‘We Need to Be Whatever Students Want and Need Us to Be.’
Sabbs look to embrace challenge of new academic year.
By Pratyush Chauhan
Last March, students elected five Sabbatical Officers to serve as their primary representatives at the University.
The Sabbatical Officers have a range of duties and different focuses, including on the local and national stage.
This year’s ‘Sabbs’ are Adam Lambert (VP Activities), Sai Shraddha S Viswanathan (VP Welfare), Vanessa Mabonso Nzolo (Student President), Akua Serwaa Agyeman (VP Education) and Camilo Torres Barragán (VP Communities).
The Gaudie asked them a few questions about their roles and hopes for the year recently. You can see that interview below.
First question. What exactly are your roles?
Vanessa: To represent students and to work with our student community to make the best out of their experience at University.
Camilo: Working with our diverse student body to build a sense of belonging and to have a positive impact on the wider community.
Adam: I support all of our amazing societies, sports clubs and student groups.
Akua: Representing students on their education and academic affairs.
Sai: A cocktail of joy, representation, enthusiasm and teamwork with bitters of sleep deprivation and the zest of fun events.
How have you been preparing for the role?
Vanessa: We had a super busy summer! We’ve attended an NUS Lead and Change conference, SU22 [Communities of Practice] conference, strategic planning residential, inductions and introductions to AUSA and University staff and senior management. We have planned our group work and managed our expectations for the year to create sustainable change.
Sai: Our first week was attending graduations which served like an icebreaker for us with the senior management team at University.
Akua: Lots of training to prepare me adequately for representing students academically. I have also been going through [a] series of informal sessions with my predecessor for handing over purposes.
Adam: Conferences where we networked and discussed the reoccurring problems for students and actions that can be taken to improve student life.
Camilo: In the meantime, our staff team has been working really hard for Freshers’ and we are now ready to step in and work with them to support, represent and empower students.
Top aim for the year ahead?
Camilo: To make sure this University is a welcoming place where everyone can be themselves and develop the skills necessary to chase their dreams. In order to do so, I’ll continue focusing on student-led campaigns with objectives such as improving international students’ conditions, decolonising the curriculum, developing an anti-racist university, as well as promoting sustainability and active travel.
Adam: To increase opportunities for students to take part in student activities. I want to do this in a number of different ways including Give It A Go, intra-mural activity and more. One massive project for me this year will be the Granite City Challenge, where I hope to provide options for all students to take part and be involved in this Varsity day – and reclaim the GCC Trophy!
Sai: I guess I really want to see the impact on students and student experience from what we are working towards. Personally, if a student is satisfied and happy with their academic and social experience here at University, and is able to critique present structures and create change themselves, I would say I would be highly satisfied.
Vanessa: My biggest ambition for this year is raising student engagement with the Union in everything we do. We will be actively looking for ways to solve students’ issues and make the Union more relevant to students.
Akua: Amplifying the student voice. We need to be influencing the University on everything that affects them. I want us to be creating change, I want students to succeed and have an amazing year. I also want there to be no more seagulls.
And the biggest challenge?
Sai: A shift in culture and student engagement.
Akua: The biggest challenge after two years of Covid is increasing engagement. We want our clubs and societies to come back stronger than ever and be a Union that people are proud of. We also want to improve the not-so-active relationship between the main campus students and Foresterhill, Qatar and South China.
Adam: The limit to facilities and budget constraints. Believe me, if we had the ability to give all of our student’s activities exactly what they wanted, we would. But unfortunately, we don’t always have the resources we require, and it sucks. That’s why we’re actively lobbying the University to improve students’ experience.
Camilo: Based on our survey results and our conversations with students the biggest challenges for them and for us are employability, well-being, return to social life, students’ voice, and our communications with them.
Vanessa: Previous student officers teams have worked so hard to put AUSA on students’ radar, it’s now our job to make it into an exciting Students’ Union.
Finally, how do you see AUSA’s role in the life of the average student?
Akua: The Students’ Union plays the role of a friend in the life of students who might feel very confused, lost and not so happy with what happens to them but do not know how to turn things round. We advocate for students and always represent them. We also just want to make sure they have fun!
Adam: We are here to support each and every one of our students, but we have not communicated that message enough in the past and typically only a handful of students see the impact we can have on their student experience, and we are working to improve on that.
Vanessa: We’re working hard to make our building an exciting social space to relax and organise events for students by students.
Sai: The Union being student-led gives a sense of ownership to every student and the liberty to create spaces and change. Since it is peer dominated, students also find it a safe space to engage in and just be themselves. This in turn helps shape their years at University and in various other walks of life.
Camilo: We need to be whatever students want and need us to be. This of course is complex as the student body is very diverse and the ‘average’ student is a complicated concept. We’ve improved in reaching [out] to specific demographics that are traditionally under-represented but still have a lot of work to do.