The five candidates for the role of SU Undergraduate PresidentRosie Bradbury

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Join Varsity in following the main events of the Cambridge Student Union 2020 Election Hustings

  • Follow Varsity's live-stream of the event here
  • A reminder of what's new about this election can found here
  • More information about the candidates and their manifestos is available here


And that wraps up Varsity's coverage for this evening.

Thank you for tuning in, and continue to follow the 2020 Student Union election by checking the main website regularly.


Luisa says her main focus would be on improving graduate students' relationships with their supervisors, which she says needs to be "solid, otherwise life will be very difficult" for the student.

She adds that there is a need to focus on funding, which can be very stressful for students. She would design a short term, emergency plan for students to deal with this, which she says would minimise stress.


In a surprise turn of events, Postgraduate Presidential candidate Luisa Deragon has turned up to speak.

She cites an unexpected PhD supervision rescheduling caused her to be late, something "I am sure all graduate students understand".


Matt believes "CUSU is a morally corrupt, unrepresentative organisation". He says the "CUSU establishment" is attempting to smear him because they realise he is a threat. He wants to increase the role of those on JCRs and MCRs.

Rusty admits he is not personally able to understand the range of student experiences in the University.


A question from NUS candidate Peter McLaughlin about whether candidates would be able to put aside their own viewpoints and try to represent all student perspectives and opinions equally.

Amira argues that before representation, there needs to be some sort of engagement and people to know what the SU is, and says she "doesn't even have a joke for this".

Henry says he has tried to ask people about what they think on issues in his role on Homerton JCR - and urged he would like to continue this track record at CUSU council. He adds that he wants a bi-termly meeting with society presidents, and wants to have all elections contested next time around.

Ben stresses as History Faculty Representative, he put out a survey in order to take on a broad range of student views - including on issues about sanitary products in faculty and issues regarding themes and sources classes.


The next question from the floor is to Matt: why did he use a homophobic slur in the Magdalene JCR group on Facebook?

He accuses CUSU of running a "smear campaign". He claims that he has seen screenshots proving this.

"I will not stand here and face baseless allegations on issues that are not relevant to the running of the campaign."

A member of the Varsity team challenges Matt, saying that the publication has seen proof of his post.

The candidate stands up to explain himself, after some initial murmur from the floor. He says he did not understand the connotations of the word he used, and "did not realise the ramifications". Matt says he is ashamed as "ignorance is not a defence".

The moderator interrupts to move the panel on.


Ben says he has been heavily involved in Zero Carbon, which he says has given him perspective and network to launch strong basis for divestment campaigning.

He says he wants to encourage JCRs and MCRs to get their colleges to commit to being net zero, and push for change on the University Council.

Matt argues actions of XR are like "throwing the toys out of the pram", we need a "managed solution," instead.

The solution is not to "declare war" with the University, but only achieve the goals of divestment by being pragmatic and working with them.

Rusty says he fully supports divestment, but that a 'rebrand' of the issue by the student union is necessary to gain student support and thereby a stronger mandate to pressure the university to act on the issue.  


The panel opens to questions from the floor.

Question: "What has your experience been with tackling climate issues and how will you do this as president?"


Amira admits she has no serious policies, so will pass on.

Henry has been working with everyone on Homerton JCR to make green issues prominent.  He will encourage JCRs and MCRs to get their colleges to commit to being carbon-neutral. We need to learn from students' unions at other universities, he says.


Matt argues he prides himself on the fact that he disagrees with the "CUSU establishment". He says he would have a mandate for change and would like to work with the Postgraduate President in reforms they can agree on.

He urges he will walk into meetings as a pragmatist, and ”hopes that whoever wins the postgraduate elections has a similar outlook on life as [he] do[es]."

Rusty answers by saying it is "essential that presidents are partners" and emphasises communication will be key.


The last pre-submitted question: "How would you seek to lead the SU when there are disagreements with the postgraduate team?"

Amira says she believes in "swift vengeance".

Henry thinks he has always been able to come to acceptable compromises. However, there are a few red lines he would not cross. For example, he would never do anything which restricts the opportunities available to students.

Ben says he is unlikely to come into conflict with the postgraduate team on mental health and rent.


The next question is about whether the candidates have student activism experience, and what role activism should have in the Student Union.

