Communicating Democratically

Over the course of the last couple of weeks, Impact has been gathering information and speaking to all of the candidates for the Executive of your Students’ Union. Our reporters have probed, questioned, and endeavoured to find a way of differentiating between the candidates – to find out to just what is underneath the manifestos and what our potential leaders stand for.

One of the trustee positions on the Exec, the Democracy and Communications Officer is in charge of – uncannily enough – the democratic aspects of the union and the also the communications side of things. This means organising elections, safeguarding rules and regulations, but also extends to looking after the media Student Run Services like Impact and communicating with the student body at large to find out exactly how the SU is doing. Emily Sargent spoke to the three candidates…

Dalia Fleming

Speaking to Dalia, it was clear that she is passionate about our University, and her enthusiasm is reflected by her extended involvement with the Student Union as well as other events around campus. On the day that we met to discuss her manifesto, she had spent the morning taking part in the Donation Not Discrimination Demonstration – a sign of her continued involvement in all kinds of issues around campus.

Dalia is amongst what is probably a minority of students who follow the progress of motions passing through the SU council. While she admits that this might seem “a little geeky”, Dalia fervently desires to make council motions and SU debate much more accessible to students; having sat on the Council since 2007, and been Vice-Chair for the past year, she has the relevant experience for this venture.

One of Dalia’s key pledges is to create an ‘SU I-Player’ which would play host to “media updates, webcast debates and interviews” with SU personnel. I questioned whether simply putting more material online would lead to more interest in SU affairs, and Dalia admitted that it could be a slow progress, although she said that she wouldn’t mind if “only 5 people watched” footage on her proposed ‘I-Player’ at any one time; what is important is that people who are from satellite campuses are able to access what’s being discussed, or those who are too intimidated to join SU council meetings can instead participate from a more familiar environment when it’s convenient for them.

As well as following SU affairs, Dalia actively contributes towards them. She told me about addressing the council last year about lack of representation in the domain that remains to be dominated by white males. She emphasised that students need to feel more confident in expressing their views, particularly those who continue to be underrepresented. When I questioned her further about why women aren’t getting involved with the SU, she expressed that it was about women feeling that they didn’t have a role.

Dalia, however, clearly feels comfortable in getting her voice heard. When I asked about her pledge to fight for ‘Fair Fees-Fair Funding-Fair Education’ and whether this was just a crowd pleaser, she admitted that it was being used by many candidates as a mandatory element in their manifestos. Dalia was adamant, however, that this was an issue that needed to be addressed: “We need to let the government know that Nottingham students don’t accept that Universities were one of the first places to have budget cuts”.

George Wright

George is among many candidates who are campaigning for a more informed student body, with a promise to use electronic media as a primary means of informing the student populace of careers information, elections and union activity.

With a similar pledge to create forums and petitions as a means of increasing SU accessibility, I asked him just how he would make such things not only more accessible, but also more interesting to the student body. George believes that the answer is to work in conjunction with Nottingham University TV Station (NUTS) and create a type of student You Tube (something to be inevitably dubbed ‘SUTube’) which would show short, snappy and relevant pieces of information.

Undoubtedly, this type of scheme takes a lot of time and dedication to develop, and would require a lot of good publicity. George acknowledged that “it will take a while for everyone to find out about them, but I think that once they become common practice they will increase accessibility and interest for things previously under attended like SU council and Election Question Times”.

As well as mentioning NUTS, George states that he would show increased support for other student media in order to create a greater presence of media on campus. Representing students from satellite campuses and successfully addressing their often very specific issues is always a challenge, but George feels that through a more web-based council these problems can be addressed more effectively – this includes electronic voting, online video streaming and online questioning. Again, the issue rests on getting internet based schemes up and running and generating enough interest.

With a lack of diversity in the Presidential elections noted at question times during this campaign, I asked George about this year’s campaign to increase female participation in the elections, and he felt that diversity in religion, nationality, gender and sexuality was an issue that definitely needed looking at. According to George, “It is important that the SU officers reflect the multicultural union it represents… What I want to do is to improve on this with the quality of publicity – not just the quantity – and hopefully see increased applicants from all underrepresented groups.” With experience in publicity from his time as Publications and Promotions Officer for Karni – and his part in designing publicity for the READ Nottingham Book Project – the question is whether this knowledge can be brought to bear on SU Democracy and Communications.

Johnny Priestley

With the issue of student apathy towards the Union looming large, Johnny Priestley is another who feels that there is improvement to be made in communication between the SU and the student body. A “regularly updated and user-friendly Facebook group” and “lighthearted YouTube videos” are among his suggestions. He feels that this way, using “a mix of serious messages with fun, eye-catching methods”, will be the best way to get students involved in the Union.

Johnny enthuses about his idea for a “Speaker’s Corner”, designed to be a “democratic space on campus”, which he thinks – if implemented – would be a good place for organised protests and campaigning events. According to Priestley, increasing tuition fees, environmental problems and other highly charged issues are leading to a growing need for a place to bring together “politically-motivated students”. Protests and demonstrations on campus tend to be organised and attended by a few select students, and have been known to cause inconvenience or simply go ignored. In response to these points, Johnny states that “I absolutely encourage all student movements to campaign, protest and debate about everything and anything they care about, obviously within the legal constraints against incitement, though to be aware, and I speak from experience, some ways of getting student attention are better than others”.

Another unique point about Johnny’s manifesto is his pledge to bring live music to freshers’ week, primarily to give students an opportunity to sample the societies that are on offer at Nottingham University. “For me,” Priestley states, “the most important area is encouraging students to sample a society that they may not otherwise, and one way is through the opportunity for performance.” Arguably though, events such as ‘Battle of the Bands’ should occur not just once a year during Freshers’ week. I questioned whether facilities like The Den would bring in the crowds for such competitive student events. In response, Johnny suggested that “all societies need to be aware of what resources are available to perform in the Den and Hall bars. I know many of them utilise these for their own events to great success. A combination of the Den hosting and the SU publicising can facilitate joint performances and even competitions between societies.”

Priestley also places emphasis on a need to connect to Nottingham’s satellite campuses, as well as those even further afield such as the Malaysia and China campuses. “We must ensure they and the networks are as strong as possible so every student from all groups can feel fully involved and appreciated,” said Priestley. “When students on these Campuses feel properly connected and valued the same as those on University Park then they will feel more inclined to vote.”

Images by Matt Turner


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