal in Germany? I’m fighting a lot of misinformation and advocating for change; the issue of abortion made it to the German Parliament.


What about Aberdeen? How did you get politically involved here?

Here in Aberdeen a friend asked me to join Labour Students. That was while the Student Council was still quite big with lots of conservatives and people further to the right, so it was a necessity to get involved. In my 1st Year, there were many spiking incidents, so we passed a motion on that. And then I’ve tried to work on sustainable transport, which is hard because the lanes are made by Aberdeen City Council, who are not that approachable.


How does being an activist compare with being a politician?

Both are important. You can’t be in government without having a popular voice behind you, and if people aren’t aware of what they can change through voting, they obviously won’t vote, as we can see in the low election turnout (14% of students voted in the Student Officer elections). Also, I think activism is a way of educating yourself, since books and discussion are usually involved, and it’s the easiest entry point.


Do you have any life philosophies?

I have two quotes that inspire me.“Manchmal kommt es anders als es kommen muss” (“Sometimes things happen differently than they must”) is from a German song about Pelé, which is a football analogy but also about life generally. It means you may think something needs to happen, but in the end you can’t control everything, and you have to adapt. The second is in Spanish "Hay que endurecerse sin perder la ternura jamas" (“You have to toughen up but without losing your tenderness”). You can look up who that’s from!

Chrisitina is standing outside BeCycle with a bike.
Christina is a keen volunteer at BeCycle. Photo credit: Lara Nicolis

Do you feel connected to Aberdeen?

For me, volunteering with BECYCLE (a bicycle workshop on High St, run by volunteers) was one of the times I felt more at home here – it's a real community of alternative people that are also political, in a sense..


What are three areas you feel the Students’ Union do well?

1. A huge number of students are indirectly engaged with the Students’ Union.

2. Sai (outgoing VP Welfare) secured funding for counselling for the mental health of students.

3. Protect students from the worst of funding cuts.


What are three areas where you feel the Students’ Union should improve?

1. So many students engaged with societies don’t know what the Students’ Union does, so showing the work that’s done could be improved.

2. Being honest about the Students’ Union’s financial situation would be helpful - obviously, there is not enough funding. All the staff and officers know about the lack of funding - they’re so overworked.

3. Explaining how the Students’ Union works to new students - it all comes back to communication.


Building on that, how else can the Students’ Union engage students more and better?

Freshers are so interested and want to absorb everything, so having a package that explains everything the Union can do for them would be helpful.

We need more accountability, as I said in my manifesto, which includes social media and weekly drop-in sessions. Student Officers need to show up in person, because it’s always easier to approach someone you know in person.


Christina's manifesto. Photo credit: AUSA

Your manifesto reimagines University governance, such as changes to Court, Senate and Student Council, and including 50% staff and student union representation in steering groups on academic restructuring. How will you achieve this?

These are ambitious goals. Obviously, these are not achievable within half a year. It is an underlying basis for what we want to achieve in the long run, by working with others. In Save The Languages we noticed a lack of accountability in the University. I think 50% Union representation in steering groups could be achieved more easily. Obviously, Senate and Court are such big organisations, and we need a longer time to sit down with all stakeholders and rethink how restructuring is possible. Some fixes could be quick, like making Court public as the default and only having parts of Court as confidential. But they bring all students into leadership positions.


Do you have plans to bring back Student Council Digests and Student Newsletters?

Not a lot of people read that, so there needs to be a different form of communication. When I did my internship in the German parliament, we had a newsletter providing short updates about/of the MP. But the Students’ Union is too complex for that, because the communication would only include accountability. And having only accountability misses how students can get involved, voice their opinion, and what events are on. So, we need to find the balance between all of that.


Your manifesto’s climate goals include bike priority lanes, £1 student bus tickets and zero waste systems on campus. Are these proposals realistic?

Some of them aren’t as ambitious as they seem. There are already reusable cup systems like RECUP in Germany, where cafes work together in a cup deposit system. We want to implement that on campus. I’ll also work with the Sustainable Development Committee to push for changes, including more bike racks and bike lanes on campus.


What is your leadership style?

I am communicative and strong-willed, but I find it important to leave space open for discussion. We will be a team of five Student Officers, and we will make decisions together.

Funding cuts are expected across the University. How will you deal with this? 

I'll focus on initiatives that don’t necessarily need funding, but make students' lives better, all meanwhile also looking into more possibilities for external funding, for example Scottish government grants for sustainability initiatives.


How will the Students’ Union be different after your Presidency?

I can’t look into the future. We’ll see because it’s about trying new things.


Should the Student’s Union support the Palestine encampment and other movements?

Talking to everyone is most important. Also important is that the Students’ Union facilitates conversations, provides a safe space, and mediates. Personally, I draw the line at defamation, spreading disinformation or hate.


Do you commit to communicating with The Gaudie in your role as President?

Sure!


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