Lily Margaroli was Co-President of Nightline and Model Westminster Society before being elected to be President of the Student Guild for the forthcoming year. We sat down with her to find out a little bit more about her, the challenges she will be facing and some of the issues facing students and the Guild.
É: Firstly, how are you finding the job so far?
L: Very exciting! I’ve really enjoyed my first six weeks on the job. There’s a tremendous amount to learn, but I think I’m doing well to learn as much as I can. The team here at the Guild is fantastic, and has supported myself and the other new full-time officers in getting to grips with how the organisation works, and how we can do the best we can in our jobs.
É: What do you think are going be the biggest challenges you’ll be facing this academic year?
L: The biggest challenges I think we’ll face this coming year are Covid-related which I don’t think you’ll be surprised to hear. I think there’s going to be various challenges surrounding that: vaccinations; the continued testing; quarantining for our international students coming back to the UK from countries depending on what level they’re in; and how we support those students, especially with wellbeing as being in quarantine isn’t a very fun experience. I think that’s gonna be our biggest challenge, and also coming back to face-to-face teaching, actually ensuring that we retain the benefits that some students found with online classes and the improvements in accessibility that that allowed for many students. I think making sure we do have that transition because, for a lot of people, face-to-face teaching is better, and ensure that the students who have gained a lot of benefits from online teaching don’t lose those benefits.
É: What are you most looking forward to?
L: I’m most looking forward to the opportunity to speak with lots and lots of students. We have a wonderful student body here at the University, with students from all over the world, from lots of different backgrounds, and with lots of different interests and skills. I’m excited to speak to all those students and work with them to amplify their voices, and hopefully get to know them.
É: What work are you planning on continuing from the Sabbatical officers last year? Are there any policies or plans you’re thinking of overhauling or reversing?
L: We are looking at continuing a lot of the fantastic work the former Sabbatical officers undertook last year. They had an extremely challenging year, I’m sure everyone will appreciate, and I think they did an absolutely fantastic job, so we’re in a really great position to be taking over from them. One of the things I’d like to take forward was Sunday’s work surrounding drug policy and changing that within the University policy, and specifically focusing on harm reduction. That’s something I’m really passionate about, and is something I talked about in my campaign for this position. I really want to continue and take forward from her work. I know Marion is looking forward to continuing the Wellbeing week that Ruby ran, and Izzy and Bella are also taking forward work that their predecessors undertook. There isn’t anything that we’re looking to go back on. The previous full-time officers did a fantastic job; I’m just really looking forward to taking that forward.
É: Engagement with Guild democracy has been on a roughly downward trend since 2016, even before the pandemic. Why do you think there’s been such a decline in students engaging with the Guild over the last five years give or take? And what are you planning on doing to turn that around?
L: Last year’s officers did a good job in making the Guild more visible which helped with engagement and knowledge of what the Guild actually does, and what we, as your officers, are here to help you with. So this year we’re going to be looking at our democratic structures and making sure they are what students need, and most importantly making sure students understand how they work and how they can engage with them. I think a lot of problems with lack of engagement come down to students not understanding and that is no fault of students. We just need to make sure the systems actually work for students and have them at the centre of that. I think continuing to review our processes so that students can get involved and, as officers, making sure we are out there and we are visible so that students know who we are, what we are doing and how we can help them.
É: Safety on campus is obviously a major concern at the moment. What policies are in the pipeline to help protect students?
L: As you’ve said, safety is a major concern, and it probably has been for years before as well. It’s an area we are all very passionate about. There are lots of gender safety schemes that the University are working on, and we are working with them very closely on that. We’ve continued the work of the former officers with the bystanders intervention training and consent modules which should be coming into place for the beginning of term on ELE for everyone to access. It will be strongly encouraged that every student takes part in those two modules and training programmes, as it’s vitally important that students on campus feel safe, and will hopefully exist in changing the culture of safety on campus and the wider student population. There are also wider projects going on surrounding night safety, looking at buddy schemes, night buses, and safety in venues that aren’t on campus that students still frequent. Those are all in the pipeline and will hopefully come into effect soon. There has been student engagement across all of those projects, which is really great to see; it’s always fantastic to see so many passionate students with wonderful ideas, and it’s really important to bring those voices into the room.
É: Your manifesto stated that you wanted to lobby the University and City Council for more lighting on and around campus. Why do you think this is something that the Council and University have taken so long to act on given the student demand, and what are you planning on doing to ensure students get heard on this issue?
L: I think some of the issues that have arisen there have been due to the University’s and the student body’s relationship with the local area sometimes not being as good as it could potentially be. I think the first step towards achieving that goal will be trying to build those relationships. Even though we as students are different from the normal population of Exeter residents in that some proportion of us aren’t here the whole year, we still have to remind the Local Council that we are residents as well, and that our safety comes under their remit. We also need to remind the Council that measures that keep students safe will also impact residents in a positive way. Lighting for us is lighting for everyone. Communicating those key messages will be the first step towards achieving that goal and then looking at what challenges we face and how we can combat them.
É: Lastly, and perhaps most important of all, what do you think is the best night out in Exeter?
L: That’s a good question! I haven’t had a night out in Exeter for so long sadly. I’m not sure if this counts as a night out, but I think the most fun I’ve had is Boozy Bowling; I think that’s an underrated night! I can’t remember what nights of the week they do now, but it’s down at Tenpin Bowling at the Quay and it’s a lot of fun. Even if you don’t drink, you can still go bowling and have fun. I’d highly recommend that to any Freshers; it’s an amazing flat night out!