The candidates generally do not have much experience apart from Ben. Matt says part of his 'Devolve, Depoliticise' is to not force students to agree with all student activism campaigns.


Rusty says that it is not right to make a clear distinction between national issues and students’ issues.


Ben says he echoes concerns about sabb time being spent up on Kashmir motion. Often he argues, there is too narrow a motion on what students issues are. He argues we should show solidarity with other students, that may be from Kashmir or affected by other similar national issues and situations.

Matt says we should prioritise the students, and non-student issues should not be brought to the student union council, which are "unnecessarily controversial".

"Cutting down on those unnecessary issues would be a benefit for me and the student body. They are a waste of sabb time and money."

"Students at colleges don’t pay for the student council to go on about Kashmir."


Henry will not be mentioning private members' clubs. He will not draw the line at national issues, but will create an atmosphere in which campaigners feel they can cooperate with the SU, he says.


Amira says that CUSU elections are determined by what students don't want, rather than what they do.

She says that CUSU members go to "private members' clubs". There is laughter on the floor.


Question: "Should students be prevented from bringing policies to the council on national issues they feel important?"


Rusty Smith, a second year HSPS students at Girton, is the last candidate to give his introduction. The creation of the New-SU is an opportunity to "press restart" on the union, according to Rusty.

Emphasising his experience in marketing, he says that policy alone does not convinve students to come to the new union. He will focus on rebranding and visibility, and will make the SU an organisation which students really care about.


Ben Margolis says he wants a new vision for what new SU will look like, and above all he says he wants education to work for everyone - and so would like a Week 5 Reading week by the end of the year.

He says he wants more funding for the DRC and UCS, a counsellor at every college, and a pledge for safeguarding in each college. He wants an end for NDAs around sexual harassment complaints.

He also wants to see a SU liaison officer to take the burden off JCR Presidents.

Being a Faculty Board Representative for History, part of the Robinson Living Wage Campaign he argues qualifies him for the role.

Matt Alderton is next.

He argues "there is a silent majority which is fed up with the Student Union in its current form."

He wants "to bring the student union back to the students”

He says cites being President of the History Society, and 'going out' as reasons he is a candidate that is an alternative to all the other, "establishment" candidates. 

He wants to get rid of the NUS delegate roles, and cut sabb role pay.


Henry Wright, a second year computer scientist, delivers his pitch.

He has a lot of experience dealing with CUSU when he was vice president on the Homerton JCR. He says that only about a third of people asked in a survey said that CUSU represents students. To change this, he will visit all colleges during freshers' week. But when CUSU represents students, it does so well..

He then continues, saying he will reform sexual misconduct processes and implement free STI tests.


Amira Nandhla is a first year historian at Girton. She says that she was struck by the disconnect between student body and CUSU. She wants to see how engaged students are in election, not to participate.

She receives laughter and a round of applause.


Only one part of the hustings is left - five candidates are fighting for the role of Undergraduate President.

All have now arrived: Matt Alderton, Ben Margolis, Henry Wright, Amira Nandhla and Rusty Smith.


A second question from a Varsity editor: "How do you plan to improve the standards in supervisor-student relationships, considering we are a collegiate university?".

Aastha says she will take the question differently, as graduate supervisors are organised by departments, not by colleges. She says that we need to run training and engage with departments; there needs to be a dialogue between faculty reps and supervisors. At a college level, we need to ensure that tutors and staff are able to provide a high standard of support.

Next audience question is about whether student activist is important, and whether it.

Aastha responds by saying that in the context of being at Cambridge, which has a culture of "put your head down, just do your work, don’t care about anyone else", student activism is critical.

"Whether activism is good or not, it gives us an opportunity to think critically about the beliefs we hold... and that is what education is all about".


The next question comes from a Varsity Editor, and asks for further details on the mechanisms pledged by Aastha in her manifesto addressing sexual harassment.

She replies that we need independent investigation bodies which are going to look into this issue - students who might have faced this harassment do not at the moment feel able to report these issues necessarily.


The last of the pre-submitted questions, on how Aastha will lead the union if her and the UG president's views differ.

"The union is not a dictatorship, it is a democracy," she replies. She would welcome disagreements, not take them personally. She would make sure to use other channels (such as the executive committee and deans), to make sure the union continues to function properly.


