We spoke to AU President Katy Dalglish about what she does in her role, promises made in her manifesto and the miscomunication surrounding the email to sports clubs.
É: Firstly, just give an overview of what it is that you do as AU President?
KD: It varies hugely, which I really like about the role. So, I started off over the summer and it was very quiet as there weren’t many students on campus, and then as soon as Freshers’ Week hit it was like a switch flicked. Honestly it was so busy, which was great to see! I started with club captains’ training, which was my first big job; I got to meet all the committees, club captains, welfare, social secretaries, stuff like that. I’ve also had several AU Council Meetings with club captains and my executive team. I work closely with both the AU team and the club captains, so it is really that communication between the staff and students that I really like. I’m working towards all the goals in my manifesto and some of the club captains and management executives are helping me, but equally so is the AU team. We’re working on disability sport, intramural… stuff like that.
É: Is there anything you’re working on at the moment that you’re particularly proud of?
KD: At the moment we’re working on more accessible sport opportunities. The football club have been really good at trying to push that as well, they ran their first taster session recently. For me, this is obviously a really massive project to do just within a year so I started by organising some online fitness classes for people in wheelchairs, but also to open that up to anyone, specifically those that are injured, to try and make it a more inclusive environment. We had our first one a few weeks ago and this is only just the beginning, and it’s something I’m hoping to get more people attending.
É: One of the big issues facing a lot of Sabbatical Officers this year is dealing with the impacts of the pandemic. How are you finding this?
KD: In a way it has helped, because everyone is so keen to go out and do sports. Like the Tennis Club has over 1,000 members which is unheard of. I think everyone is just really keen to get involved with sports. We’ve got 51 clubs now, which is even more than what we had before the pandemic which is really encouraging. Intramural sport has also taken off as well, it’s full in a lot of the leagues which is really encouraging. And there’s also the ‘pitch up and play’ sessions, where people don’t have to buy membership and can just rock up with a ticket on Fixr and play a game of rounders, football, dodgeball and touch rugby. So we’ve increased the recreational opportunities. I just think the pandemic made people realise the importance of getting out and about with people.
É: We know several clubs didn’t survive the pandemic, and many more are small clubs with limited members. What support is the AU giving to these clubs to ensure every sport can build back better?
KD: There were a few clubs that we didn’t have any committee contact details for. Right at the beginning of my job I went around collecting new committee lists, and there were a few gaps like Table Tennis or Jiu Jitsu, they were the two main ones with no committee. I think they fell through because they’re indoor sports and their governing bodies didn’t let anything happen last year. So I reached out to anyone who was in the club last year, anyone I could get hold of through Facebook, anyone I could find. See if anyone was interested in helping. Someone got back to me for Jiu Jitsu and ended up club captain having never been on committee, we had so many one to one meetings in preparation. The same happened for Table Tennis, it was someone who never intended to be a club captain and then the case of having one to one meetings. I’d like to think we have given them a lot of time and support, but can’t express enough how well they’ve done, from having no members or committee to be fully functioning. That’s two really good individuals there.
É: Is there any work to include disabled sports in the University? What ground has been made on this recently?
KD: In September I emailed out to the clubs, it was during Freshers’ week and term didn’t really start until the middle of that month. There is such a large spectrum of what you can do there. We tried to have at least one session a week in that month that was really inclusive and open to invisible disabilities. If there wasn’t much attendance we would talk to clubs about ways of working and how to move on from there. It’s definitely one of our focuses and as I said we are doing fitness classes for people in wheelchairs. Football Club are working closely with Exeter City Community Trust, when they had a taster session they planned to have para chairs come down from the community, but unfortunately they were on holiday. That’s a really strong link that I’m hoping to work with, make links with the community and work with them as well as sharing resources, letting them train here. It would be a great opportunity to use equipment for different clubs across the University.
É: Something else you mention in your manifesto regards support and wellbeing, mainly workshops for women and the Beyond Equality Initiative formerly known as the Good Lad Initiative. Have these workshops been taking place? How successful have they been?
KD: I just applied for annual funding for the workshops and will hear if I have been successful in a couple of weeks. Beyond Equality emailed me a couple of weeks ago about doing a free one for Movember. I’ve offered that out. I know from the past they have been successful so I’m hoping the funding will be finalised.
É: Whilst on issues surrounding gender, we want to talk a little about intramural sport. How do you decide which sports are mixed and which aren’t, for example why is there mixed intramural netball, but not football? We know that there was a women’s league last year, but didn’t get enough uptake. When this happened, why was the sport not then mixed?
KD: I think feedback is really helpful for us here, whether that is the case of me putting out more surveys or polls. I guess why it hasn’t been the case is uptake because leagues are so tight and competitive and you want as many people as possible to play. I guess it’s due to a lack of interest and uptake. It’s good to hear feedback because it is something we can look at doing. We have an Intramural Officer who is in charge of running the programme.
É: Your manifesto mentioned supporting women and creating positive attitudes. Given recent allegations against female clubs such as Hockey, do you think these clubs really are providing support for women? Would you agree that one of biggest barriers for self-confidence within these sports is the toxic attitudes within these clubs? How are you addressing that?
KD: I think when I said I wanted to address women’s mindsets in sport, it is confidence in getting fit and getting active, such as in the gym. In the new year I’m hoping to run a This Girl campaign month and hopefully it gets the same energy as Movember which is such a hit at this University, it’s amazing. I would love to get the same energy for this campaign, do some more basics to barbells programs and self-defence classes. I would work with Izzy and Marion and get some Guild societies involved as well, I would love for it to be University wide. My goal is to get everyone as involved as possible.
É: Talking of initiations, in the AU president election debate you mentioned that initiations are “so well embedded” in many societies, and that you would like to stop this in the future to prevent people being dissuaded from doing sport. Given the recent controversy surrounding initiations, do you think you’ve been successful in this?
KD: I think it’s a tough question as we have worked very hard on our committee training. It’s difficult to tell whether it has been successful as a whole, there are 51 clubs and about 10,000 members so it’s difficult to comment on.
É: What specific policies are the AU going to put in place going forward to guarantee that initiations on this scale won’t happen again?
KD: They are banned, this is explicitly clear, and they have been for years. That’s explicitly clear with training and so any club that does any form of initiation are definitely brought in about it.
É: What’s the process for reporting?
KD: It would go through a member of the AU and depending on confidentiality reasons I may not always hear about the incidences.
É: This is not the first instance of initiations at the AU being discussed at Exeter despite being banned in 2007, with numerous incidents occurring since. Why has the AU been so ineffective in dealing with initiations? Do you think current AU policies drive initiations underground? And how is the AU planning on breaking the culture of silence if they have any plans at all?
KD: Having been a member of a sport club for three years both intramural and competitively, I think within the ten years there has been a change. This year its our focus to make clubs be the change. Usually you have three year groups who have gone through socials, but this is the easiest year to make the change as you have had two years who haven’t experienced any socials. Traditions can be hard to break, but we are trying to change that this year.
É: We also want to ask specifically about the communication breakdown occurred around socials being banned a few weeks ago. An email was sent round which seemed to suggest socials would be banned, yet the next email simply talks about re-engaging club committees in AU processes. Students seemed to think socials were going to be banned until further notice, could you just explain what happened?
KD: The word banned was never mentioned. An email was put out saying socials would be paused temporarily, potentially it wasn’t the clearest of messages. Which is why the next day within 24 hours another email was released. I would like to think now everyone is clear about it.