Happening On Campus

Democratic Review 19/20: Interview with Cassie Ulrich

The Democratic Review 19/20 is underway for the University of Nottingham's Students' Union.

Cassie Ulrich is the Education Officer at the University of Nottingham. This role involves co-leading the Education Network and the more than 700 students that represent students’ academic experience to the Schools, Faculties and University. 

In your words, what exactly is the Democratic Review 19/20?

The Democratic Review is an opportunity to change the way the students influence the Students’ Union. A way to improve how the student voice we get and the SUs’ ability to listen to it. Gets students who aren’t heard, heard.

Why do you think the structure of the Student’s Union needed changing?

Because it doesn’t currently listen to its students. Students don’t understand how they can make change. Officers face difficulties. It’s oppressive to the student voice and marginalised students. Only privileged students heard. It’s a top-down structure. It’s not appropriate for a Students’ Union who should be led by its members.

According to the Students’ Union website, the Democratic Review “want to make sure that our democratic processes are right for you, and that we’re representing you and your needs in the best possible way”. How exactly does the Review go about doing this?

The new model gives power back to the students. It increases the number of students participating. It increases the number of students participating. The biggest and most significant finding for us was that students want ‘popular control’. They want the power, not individuals at the top making decisions for them. This new model gives that, everyone is politically equal. As the Education Officer at the moment, I can make any overarching decision. But with the new model, each member would have one vote within each zone. So, it gets people in the room, that don’t have a place at the moment. It gets student leaders into the decision-making body, they get to make the decision on it. E.g. Sutton Bodington campus reps etc. Currently, structure is top-down. The new model would be outside-in, more horizontal and allow for more participants.

In your opinion, what is the response you have received from the Democratic Review?

I’ve spoken to the Academic Council, the Standing Committee of Education Network. The response has been overwhelmingly positive. They understood it and backed it. Asked great questions and got satisfying answers. Survey response was overwhelming in support of the review.

From a survey that the News Team at Impact conducted last Thursday an Friday involving 30 students, 82% responded that they did not understand the new model proposed with only 18% who did. Although only a small sample, what are your thoughts on this considering the referendum is so soon?

It’s innovative for Student Unions. This type of work exists in a few other places, but not such a holistic model. At first glance, it is complicated. But more and more sense it made the more is explained and thought about it. Easy for us to make sense of a hierarchical structure as this is the norm of society. From September (if it passes), the SU will be working to put the admin, training etc in place to ensure the model works as seamlessly as possible.

How do you propose to ensure as many people hear about the referendum as possible?

Continue to hold drop-in sessions for people to consult with James, myself and the other officers. Discussed a video to share on social media. Vote Now Campaign with a neutral central message to push the survey. It is up to the individual officer on how we want to campaign. Any student can campaign, anyone with an opinion can get involved!

Please can you explain more on the upcoming referendum, will every student at the University be able to participate?

Online with every student able to participate. Referendum question yes, in support of new model or no, against. This will be open for a week and all students’ votes will count the same. The referendum will determine which positions are open in the next student elections. 

Do you have anything further to say on the matter?

I think this is something we really need. I have now been in this system for over a year and a half and faced the oppressive structures to get things done. We are not as in touch with the students as we need to be. We can make such an impact to students who need it and getting the democratic structures right is one of the most important ways to do that. 

Mia Haffety

Featured image courtesy of James Pheasey SU via Facebook.

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