Next question: "What is the most effective way to ensure change at University and college and how would you use this approach to ensure a policy is enacted?"

She answers that one of the biggest problems slowing down change is that the colleges do not collaborate with each other enough.

She also says one of the biggest impediment to mental health is that the tutorial system is not functioning properly for postgraduates too. She therefore says there is a need "to find out data about how many colleges are actually talking to their postgraduates students properly".

Lastly, she pledges to increase engagement from the student union level, feed it into JCRs and MCRs, to put pressure on senior tutors.


The first question is pre-submitted. "How do you intend to increase engagement with Cambridge SU?"

Emailing students is not going to be enough, says Aastha. She will bring MCRs and JCRs together because these organisations often share similar issues, support from the new SU will increase engagement. She will also engage more with MCR, JCR, and faculty reps.


First up is the Postgraduate President role, for which Aastha Dahal is the first candidate standing. The other candidate, Luisa Deragon, has not showed up.

She is a PhD student, and says her research - policing of domestic violence in Nepal - gives her perspective that even though a lot of things are going wrong, she understands the need to do all she can to try and reform and improve it.

She says she wants to set an organisational culture that listens and cares for the welfare of its students, which is met with applause by the audience.


There short break, with the remaining candidates - all for President - set to arrive at 8.15pm.


Question: "Many postgraduates find themselves in an uncomfortable relationships with their students how would you go about addressing this?"

Alice is going to commit to pushing for training for all pastoral support, so that postgraduates could go to their tutor, for example, who would be properly trained.

Question: "How would you engage with the wider Cambridge community through your role?"

Alice says that it is crucial that the university takes responsibility for people who are in the community. It is important that the University respects its responsibility to pay its workers.

She emphasises the University accepts its responsibility as one of the richest institutions to pay its workers and not deny accountability for that.


A pre-submitted question: "What changes would be most effective to achieve preventative action for mental health?"

Alice replies that fighting the marketisation of education is crucial to this role. This has meant students are pitted against each other. She would support campaigns to lessen workloads on students.


Alice Gilderdale, a third year undergraduate at Robinson is next to speak. She is standing for Welfare and Community Officer.

She says it is incredible that the welfare and communities role has implemented political activism as part of the institutional role of CUSU, with issues such as paying the living wage, working with UCU and making sure workers are being paid properly and adequately.

She argues she wants to fight against the casualisation of education, to campaign against how the university isolates students from the local community, and to work with ethical affairs and continue work regarding homelessness.


The first question from the floor: "A lot of students think the DSC is a clique-y environment and has an ideological stance they do not agree with. What can you do to make the DSC a more representative body?"

Rensa has certainly felt this as part of the campaign. She wants a "change in mood" of the campaign next year.


Question: "This year's disabled students officer came under criticism over telling students not to cross picket lines to go to DSC (question regarding the criticism of Jess) - how will you make it a welcoming space for welfare and support?"

Renza argues that "we need to make a space for students to come together".

"The decisions made and messages communicated were not representative of the committee and members. We need to move forward from this with an emphasis on welfare and mental health - students should prioritise their mental health."


Next up is Rensa Gaunt, who is running for the Disabled Students' Officer postgraduate role.

She argues her experiences is that she has been involved in the DSU committee for 2 years as a Class Act Officer, which involved working with the University to better involve disabled students.

She says her main policies are to stop College for illegally overcharging disabled students for rent. On faculty committee - working today on making it mandatory for staff to be trained on disability issues. She wants to work with the University - and tell them the negative impact their policy has on disabled students.

Also she wants to push for better diagnostics advice and support for students who may not necessarily consider themselves as disabled. 


The moderator starts with pre-prepared questions.

First up: "How will you ensure the disabled students' campaign (DSC) is a welcoming space for as wide a range of students who identify as disabled as possible?"

Kerensa says that not all students who are legally disabled say so. She would not conduct the DSC as a "dictatorship", and move away from it being a space of conflict.


Next up is Rensa Gaunt, who is running for the Disabled Students' Officer postgraduate role.

She argues her experiences is that she has been involved in the DSU committee for 2 years as a Class Act Officer, which involved working with the University to better involve disabled students.

She says her main policies are to stop College for illegally overcharging disabled students for rent. On faculty committee - working today on making it mandatory for staff to be trained on disability issues. She wants to work with the University - and tell them the negative impact their policy has on disabled students.

