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Impact Speaks to ‘Mike’ Abiodun Olatokun, SU Environment & Social Justice Officer: “Being ESJ officer has been the best unpaid work experience I could ever get”

Impact interviewed ‘Mike’ Abiodun Olatokun, Students’ Union Environment and Social Justice (SU ESJ) Officer, about his achievements so far this year. He updated us on the progress of his ESJ campaigns as well as how he juggles being a part-time officer alongside his law degree.

How have you found being ESJ Officer this year?

Being ESJ officer has been the best unpaid work experience I could ever get. I’ve been able to do things I never thought I’d be able to do in my final year and if I had been on a four year degree program, I probably would’ve done it again next year as well.

What have been some of your successes?

I have formed a really close connection with the Environment and Social Justice Committee that I lead as well as the sustainability team at the University of Nottingham (UoN).

 “I’m assisting with an assisted access campaign to enable asylum seekers to have easier access to higher education”

We’ve also secured a shelter belt over Grove Farm next year which means that the Committee will have a chance to improve their employability as they will be granted the opportunity to manage that project. (Grove Farm playing fields are used by various sports teams at UoN. The environment committee will be planting a hedgerow to decrease exposure and protect it – Ed.)

On the social justice side, campaigners are working very hard on three campaigns right now which I’m assisting with. Firstly, an assisted access campaign to enable asylum seekers to have easier access to higher education as well as a living wage proposal to get all union and university staff paid at a level where they can support themselves and their families.

The final campaign, to stop the student sell-off, has led to a change in UoN SU policy, which has meant that the SU now  offically opposes the privatisation of student loans.

Would you say you have focused more on, the environmental side or the social justice side, or perhaps you have managed to strike a balance between the two?

As a very politicised officer, I would say I have spent about 60% of my time on the social justice side. I think I am a less environmentally active officer than those before me but I don’t necessarily think that’s a bad thing.

I thought there were a lot of things in Nottingham that should be achieved for our students and they just happened to fall under the social justice side.

What are some of the challenges you’ve faced this year?

I feel as though the challenges are quite innate to the role. Being a part-time officer, obviously, I have to balance a degree alongside my role, and the degree that I choose to do is a finalist law degree! So there’s a lot of pressure on my time.

“There’s a lot of pressure on my time.”

Aside from juggling things, I think I’ve  been challenged to seize opportunities this year. There’s been a focus by the University on green technology which I have sought to get involved in.  The team that I work with is also great, so that can only be of benefit to me and our work.

Thinking back to your manifesto, was there anything you couldn’t do or felt that you didn’t achieve?

I had a manifesto priority on extensive mid-term surveys on student opinion to gauge what they thought about us and the various things we were doing and the priorities they would like us to pursue.

“I have decided not to pursue that this year, primarily because we now have the Change It platform and we have other ways that we listen to students that didn’t exist before”

I have decided not to pursue that this year, [however], primarily because we now have the Change It platform and we have other ways that we can listen to students that didn’t exist before I came into office but now do – so that aim has been slightly negated by the times.

You campaigned to take the UoN Wifi network to all off-campus halls by 2015, as far as I’m aware that hasn’t been achieved. Do you have any comments on that?

I haven’t really been in a situation where I’ve been able to talk to the Albion House and St Peters Court hierarchy about that proposal.

You campaigned for more overall accountability, have you managed to achieve that?

Again, that was one of the more naïve things in my manifesto. I realised when I came into office that that wasn’t really my role.

The SU Council and Democratic Procedures Committee that have been in force since I came into office have largely met some of those concerns so again that’s a manifesto priority that I felt like I didn’t have to achieve [in the end].

You wanted to expand the Go Greener competition between halls, have you managed to expand that to the off-campus halls?

They’re not always willing to provide environmental waste management information.

Yeah again, we are in the process of talking, often falling on deaf ears,  to Broadgate Park, Raleigh Park and the other off-campus accommodation. They’re not always willing to provide environmental waste management information. Indeed this was something that I found out as early as 2011 when I was Environmental Representative for Raleigh Park. But again, we are still trying on that.

You campaigned to prevent fines for students from Council schemes. Have you managed to do that?

One of the major talking points of my Community Officer elections last year was often the discriminatory way students were being fined for having their bins out. Dave Cordell, the current Community Officer, had secured a scheme with Nottingham City Council to alleviate some of those issues before I came into office.

“Dave and I were able to work together on a project to alleviate some of the consequences of living in the community”

It’s called Binformation and it’s essentially a text service where students give the Council their details and they text them when their bins need to come in and go out. We don’t have the data but I do assume that there has been a substantial decrease in the number of students being fined.

Once I had got into office, Dave and I were able to work together on a project to alleviate some of the consequences of living in the community.

Students are the only people who have to pay to park outside their homes and Dave and I are currently working away at getting exemptions for students who have long term placements or disabilities and that project is going well so far.

What would you have done if you had more time?

If I had more time, I would spend more days working with and meeting the University sustainability team because I feel as though in previous years the Environment Officer has not used their resources in the way that they should have.

The relationship that I’ve been able to develop this year has been so effective that more instances of liaison would be of benefit to me and my committee as well as the students we represent.

Moving onto the role in general, do you think part time officers (PTOs) should be paid? Do you think as a part time officer, you spend less time than a full time officer in your role?

That is a really complex question. My honest answer to it would be for the instances where they do executive and administrative work, yes, but not for their representation work.

“In essence, PTOs are student leaders and to pay them would be a strike against the work of the SB Guild or the Impact Editors-in-Chief of Impact, or the NUTS Station Manager.”

In essence, PTOs are student leaders and to pay them would be a strike against the work of the SB Guild or the Impact Editors-in-Chief, or the NUTS Station Manager. That is our form of volunteering and there is a value in that we represent people for free.

I definitely respect my team mates more for not having fallen away at the challenge but continuing to plug on, despite the fact that we don’t get paid.

Have you struggled with your part time role alongside your degree?

This is one area where I’m very disparate from my colleagues. I find that my PTO role actually allows me to do more on my degree because I’m on campus more often – and the things that I talk about and the methods that I use are very useful for a law degree. So I personally don’t face that challenge.

Do you have any plans to carry on working for the SU?

Yes, I’m going to run for the position of Community Officer. And if unsuccessful with that, I’ll seek an internship with Campaigns and Democracy because #winsforstudents is the most important hashtag today.

Caroline Chan

Senior News Reporter

Image: University of Nottingham Students’ Union

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