Meet the Candidates: Liberation Officer – Sam Hawkins

Sam Hawkins is running to be UoN’s Students’ Union first Liberation Officer for the 2020/21 academic year. Impact caught up with Sam to ask him a few questions. 

Liberation Officer is a new officer role at UoN SU. Could you briefly explain what the Liberation Officer’s responsibilities be?

The agenda for a Liberation Officer will primarily focus on representing, advocating, and fighting for the rights of students who come from Liberation backgrounds. This includes Black students, Queer students, Asian students, Women* and Disabled students, and of course their intersections. The primary responsibility of this position will pick up the ‘Equal Opportunities’ half of Myles’ current role, ensuring that the university listens to students’ voices with regards to an equitable experience.

What are the main ways you aim to go about fulfilling these responsibilities if voted as the new Liberation Officer? 

I think the students must guide the agenda of a Liberation Officer. Therefore, I think the most crucial point on my manifesto is establishing Liberation Forums. By actively listening to students, the part-time officers and the cohorts that they’re elected to represent, we can identify the critical systematic barriers that prevent marginalised students and students from a widening participation background from engaging and succeeding. Furthermore, by working on an anti-microaggression campaign, this will aim to tackle the unconscious biases towards marginalised students which, in turn, can potentially lead to the deterioration of their wellbeing.

In your manifesto you talk about ‘institutional discrimination’ at university? Where and how have you seen this manifest the most? How exactly do you plan to address this issue? 

This is an exciting one, and from my experience as the current LGBT+ Officer, one which the university likes to ignore. Back in September, I spoke to the university about installing Rainbow Crossings and starting a digital inclusion campaign. The digital inclusion campaign, which I’m spearheading alongside the Pro-Vice-Chancellor for Equality, Diversity and Inclusion, involves providing an optional ‘Preferred Name’ and ‘Pronouns’ box on every student record. This is to ensure that transgender and gender non-conforming students aren’t deadnamed, or if someone prefers an alternative version of their name (i.e. Sue from Susan). My turn to ask a question – which one got done first? Now, the Rainbow Crossings are brilliant at what they do and act as a real statement of intent by the university; however, the university needs to follow through on this, and so far, they haven’t.

“The university must be held accountable for how they fail their students, who pay to study here, and staff, who they pay to teach here”

In the term as the current LGBT+ Officer, I’ve had many students approach me and talk to me about the way they feel that the university fails them. For instance, some lectures for Disabled students with mobility issues are scheduled in non-wheelchair accessible rooms, despite ticking a box to indicate that they have access requirements. What’s worse is that because some lectures aren’t recorded, which means that Disabled students miss out on vital teaching, which they’ve paid for, due to university failure. With regards to Queer students, the Students’ Union has a policy on gender-neutral toilets; however, it is up to the university and their estates’ department to enact this in all new builds and renovations. However, the university has failed on this ground, as seen in the new Teaching and Learning building and the recent renovation in Pope Building. Again, some Transgender and gender non-conforming students are constantly deadnamed by tutors and staff as their name assigned at birth still exists on university IT systems. As well as this, despite all the equality and diversity training, some tutors still refuse to refer to students (and staff) by their preferred name or their legally changed name. In addition to this, you have curriculums which aren’t diverse, attainment gaps, pay gaps, participation gaps, exclusiveness and lack of a diverse management team. There are multiple ways in which the university fails its students (and staff) with regards to achieving an equitable experience. When I mention institutional discrimination in my manifesto, I refer to the previously mentioned points; however, this isn’t an exhaustive list. The university must be held accountable for how they fail their students, who pay to study here, and staff, who they pay to teach here, with regards to achieving an equitable experience.

In your manifesto you talk about ‘culturally competent’ care? What exactly is this and how will you ensure it is introduced? 

Culturally competent care is all about ensuring that all service users have the highest satisfaction of service, regardless of the facets of their identity. It’s about ensuring that procedures are inclusive and comprehensive of the needs of all service users. Many marginalised students have been the subject of harassment and hate crime/incidents. This is especially true following the outbreak of COVID-19. Therefore, our systems need to be fully robust to respond effectively to this, as well as the nuances between different forms of harassment.

One example of this is my campaign with Cripps Health Centre, where I worked with Cripps to redevelop the support available for Queer patients. As a result, the practice simplified its process of name and gender marker changes, acknowledged the importance of preferred names and pronouns, and have since produced guidance specifically for transgender gender non-conforming patients – some of the critical issues that Queer individuals face when accessing healthcare. The practice invited me to give a presentation and talk to the staff at Cripps about these topics, however planning for exams and LGBT+ History Month at the University of Nottingham meant that I had no time at the beginning of the spring term. However, this would be a similar route I’d take for this campaign with the counselling service, to ensure that the practice delivers culturally competent care. This would be by providing training and acknowledging some of the issues that marginalised students face when accessing their service. Therefore, I’m confident that I can build on this experience, consult with the relevant groups through Liberation Forums, and scale up this work to the counselling services to make this service accessible for all marginalised service users.

“I would love to have the opportunity to enact transformational change at our university”

Why should students vote for you as their Liberation Officer?

There’s no doubt that fulfilling the remit of this role will be hard, mainly due to the nature of it. However, I believe that I am a suitable candidate to be your first Liberation Officer as I have the experience, relationships with key stakeholders in the university, and passion for equity that we need in a Liberation Officer. I’ve learnt a lot since my first year here, the most important being that inclusion and minority representation are some of the core values to my work ethic and moral compass. Therefore, I would love to have the opportunity to enact transformational change at our university.

Voting for the 2020 SU elections closes at 3pm on Monday 11th May.

The link to vote for the 2020 Students’ Union candidates is here.

Aidan Hall

Featured image courtesy of Nina Sasha. 

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