Also she wants to push for better diagnostics advice and support for students who may not necessarily consider themselves as disabled. 


Siyang's last question: "How would you deal with MPhil access issues when only students who can pay out of their own pockets can come?"

They say: A lot of people cannot come even when they receive offers as they do not have the money to come. An MPhil is often a barrier to entry for a PhD.

Question: "Will you prioritise campaigning for long-term ideological goals over effective campaign changes?"

Siyang argues they don't necessarily agree with the framing of question, it is not a simple binary. Short term changes can fit into long term strategy. 

"I think its defeatist, small stuff can also be apart of a wider project. What's important about that is creating grass roots change."


A question for Siyang: "All academic reps will be run on same platform as a result of the new-SU, with roles mapping onto subjects. How will you capitalise on these changes?"

They reply: postgraduate communities can be quite insular, but there are often broader issues. The news format brings academic representation under the purview of the SU.


The next role up is the new Access, Education & Participation Officer Postgraduate role. Siyang Wei is the only candidate.

They say they are "excited" about role as it is going to be new and there are certain clear things that need to be addressed regarding access in particular, especially students who are unable to access grant fundings.

Also they say we need to think about tuition fees of postgraduate students, as a lot of the courses have inflated by over 100% over the past 5 years, which is something they'd like to scrutinise.


A final question from the floor. There is confusion over whether a current sabb can ask a question, but the election committee says yes.

Question: "You both talked about getting in contact with students. How are you going to represent students, where are you precisely going to go to get that contact with students?


Freddie says that he wants to make sure it is obvious how to get in contact with students. ”I don't think they [CUSU] do a very good job at the moment”. He would not contact students via CUSU.


Jess says the method of contact depends on the issue. She has helped coordinate a response regarding the open letter to Trinity Hall. We cannot write off CUSU, which represents so many disabled students, she says.


The next question regards Jess's previous mistake in November 2019 surrounding the strikes - about allegedly encouraging students to not go to counselling, and the importance of communications.

Jess responds saying there was a lot of discussion around whether a virtual picket line counts as a picket line - and she apologises again for the confusion.

Freddie says her answer "is not good enough", and that the post made him "incredibly angry". He argues that while he supports the strikes,  he says one thing that gets in the way of communication is being clouded by ridiculous levels of ideology.

"One reason this problem happened was that people put ideology above students."


A question from the floor: "The UCS and DRC and underfunded. How will you be able to make those changes?"

Freddie answers that he has been working within his college to increase college funding on mental health. There is always space for community activism, he says.

Jess: the role of university councillor is an interface, it puts the agendas of campaigns before the university.


The next question is about how they can ensure real change going to happen under their supervision.

Jess argues change happens through grass roots student campaigns.

"It is how we have always made change and how we will continue to do so".

Freddie says change is made through working through existing structures. He says the role of University Councillor is to work with the University for the students. 

"The way you do that is to meet the University where they are and convince them on their own terms. You don't make meaningful change by tearing down the system."


The candidates are asked about divestment. Jess disagrees with the premise that divestment has made not progress. She says that it is a "big win" whenever a college divests.


Freddie agrees with Jess. We should be looking to be active divestors, looking to build a better future.


The next question is about strikes. Freddie says the strikes are a really complicated issue. CUSU has been counterproductive in how to fight for these issues.


Jess says we can prevent future industrial action "by listening to the workers". She says that CUSU did not demand that the University refunds fees, because this would take money away from hardship funds.


Question: "How do you intend to make yourself accountable to all students?"

Freddie answers by saying the role has very little executive power. He says he wants to talk and listen well, as well as explain and publicise the university council’s decisions. 

Jess disagrees, saying sitting on a committee can be one of the "most powerful" a student can do and effect change. She says  she would introduce an accountability document for the university councillor role.


Freddie wants to scrutinise the university, rather than going straight to CUSU. He has obtained information about gender attainment through an FOI request.


Next up are the University Councillor candidates, Jess O'Brien and Freddie Poser.

Jess says she has been involved in student activism since she turned up. She says there is a disconnect between those who sit on the university councils and the other campaigns in the University.


