Evie Aspinall, Connor MacDonald and Siyang WeiMathias Gjesdal-Hammer/Alex Power

The three CUSU presidential candidates faced off for the first time on Thursday evening, participating in hustings at Sidney Sussex. Siyang Wei, Evie Aspinall and Connor MacDonald responded to questions from Sidney students tackling a broad range of issues.

It was the first time the candidates have met together in the battle for students’ votes in the election next week, and acted as a warm-up for Sunday night’s hustings. The event, at Sidney Sussex bar, was hosted by Sidney Sussex College Students’ Union.

There was a focus on topical issues that have polarised students throughout the year, revealing divisions in the candidates’ approaches and stances.

Both Wei and Aspinall voiced support for divestment, with MacDonald revealing he “personally does not.” However, MacDonald went on to add that he feels his own view is not important, as a stance on the issue has already been passed by CUSU Council, with most JCRs having passed motions in favour of divestment. The latter point was echoed by Wei, who said their own opinion “doesn’t matter that much” after the CUSU motion.

The candidates shared different approaches in how they would support the divestment movement. Aspinall pledged to “take leadership from the Zero Carbon Society and work on supporting them,” admitting to “not [being] the most knowledgeable” on the topic. MacDonald reiterated his manifesto pledge to have a referendum on the issue in Michaelmas term, adding he believed that the vote would signal a “pretty clear to unanimous” support of divestment, thus sending “a really clear signal to the University.”


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Wei shared a different strategy, stating that a large issue surrounding divestment is democratic enfranchisement. They emphasised the importance of the “matter of democracy in the University and how much of a say students and staff get in terms of what the University does and how much they care about what the people… think about their investments.”

They pointed to the university previously putting out “false, misleading figures as to how much they had invested” as an example of the “problem of accountability of university higher managements,” with this being a primary point they would address.

MacDonald alluded to a similar sentiment, recounting how the dean of Emmanuel, Revd. Jeremy Caddick, had expressed worry at “how ineffective the University management has been in accepting the democratic will of most of these students of this University and vast majority of staff”.

Focusing on the issue of access to University, both MacDonald and Aspinall voiced criticism for the University’s alleged manipulation of statistics. Aspinall said that there needed to be a “clear distinction” in admissions statistics in relation to state schools, particularly by segregating grammar school admissions from comprehensive schools, in order to show “how few people come from state comprehensives” – a statistic that is actually already released by the University.

MacDonald focused on the differences between access within colleges, wanting to disaggregate college level statistics to “make colleges accountable” thus preventing them from “shoving statistics under the rug”. Wei particularly focused on access after arrival, citing the key areas of their manifesto: “rent and student hardship”. Wei emphasised their desire to have a “much more efficient centralised process of hardship funds which is not dependent on how big your college is”. MacDonald agreed with this, saying CUSU “need to be talking about” the “profound disparities” between rent costs at different colleges, and that the student union needed to help JCRs to make their colleges accountable.

All candidates addressed a perceived lack of connection between JCRs and CUSU. Wei said they believe that JCRs could often become disengaged in campaigning as “often [there is] so little accountability and responsibility from colleges” meaning it was “easy to give up”. To overcome this, they want to “centralise information” enabling colleges to network and “push for change”.

For MacDonald, the disengagement stemmed from the “different priorities” of JCRs. He said he wants to “set up working groups in specific areas” which JCRs would attend if relevant to issues they were campaigning for.


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Aspinall’s proposed solution was to formalise termly meetings between JCR officers allowing them to “coordinate”. Aspinall cautioned that it was “not fair to say what CUSU does is politically representative of students” – pointing to low attendance at CUSU council (“loads of JCR presidents don’t go”), she noted that there was “a danger when you say CUSU has been mandated to do this”.

Concluding the hustings with a final push for votes; Wei pledged to “make lasting change” by focusing “on specific issues student faces”, emphasising their “experience” as a crucial means of doing so. MacDonald made his priority to “focus on major challenges which CUSU faces” and wanted to make people feel that CUSU is accountable. Aspinall concluded with a promise to be a “really visible” President, vowing to “make CUSU a more active space”.

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