The tables were again set tonight with precarious water jugs for the penultimate debate for the position of Vice-President Welfare and Diversity. Tonight’s candidates included Josh Creek, Meg Lawrence, Naomi Armstrong and Harry Hancock, who were again hosted by Xpression FM’s Ricky Freelove.
— Exeter VP Activities (@ExeActivities) February 11, 2015
The evening again opened with introductory statements from each of the candidates, the majority of which used the opportunity to discuss their involvement in societies and to outline their main manifesto points. Most talked about the problem of student housing both and on and off campus, the lengthy waiting times at the Wellbeing Centre and food options on campus.
The buzzer round was again an attempt at University Challenge without much engagement. There are signs of a great future for Ricky “Paxman” Freelove though.
The first round of questions focused on housing, particularly rent freezes. Most students believed to would be possible to talk to landlords and estate agents though most hadn’t done so yet. Lawrence said that it might be possible to work with Unite and Printworks. Armstrong pointed out that students weren’t aware of what prices they should be paying for housing, and that this information should be better publicised. Creek, however, disagreed that it was something Welfare candidates had much control over, bringing some feasibility back to the debate.
The discussion headed over to talk about the issue of wellbeing, one that is particularly prevalent in this year’s Welfare debate. All candidates were asked about the preventative services. Lawrence noted the need to promote groups such as Voice and Mind Your Head; this was seconded by all the other candidates.
When the issue of the Wellbeing Centre came up later in the debate, Armstrong noted that the service does a good job with the limited resources it already has. Creek said that the biggest problem is the need for more staff and sessions, with Hancock suggesting that students need to be made more aware of the services available. When the previous £50,000 raised last year was mentioned, Hancock talked about the need for greater transparency while Lawrence discussed the potential for quicker emailing about waiting list enquiries.
The safety and position of women was brought up both in regards to the #NeverOK campaign and sexual harassment on nights out. This segued into discussions on binge drinking and lad culture. Interestingly, the candidates were split on the issue with Hancock claiming that students are not forced to drink on nights out, however he did point out that the AU President could be made more aware of student issues. Importantly, Creek pointed out that his role in introducing non-drinking events on campus has been a big success, and this could be a potentially better supported campaign in order to counter the stereotype that students need to drink in order to be part of societies.
Audience questions latched onto this topic and developed the notion that drinking culture and sexual harassment are linked in Exeter. Armstrong and Lawrence both felt that more work could be done with the Guild and clubs in Exeter. Hancock suggested that #NeverOK campaign was just the first step and should be taken further.
The idea of a stereotype of drinking as an issue was discussed in regards to diversity, especially the lack of inclusion of international students in particular. Creek said that there are plenty of events to support diversity, but these are poorly promoted. Armstrong noted that the I, Too, Am Exeter campaign highlighted that all students should consider themselves as an Exeter student, Lawrence noted that Exeter has become more diverse recently and this should be celebrated. Hancock added that the INTO building could improve its communications with the Guild.
When the need for diversity, especially in regard to marginalised groups eventually came up late in the debate, all candidates were keen to point out that the Guild offers a good service, but that they would aim to further this work in order to alleviate stigma or disadvantage attached to minority groups and societies. Armstrong and Hancock both promoted the idea that students should be encouraged to join nationality societies even if they do not belong to that nationality themselves. When Freelove questioned the candidates positions on post-graduates, something none of them had in their manifestos he claimed, which was rebuked by Lawrence to widespread applause from the forum audience.
A calm but constructive debate – strong candidates #ExeterVote
— Exeter VP Education (@ExeEducation) February 11, 2015
Overall it was another excellent evening of discussion surrounding some key issues and we wish all the candidates the best of luck. Tomorrow night is the final debate, for Guild President which should be another entertaining evening that Exeposé Online will of course be covering.
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