Bella says scandals are not going to stop immediately - centralisation of these procedures needs to be prioritised, but likely can't be achieved immediately 

Chloe says she wants to build a democratic community - this is how we should deal with these scandal, and we need to build “communities of solidarity”. And there is a need to start the process of building a community - but recognises that this will take a long time.


The next question: "What policies will take priority, understanding that they will be strapped for time in the role?"

Marisa answers by saying she would like to see a centralised disciplinary procedure, as this would avoid conflicts of interest.

Rowan argues their primary policy would be to continue the work of disciplinary reform.

Flannery says she has experience of working in different departments in the past, but because the University's work so slowly, but getting implementation immediately is harder. She says she would continue the work on sexual harrassment procedures.


Flannery says that it is important that the woman's campaign continue to listen to FLY, especially since it can become quite "white feministy" and it's important to be reflexive.

Bella notes she hasn't been working with the campaign for long, but that women of colour should have their own spaces and they deserve that. She emphasises that the way immigration effects women is centre of both FLY and womcam.

Chloe answers by saying that FLY contributes to the Womcam agenda, and that this is a really important thing we need to remember, but she doesn't commit to concrete measures women and BME people should be campaigning on.

"The Role of liberation officer not just to speak but also to listen," she adds.


The next question is how do the candidates see how the Women's Campaign links to FLY.

Marisa says that FLY is an important place for BME women. It is very linked to the Women's Campaign, but these links should be strengthened.

Rowan thinks that it is important to recognise FLY in its own right. It is very important to ensure that there is a space for BME women in their own right.


Flannery answers next, promises to make it explicitly clear that this is a space for graduate students as much as undergraduate students, and supporting students with fieldwork. 

Bella promises to push for every college MCR to have a women’s officer, rather than just male and female welfare officers; this will build a better community of women’s issues in colleges.

Finally, Chloe answers. She is glad that this question has been brought up. She advocates events where MCR and JCR womens officers can come together. She will also campaign on issues that affect postgrad students such as the gender pay gap, and condemns the £65 application fee which stops people applying for masters degrees. 


The first question to the candidates is about how the candidates intend to involve graduate students in the Women's Campaign.

Marisa wants to invite in graduates and experiment with rotating facilitators at the WomCam forum.

Rowan thinks that the new single student union is "a great opportunity". They think that communication is very important and WomCam needs to make much better use of social media.


Finally, Chloe introduces herself. She commends her fellow candidates, but argues that her wide-ranging experiences make her stand out. 

She regrets that a lot of students don't actually know what WomCam – the CUSU women's campaign – is. She wants to build a forward-looking, democratic, and inclusive campaign that engages students. 


The next candidate is Bella Harter from Homerton. She says she wants to talk about her philosophy. She says she realised that Cambridge fosters a sense of individual achievement and isolation.

Her candidacy is based on "radical empathy" and she thinks that "learning to care again seems to be the only way to get out of this neoliberal funk".


Next up is Flannery McIntyre, an Mphil student at Newnham. She triple-majored at Brown University and talks about her experiences there, working with the music and archaeology departments in inclusivity campaigns. 

She lists her two central campaign pledges: firstly,  that as women's officer she will represent both undergraduate and graduate students, as the latter often feel excluded from undergraduate spaces. 

Secondly, she promises to stop sexual harassment and assault and better the way the university responds to them. 


The next candidate is Rowan Fox. They are a second year studying music at Jesus.

They focus on the need to centralise the sexual harassment complaints procedure to avoid the kinds of failings seen at the "recent disaster" at Trinity Hall. 

There needs to be free, anonymous access to sanitary products.

They also want to implement a proper policy on platforming speakers so that people feel safe in their university.


The candidates for Women's Officer introduce themselves. 

The first is Marisa Clements, a Final year sociology student at Newnham. She was women's and non-binary officer on Newnham JCR. 

She condemns the university’s failure to support survivors of sexual violence and victims of transphobia — which she mentions still exists within campaigns. She promises to collaborate with LGBTQ campaign to fight discrimination. 


A question from the floor: the role involves working closely with the disabled officer. The questioner asks what the most important intersections between the roles are, and how Esme would work with the officer? 

Esme would be "very happy" to work with the disabled students officer, making sure that Lecture materials and supervision materials were accessible for disabled students. 


The next question - 'How do you support trans students when they arrive at the university, especially in all female colleges?'

