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With the nominations for prospective full-time officers opening on the 9th of February, we thought you should have an understanding of what the job entails. Siren newbie Rachel Hodgson had a chat with the six current FTOs, as well as AU President Dan Ryan-Lowes, to find out what they’ve been up to this year and what you can expect from the elections in March.

By Rachel Hodgson

Last week I spoke with the current full-time officers of the Students’ Union and the AU President to discover what it was like to be so involved in the goings-on of the university. Working as a full-time officer requires a huge level of dedication; a full-time, paid job where they work for the advancement of the students.

The current FTOs are Luke James (President), Eleri Jones (Women’s Officer), Tom Upton (Societies and Services Officer), Charlotte Britton (Welfare Officer), Rhiannon Hedge (Education Officer), and Mahaboob Basha (International Officer). I also interviewed Dan Ryan-Lowes, (also known as Flash), to find out what his thoughts were on the introduction of the new Sports Officer position.

Luke James (President)

When I met with Luke James, he described what his job entailed with one word: ‘everything’. From attending meetings to discussing the University’s strategy for post-grad courses to launching the Students’ Union joint history project with the History department; no one can say that the President has a boring job. When asked how his year in office has been, Luke described it as ‘different, busy [and] challenging’.

Although his main job is managing the overall running of the Students’ Union such as his statutory responsibilities of representing the Students’ Union and University committees, he also has to attend to the projects originally outlined in his manifesto. During his time in office, arguably one his most advantageous achievements has been the re-branding of what are now known as Student Forums, and making them accessible online through live-streaming on the SU website. When asked what his opinion was on the upcoming elections he believed they would be ‘good elections’ and hoped for ‘lots of dynamic people with well-reasoned arguments that they’re passionate about’ to come forward and bring new ideas into the SU.

He expressed disappointment toward the dissolving of the Athletic Union and its forthcoming merger with the Union as it has a ‘long history that needs to be respected’, but he also believed that the introduction of a full-time Sports Officer ‘can only be a good thing’, as it will encourage more students to become involved with the Union; which is something Luke believes all the officers have to ‘take responsibility for’.

Eleri Jones (Women’s Officer)

Eleri, far right, at a Swansea pro-choice campaign

Eleri entered the political sphere gradually, with some small involvement in her first year, until she decided to run for the position of Women’s Officer in her third year. Eleri is currently the only full-time Women’s Officer in Wales; unlike other universities when they are usually either part of an executive team or are replaced by ‘equality and diversity officers’, something Eleri deems ‘counter-productive’. Her main focus is to ensure female students are well-represented; provide information on various issues; and offer support and advice when needed. Eleri also supports liberation and minorities within Swansea University; sitting on boards such as the Gender Equality Working Group.

Although the position differed from Eleri’s original expectations, she believed that her year in office has been successful. Although he transition from a student into a full time job proved difficult at first, she proved herself more than worthy of the post; saving the Woman’s Centre on her second day in office by obtaining £10,000 in funding. In her opinion, the toughest thing that she had to face was the instigation of the Zero Tolerance policy. Although her predecessor Raegan Healey put through the motion; it fell upon Eleri to organise the training of Swansea University bar staff and the door security- as well as re-writing policies and organising publicity. Eleri explained that there were ‘a lot of misconceptions that surrounded the campaign’, and that it soon became apparent that people believed the campaign was solely focused on women, when its actual aim was the protection of all genders. ‘I want to make it so its second nature to students to come forward,’ Eleri said.

Through her numerous achievements it is obvious that Eleri has had a successful year, therefore she is understandably glad that she decided to run for the position at the last minute. With this in mind, Eleri recommends that if anyone has the desire to apply to run for the position of Women’s Officer in February then they should definitely go for it!

Tom Upton (Societies and Services Officer)

Tom Upton represents all societies of the university plus the commercial services of the union, which include two bars, two nightclubs, three shops, a nursery, an advice centre, a travel shop and an events department. Tom explained his role in societies as a democratic role: offering aid when needed and attending general meetings and elections. Despite describing last term as ‘exhausting’ Tom believes he has had a good year, with the ‘best fresher’s week the university has had in years’ due to a massive influx of societies that are now available to students. The main win Tom thought he had achieved for societies was that they no longer had to pay for the rooms they used due to losing the dining rooms to asbestos, explaining that it was ‘one less thing the society had to worry about.’

When asked for his opinion on the upcoming elections he became very enthused. ‘I want people to run for my job’, he said. His main advice for students considering running for the position was to ‘be yourself and be genuine, people just want to know you care.’

