Maria Espishkina is running to be the Cambridge Union's President this Easter termMaria Espishkina

Never having held a position on standing committee, the central governing body of the Cambridge Union, Maria Epishkina seems like the outsider candidate in this presidential election. I ask her whether she is the “inexperienced insurgent” in this election.

“I never thought that’s what I’d be called! It’s very strange. It’s a pretty entertaining characterisation if I’m honest! But no, I’m happy to admit that Andrea is more experienced than me. But my motivation for running is that I saw that there is change that needs to be made and I know that I have experience and the drive to make that change.”

“The speakers we invite and the debates we host all form the conversations that are had in Cambridge.”

She points out she’s worked with standing committee this term and has had extensive experience with leadership roles in other societies, including Solidaritee and Cambridge TEDx.

“I don’t actually think that is necessarily a problem for me but then also I think having the Women’s Officer then win the presidency would be a big step for the Union.”

The Union, Maria says, matters “because it’s basically the centre of conversation in Cambridge to some extent. The speakers we invite and the debates we host all form the conversations that are had in Cambridge.”

We talk about the role of the union when it comes to safe spaces and controversial speakers, “I absolutely understand the necessity for safe spaces and I very much support safe spaces existing in Cambridge, I just think the Union just has a slightly different function. The Union exists in order to challenge different opinions and have difficult conversations.”

At the same time, “there is a difference in inviting speakers that have controversial opinions that can phrase them properly, know how to debate them and are willing to be discussed.” This contrasts with “speakers who don’t add much to the conversation and only do it for the sake of controversy which I don’t find as meaningful.”

On the system of balloting for tickets to popular events, Maria states there “needs to be some improvement in the balloting system.”

“So, for instance there needs to be some record of whether you get tickets for one event and don’t get tickets for another.” It’s wrong that people can apply for lots of balloted events and not get tickets to any. “As much as it’s a random balloting system we need to ensure all of our members get what they’re paying their money for.”

Maria enthusiastically praises the current work going on in terms of accessibility in the Union, “but we’re only really starting to do open events to this scale this term, there’s a long way to go. Since this is kind of the trial period for the Union+ scheme. I think the further we go into thee year the more creative we can be with events and with outreach programs and how we actually interact with not only the wider community but also with school kids and perspective students to Cambridge”.

One of the pledges on Maria’s manifesto, involves defining the roles of women’s, access and diversity officers. I ask her if there’s much she can actually do without wider constitutional change or bringing those positions into greater prominence. She disagrees, saying it’s more an issue of defining the roles and their responsibilities, including which meetings these officers should be able to attend and how often they are should meet other officers. Without this, when she started as women’s officer, “I was lost” she notes.


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All this work on accessibility is important, and she thinks that it isn’t overly optimistic to improve engagement. “On a very pragmatic level it is providing a space for people to come together. Very few other societies can offer that.”

“I genuinely think that people want to engage in conversations that matter that to them. I had a conversation with someone where they said, ‘I care about the discussion that I come to, not the speaker’ which goes against a lot of what people tend to think about the Union and potentially even at the Union.”

Finally, what does Maria like about her opponent Andrea, “Her commitment, I think Andrea has definitely been committed to the Union for a very long time and I respect how much work she has put in.”

You can read Varsity's interview with Andrea, the other candidate for Union President, here 

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