She thinks that it is "fundamental" that all students feel comfortable and accepted regardless of gender identity. She would work with the LGBT+ campaign and women and non-binary officers. There needs to be a constructive dialogue about where problems are.


There is another question from the floor: how will you continue to work with colleges to ensure access work does not end after admission?

She will advocate for fair rents, and help to facilitate cut the rent campaigns. She mentions the disparity between the different ways that colleges offer financial support, and will investigate if these can be made more equal across the university.


The first question for Esme is how to build on successes the SU has had bringing in changes to the academic Reps system.

She wants to map academic reps onto subjects, to bring them together with student organisations. 


There are no questions from the floor, we move onto the Undergraduate role for Access, Education and Participation.

There is only one candidate for this new merged role: Esme Cavendish. 

She talks about her background at a London state school that was "pretty clueless" on Oxbridge applications. She was Christs access officer for year and a half, and has campaigned with cambridge zero carbon.

She outlines her policy promises, which revolve around working towards a more just University. In particular, she focuses on holding the University accountable to attainment gaps and admissions across race and class. 


The final question - "What work have you done in the past which proves you’re a suitable candidate for the role?"

He responds that he has done a lot of the work on organising forums for BME officers. He has also been supporting striking staff and coordinating efforts to decolonise the curriculum. 


The next question posed is: Is it important for BME students to use disciplinary procedures available to them and how do you propose encouraging they do so?

Howard thinks that it is important for students to use these procedures, but that they are not the beginning and end of an anti-racist program. He would signpost these procedures within a wider anti-racist platform. 

6:20 pm 

The first question is what the candidate sees as the role of a BME sabb officer.

Howard responds that it will ensure BME students are represented. He will be connected, coordinating on issues of anti-racism and "channelling that energy".


Next up is the candidates for a new role, BME student. 

There is only one candidate for this role, Howard Chae. He briefly outlines his platform, stressing the need to collaborate with students to ensure SU prioritises anti-racism. 

His specific policies include providing spaces where BME students can go to receive support, and to share knowledge and experiences. 


The final question to the candidates is how the candidates weigh up the role of campaigning versus the role of University institutions and the student union.

Sebastian describes the University's actions as 'evil'.

Zana and Daisy think that both approaches are important.


There is no time to ask questions from the floor; but the manifestos are published on the ethical affairs site, and each candidate has an email. 


A question is asked on how we can make progress on divestment. 

Sebastian stresses that we should keep brining attentions to the university's transgressions, bringing it to the attention of the national media and keeping alumni involved. 

Zana points to the growing anxiety with people at university to be apart of the climate conversation, and suggests that student societies are doing a really good job. It is good progress that the university has been willing to cooperate with ethical affairs on divestment.

Daisy agrees, stressing that student societies work very hard behind the scenes; it is important not to fall victim to ‘campaign fatigue.’ When the zero carbon report comes out it will be a good time to gauge how the university is feeling.


Zana is up next; she is a first year at Jesus. She has been the green officer at Jesus, and has been involved in weider ethical campaigns. 

She wants the Uni to completely cut ties with extractive industries and pressure colleges to make these changes. Making ethical affairs central to campaigns against homelessness, involving student chairities such as CHOP.


Daisy goes next, a first year at Robinson.

She touts her "valuable experience" with CDE, Zero carbon, Boycott Barclays. She wants to focus on intersectional issues, a political freshers week, climate justice. This includes working with colleges. She wants to work on the living wage campaign and to build on the Undo Borders campaign.


The first question to the candidates is 'How would you work to encourage engagement with the ethical affairs campaign?'

Sebastian wants to get people involved in rallies.

Daisy focuses on involving post-graduates.

Zana thinks ethical affairs needs to make its role in such campaigns clearer.


The hustings begin with the Ethical Affairs Chairs, for which 2 undergraduate positions and 2 graduate positions are being contested. Each candidate is given one minute to make a speech. 

Sebastian starts, calling the university one of  the most privileged and problematic academic instititions in the world, and promising to counter those who treat the university like a business. 

Promises to focus on the climate catastrophe and zero-hour contracts, stressing his experience in zero carbon and living wage and divestment campaigns in Robinson college. 


The 2019 CUSU President - Edwards Parker Humphreys - has arrived, and kicks off the SU hustings.