Something that was equally important for these students, he said, was to not get ‘bogged down’ under the politics and to just have fun. He then went on to describe how he spent most of his campaign dressed as a Smurf in order to motivate both himself and his dedicated campaign team. In regards to the introduction of the Sports Officer, Tom agreed with the decision, stating that it was ‘integral to keep the sports students represented.’

‘Without a Sports Officer it would change how we run sports at Swansea,’ he said, adding that this was something he believed to be ‘unthinkable’.

Charlotte Britton (Welfare Officer)

Charlotte defined her job as ‘looking after the health and happiness of the students’. She offers advice on a variety of matters, from sexual health to enquiries about housing. Despite having a multitude of responsibilities, she has achieved a lot during her year in office. Improving community relations has been at the forefront of her work; with projects such as ‘Know your Neighbour’, in which students introduced themselves to their neighbours in order to dispel any misconceptions they may have had for living next to students. Charlotte is looking forward to the elections this year, wanting ‘as many people as possible to run’ and recommending that students to ‘get involved’ with any aspect of elections. Whether it’s running or volunteering: its ‘good to have the experience’, she said.

Rhiannon Hedge (Education Officer)

As Education Officer, Rhiannon regards herself as ‘the main port of call’ for students experiencing any kind of academic issue during their time at Swansea. Rhiannon is currently developing the student representation system already in place through the introduction of another tier into the course representation system. Having received £12,000 from the University for funding it has been made possible for every college within the University to now have a student representative; ‘putting students at a higher level within committees than they have been before’. According to Rhiannon, this effectively ‘opens up access for student representation at a top level’. She strongly recommends voting and becoming involved. When asked what her thoughts were on the introduction of a Sports Officer she thought that it was ‘a positive step’ following an ‘incredible merger’.

Mahaboob Basha (International Officer)

International Officer Mahaboob Basha is the only International Officer to travel outside of the UK to meet with prospective students and their families before they come to study at Swansea University. His main responsibility is to take care of the international students of Swansea University and to make sure that they receive the advice they need on matters such as housing, Visas, insurance, travel, etc. He explained that the transition was quite a ‘cultural shock’ for the international students and as a result often requires a lot of extra aid.

The students ‘need a place to understand’, he said, explaining how some international students are frightened to come forward and discuss any problems they may experience; which is what makes the International Officer’s role so important. Mahaboob created student forums in order for the students to have a way in which they could communicate with each other- although he admits that they hasn’t been as successful as he would have hoped as many of the international students don’t fully understand how they operate. Mahaboob is currently fighting to improve the Skype visibility on campus which would improve students’ ability to communicate with their families back home.

When asked about the upcoming elections Mahaboob told me that he would be re-running for the position of International Officer; although he ‘recommends everyone [who is interested in the position] to run’. A recent achievement that Mahaboob is very proud of is that with the help of AU President Dan Ryan-Lowes, he has successfully secured a non-alcoholic zone for international students at Varsity this year for the first time. He is currently working with Dan to ensure that next year every university sports team will have at least one to two international students on their team.

Dan Ryan-Lowes (AU President)

Speaking with AU President Dan Ryan-Lowes, it was clear he shared the view of the full-time SU officers: that the introduction of a Sports Officer was a positive change. Dan believes that it is ‘a good thing for the Students’ Union to bring sports into the umbrella’. Due to the unknown future of the Athletic Union last year there were few who came forward to campaign for the position of AU President.

However, with the upcoming merger of the Athletic and Students’ Unions, ‘a lot more people have come forward to ask [me] questions about campaigning’, which will undoubtedly make elections this year a lot more exciting this year. Recently Dan has been working with Women’s Officer Eleri Jones to improve the representation of female sport as it is often overlooked or neglected.  Dan’s main priority is to help run student-led sport as well as to fight for their rights and represent them, a role that will undoubtedly be carried over with the instigation of the full-time Sports Officer.

Summary

Something that ran through all of the interviews with the full-time officers and the AU president was that every one of them encouraged students to become involved in the political campaign; whether they were running for a position or simply voting for their chosen candidates. All offered their help and advice, explaining that their offices are always open if students would like advice or guidance. Tom Upton even stated that he would happily go for a meal if students would like to discuss any of their concerns with running for a position with him, although it might be worth pointing out to readers that he said he ‘might not pay for the meal.’ Both Tom Upton and Charlotte Britton believed that it was important for students to understand that they are not going to be able to solve everyone’s problems, but also that they shouldn’t let this deter them from running for a full-time position within Swansea University Students’ Union.

Corrections: “Gender Equality board” changed to “Gender Equality Working Group”.

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