CUSU Access & Funding candidates Ashley Woodvine and Lily-Rose SharryBella Peng

Candidates faced off this evening at the University Centre in the 2019 CUSU and GU elections hustings.

Common themes that arose throughout the event included highlighting welfare concerns for specific groups, including graduate students, who are members of CUSU as well as the GU, as well as BME and disabled students. Several contests touched on the impact of the UK’s counter-terrorist Prevent duty, as well as how both CUSU liberation campaigns and the University could better address intersectional issues around student welfare, disability, sexuality race, and class.

This year sees intense competition for CUSU President and sabbatical roles, with only one role, Ethical Affairs Officer, without competition, as both candidates are re-running for their roles. Three candidates are competing for the role of Graduate Union President, while for the first time since its introduction in 2016, the election for Disabled Students’ Officer is contested.

Types of experience contested between CUSU presidential candidates

Shadab Ahmed, left, and Edward Parker Humphreys, rightBella Peng

One major contention point between CUSU presidential candidates Shadab Ahmed and Edward Parker Humphreys was how their past experience could inform how they would approach the role. Ahmed emphasised his experience in CUSU as its current Access & Funding Officer, which he argued would enable him to “hit the ground running”. Meanwhile, Parker Humphreys emphasised that he is not a stranger to CUSU, having worked with CUSU during his tenure as JCR president of Jesus College, and as a part-time executive on its Union Development Team, in which he worked on CUSU’s Democracy Review published last month.

Differences in background led to diverging visions on how they would approach the role. Parker Humphreys focused on the notion – a key aspect of his manifesto – that students are “far too often ignored”, and that he would work to prioritise welfare and engagement. Ahmed emphasised his view that CUSU requires continuity as the union’s Chief Executive Officer has recently left, and that he would offer a familiarity with CUSU’s budget to better support liberation campaigns.

In speaking on possible shifts in UK policy around higher education in light of the Brexit issue and the expected Auger Review, Ahmed argued: “we need someone who understands the structures of the University in order to immediately react to anything that might happen”.

Parker Humphreys said that “at the heart” of his campaign was that he would work on CUSU offering “tailored support” to colleges including on “rent and the cost of living, [and] ensuring students are prioritised over conferencing”. He cited his experience as JCR president as giving him the knowledge on how to make change at a college level.

A highly-contested race for GU President

GU Presidential candidates Devarachan Banerjee, Jack Chadwick, and Alessandro CeccarelliBella Peng

Graduate engagement within the university was a key issue in the debate between Graduate Union candidates Alessandro Ceccarelli, Devarchan Banerjee and Jack Chadwick, with all three candidates acknowledging that postgraduate students often feel separate from CUSU and from the university as a whole. Devarchan Banerjee said that the onus should be somewhat on graduate students themselves to engage more, but that there is value in encouraging this engagement because of their diverse backgrounds. Alessandro Ceccarelli and Jack Chadwick both added that they thought there was significant scope for collaboration between CUSU and the GU.


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The candidates were also asked about the possibility of increasing the number of graduate students. Banerjee said this would only be “legitimate and viable” if Cambridge’s intention in doing so was not only “a way to make more money”, a view seconded by Chadwick, who said it would have to be accompanied by a clear commitment to increase scholarships and bursaries for postgraduate students. Ceccarelli argued that he thought increasing numbers was the wrong way to try and diversify the graduate student body, and that he does not think it should be a priority.

When asked what their ideal achievement as GU president would be, Chadwick responded that he would prioritise postgraduate access, while Ceccarelli said he hoped to see the governing bodies of colleges take “real actions” to support marginalised students, and Banerjee said he would make democracy a part of all the GU’s decision making processes, hoping to increase visibility this way.

Decolonise and imposter syndrome come up in Education Officer debate

Howard Chae and Ali HydeBella Peng

Although both candidates for Education Officer are very experienced, the two differed in the focus of their policies, with Howard Chae having a more political focus, such as the need to work with the University and College Union (UCU) as well as push for decolonisation and contest Prevent legislation, whilst Hyde emphasised welfare issues such as a ‘preventative’ approach to mental health.

Chae referenced the need for decolonisation, which he said has become “such an important part of student politics,” to go beyond diversifying reading lists. He added that he has previously lobbied for this as a History Faculty Representative, where he also fought for postgraduate supervisors to receive adequate pay.

Hyde emphasised his track record “supporting students and advocating for students” in various committee roles, which is in line with his policies focusing on mental health, imposter syndrome, and student concerns. Beyond this, he discussed the need to improve PhD supervisor training and support for postgraduates beginning to teach.

Both candidates spoke about accessibility issues in education, particularly related to lecture capture, which they both hoped to improve. Both also spoke about welfare, which Hyde said needed to be at the “structural core” of decision-making on education, while Chae said that “any meaningful action” relating to mental health must deal with its underlying systemic causes.

Women’s Officers emphasise accessibility and diversity

The candidates for CUSU Women’s Officer did not explicitly clash, with both Kate Litman and Finley Kidd agreeing that the Women’s Campaign (WomCam) could be more accessible, with Kidd in particular advocating for a working class representative on the campaign. Both candidates also mentioned working with other groups to achieve this, such as FLY, a group for female and non-binary students of colour in Cambridge.

The candidates also discussed how they would support trans women at Cambridge, with both arguing that access for them needed to go beyond admissions.

Specific issues that came up included how the candidates would support JCR and MCR women’s officers – Litman said she would build toolkits on issues such as menstrual provisions, whilst Kidd suggested creating specific forums for women’s officers.

