Ben Ofungwu interviews Sam Hawkins, the Student Union’s Liberation officer. In this second part, Sam talks about Black History Month, the relationship between the SU and the university, as well as one of his favourite moments as the LGBT+ officer.
I would think assisting you in amplifying those voices would be your colleagues, like the BME officer and the LGBT+ officer. How much of your work overlaps with theirs, and what’s the interrelationship like?
My role is really to support them in any way possible in enacting the changes they propose, and acting as a link between them and the university. A good example of our working together would be, recently, in planning for Black History Month, we decided that Hera, the BME officer, would be the chair of the planning committee, facilitating discussion and really representing her community’s views and opinions.
In this, I was the project manager for the campaign, which meant that I was doing more of the admin work, so Hera could thrive and not feel bogged down by all that work, whilst doing her degree. So really, with that, it’s really about how we share the responsibilities, and this of course is the same across all the other communities.
We are employed to represent the student voice, so if the students say one thing and the university think differently, then we’re employed to challenge them on that
It sounds like a lot of what you do is dependent on how much support you get from the university. I wonder if you’ve felt supported throughout in all your projects, or is there more that the University could still do?
Oh, here we go.
Haha. I mean, as officers, we are employed to represent the student voice, so if the students say one thing and the university think differently, then we’re employed to challenge them on that. In terms of the support, it’s important to differentiate what the student union does and what the university does, because they act as separate autonomous bodies.
In terms of the support from the university, I’ve got a pretty good relationship with all of them that I’ve worked with, and they tend to be quite supportive. So, I think the support that we get is actually very good, and it reflects well on us, especially when we pride ourselves in being an inclusive university.
That’s nice to hear. Plus, as you said, it really ensures that it’s not just a marketing tool and that it really is trying to be an inclusive environment.
Exactly! My favourite moment from last year as the LGBT+ officer, was with the rainbow crossings that we have now. That campaign got over a hundred thousand likes on social media, and one thing that was really heart-warming about it was seeing comments like ‘Notts is my firm choice, and I’m so glad to come now because I know it’s inclusive’. I mean that felt really nice, and it’s why I love this job, because it’s doing something that actually betters the community and makes people feel welcome.
History shows us that there’s always a way to bounce back
I’m hoping that they still feel that way when they join the university, and that they still feel accepted. Outside the university, discrimination is still rife in the world, and there’s still so much work to be done. Now, I know you’re doing a great job here and you’re really busy, so I’m not gonna ask you to be the Liberation officer of the world, but what is your opinion on it all?
It’s really hard. I think lockdown was good for a lot of people in that it forced a collective rethink as to how we treat these issues. As for discrimination, I can’t say that I’m confident that it’ll stop anytime soon, if I’m honest. What I would say is that history shows us that there’s always a way to bounce back. It’s obviously not perfect now, it’s still an unequal world, but it has gotten better, and that’s where we need to place our hope, in that it can always get better.
I agree. The perennial hope is that one day we will reach parity, and it starts with people like you in the role you perform. It starts by influencing just a couple people to think differently, and then those people influencing others, and so on. I don’t think it’s akin to a light switch, but I believe slowly, it is achievable [changing the collective mindset].
Sam, it’s been a real pleasure speaking with you. I really appreciate it.
Same, Ben, I’ve really enjoyed this. Thanks for having me.
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