Litman also mentioned the importance of combating Prevent and academic disadvantages for women, whilst Kidd cited the importance of feminist organising beyond the University, such as around the closure of women’s hostel Whitworth House.

Welfare & Rights Officers speak on issues from graduate housing to Prevent

Candidates Stella Swain and Cici Carey-StuartBella Peng

In the Welfare & Rights candidate debate, Cici Carey-Stuart named his top welfare priority as facilitating and training officers on the ground, whilst Stella Swain wanted to standardise the training that tutors receive across the University.

Both agreed that the ‘rights’ aspect of the position was essential, with Carey-Stuart saying that rights is “at the heart of what CUSU does” and Swain adding, “without rights, any attempts to provide welfare is just pasting over these problems”.

As the position is a joint CUSU and GU position, the candidates were quizzed on how they would help graduates as Welfare & Rights Officer. Swain talked about graduate housing and the casualisation of graduate teaching, whilst Carey-Stuart said that he would encourage MCR officers to engage in student welfare to the same extent that JCR officers do and, although raising the issue of families affecting graduates, he admitted that he would do more research on graduate issues before taking on the role.

Issues around intersectionality and tuition fees raised in Access & Funding sabbatical debate

Speaking on access beyond admissions, both candidates Ashley Woodvine and Lily-Rose Sharry argued that the issue can often be overlooked. Woodvine referred to it as a “two-pronged issue”, while Sharry stressed that “access is not just about getting in, it is about getting on”.

In response to a question on how the candidates would consider and tackle BME access, Sharry said that “access should be intersectional”, citing her hopes to work with Target Oxbridge, CUSU BME campaign and the African Caribbean Society (ACS). Woodvine stressed that she would encourage students from BME backgrounds to be involved in access work, noting that, as a white woman, she cannot “fairly” represent these issues on her own.

Both mentioned that they would want to work closely with the Cut the Rent campaign, as well as CUSU Class Act, a liberation campaign for working class students at Cambridge.

Woodvine stated that CUSU should show prospective students that they will be financially supported in their time here, while student unions should lobby the government against tuition fee increases by, for example, boycotting the National Students’ Survey. Sharry agreed with this, adding that she would also want to collaborate with Cambridge Defend Education, a student activist group which campaigns against university marketisation, citing her opposition to recent proposals for two-year degrees.

Woodvine added that she wished to improve collaboration in access work across the University, including JCRs, MCRs, and the Cambridge Admissions Office, arguing that this would enable CUSU to be a “stronger force” and come to “faster solutions”. Sharry cited her wish to combat student “alienation”, having emphasised that access is “emotional” as well as academic.

Disabled Students’ Officer contest sees convergence

Candidates Jess O'Brien and Beth WaltersBella Peng

Although this is the first time the position of Disabled Students’ Officer has been contested, the two candidates had more in common than set them apart, with the two often verbally agreeing with each other’s policies.

They did have differing policies, however, with Jess O’Brien advocating for a league table showing the disparity in the implementation of reasonable adjustments between colleges and faculties, whilst Beth Walters stated she would create a “buddy system” like the LGBT+ family system run by the CUSU LGBT+ Campaign.

When asked about their number one priority in the position would be, Walters said she the creation of a disabled students’ representative on every college’s JCR and MCR committee, whilst O’Brien cited her league table.

Both candidates were confident that they could successfully lobby the University. O’Brien said that she is “used to fighting college and University structures” – such as confronting Pro-Vice-Chancellor for Education Graham Virgo on the issue of offering hot drinks for finalists who have filled out the National Students’ Survey. Walters said that he has a lot of experience dealing with the university administration and “a lot of old white men”.

University Councillor candidates dispute on how to drive changes

The two candidates had different approaches on how they will be in the University Council, how to push for divestment, deal with university management, and accountability.

Poppy Cockburn, a first-year and JCR green officer, presented herself as someone who would not be intimidated by other members of Council, the University’s executive decision-making body, and that her experience at Zero Carbon has given her an “intimate knowledge” on how Council operates. Tamzin Byrne, a business Masters student, stressed her background as current MCR president of Murray Edwards and a charity trustee, arguing that she would be equipped to judge University Council finances.

Byrne said her experience in different areas of the University enables her to act as a bridge between students and sabbatical officers with her knowledge on how the University work. Cockburn admitted that as a fresher, she does not have the same experience as Byrne on working with management. However, she argued that her experience as Green Officer in the JCR is “more relevant” as she will be more in tune with “what students want”.

On the issue of divestment, the candidates differed over how to make it happen within the Council. Byrne put forward that she would ensure that divestment initiatives mesh with legal and financial realities of the University, and would propose “actual alternatives” to make sure that change happen in the near future. Cockburn argued that a “gentle lobbying perspective” cannot be deployed as it has not yielded success in its previous deployment. She further put forward that the divestment working group was “doomed” from the beginning, advocating for pushing the University at a “hard angle”.

Regarding accountability, Cockburn stressed that her experience demonstrates that she will be representing the students, not the management, and that she will work with sabbatical officers to keep abreast of student issues, whereas Byrne said that she would use her blog to report on her progress and keep up with students using polls.

An uncontested race for Ethical Affairs sees little drama

Jake Simms and Alice Gilderdale, current Ethical Affairs officers running for re-electionBella Peng

In the only uncontested race of the night, current Ethical Affairs Officers Alice Gilderdale and Jake Simms spoke on their experiences in college-level and University-wide activism, with the majority of the discussion orienting around the candidates’ shared conviction that Cambridge should divest its endowment from the fossil fuels sector.

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