This article first appeared on DUSA Media.
About six months ago, the Exec – the seven student-elected leaders of Dundee University Students’ Association (DUSA) – took office with ambitious plans. Now that they are more than halfway through their terms, we sat down with them to talk about their experiences, successes and lessons learned. In the first installment of our series, Deputy President Jade Rea talks about student representation, apathy on campus, and the upcoming elections.
The first goal you mentioned in your candidate statement was to increase “communication within schools, with more responsibility on class reps”. What have you done in that regard?
I made a class rep handbook before the semester started and met with every school secretary before the semester started to introduce myself and let them know about Student Representative Council (SRC) motions that had been passed in relation to class reps. I also made a video that went to all first-years and on [MyDundee] to encourage class reps to run, and I held four class rep training sessions.
Would you say class reps play a bigger role now in schools?
I wouldn’t say I’ve done has made a massive impact. What I wanted to do was build a foundation that could be improved on, because that wasn’t there at all. I hope in future years there will be more communication between reps and schools.
As you know, student reps had varying experiences with the openness of their school to take feedback. What’s the biggest challenge in that regard?
That’s a difficult one to answer because some schools have a president who will come to me with issues, and some schools will have a president who won’t. That is a big challenge. What I’d love is to have all the school presidents feel that I’m a link they can use, and that isn’t always the case. It’s difficult.
Do you think moving school president elections back to February will be beneficial?
It’s not something I supported. People have to realize that you won’t be able to see the benefits of something if you only give it a year. I think we would’ve seen the benefits of the September elections if they had been given a second year. But it was decided democratically to move them back to February, and plans have already been made to utilize that. I plan to introduce a school presidents training as one of the the last things I’ll do before I leave office.
The second goal you mentioned in your candidate statement was “bringing the world to Dundee”. How has the experience of international students at the University improved?
Working in the [Premier] shop, I saw that it’s very daunting for international students to come to Scotland, because it is such a difference in culture. I wanted to have an Exec that were really out there on the ground, so that they knew first hand that we were here if they needed us.
In my role, I have found that to be quite beneficial because of the amount of international students that I’ve had had come to me, specifically with housing issues. I think there is still great room of improvement in having people from different cultures mixing and getting together.
Is there anything you’ve done to increase that kind of integration?
In September, the Exec as a whole went to every possible meeting for all the different groups, to welcome international students and students in general. In particular, we had postgrad students come to us who were like “You know, we’re only here for a year.” I totally understand that – if I get a postgrad somewhere, Dundee will still be the place where I did my undergrad and where I developed as a person. However, you still want to make the most of the facilities that you have.
This year, Douglas Schreiber, the current VPSA, will be doing “Culture on Campus”. I haven’t done as much as I thought I was going to be able to do when I first got elected, so I want to get heavily involved in that. Obviously, I don’t want to look back and think I haven’t fulfilled my policies.
Tell us about “Culture on Campus”.
We’ll put on different events throughout the week. As a Northern Irish student, I would’ve loved to do some of the things international students get offered, but we don’t. With “Culture on Campus”, we hope to attract more homebody students as well as international students.
Your third policy was to increase “student engagement” and “awareness of the SRC”. Do you think you have achieved that?
It’s ongoing. I feel this year’s SRC candidates really did a lot, and I was very proud to see candidates from the SRC out and about. As someone who has ran for the SRC, I openly admit I did no campaigning publicly, it was all done online. This year’s candidates really put themselves out there and wanted to engage with the students. It’s something we will continue to do. We are having an SRC awareness week [starting on 13 January].
I also communicate what happens in the SRC back to school secretaries. It’s really important that not just students are engaged with the SRC, but staff are as well. The Exec are only here for one or two years, and the SRC changes every year. But they make decisions that will affect staff, who will be here for years after.
What has been the biggest surprise for you as Deputy President?
I didn’t expect my views and opinions to be so greatly appreciated. You know, I’m 23. I’ve just graduated. But I feel really valued on the committees I sit on in the University, particularly on my college board. Right now, for example, we’re looking at at results of the National Student Survey. All schools have action plans for how they’re going to improve, and we’re making sure they are being implemented. That’s a big thing to me. There’s a lot to be said for how our representation works at Dundee University – we basically have a student rep on every committee.
Do you think student apathy is a particularly big problem in Dundee?
It needs to be put into perspective. I don’t think all the other universities are miles ahead of us – it’s not that way at all. Student apathy is always at the forefront of every Exec’s mind. A student might not see the difference made in a year, but if you look at where we were five years ago, there’s increased student engagement now. Like I said, it’s not something the Exec forget about. It’s always there, it’s always on our mind.
By the end of September, the Exec were absolutely drained because we wanted to make sure that our faces were everywhere. There were posters all over the University. I think people know who we are, even if they don’t know exactly what our individual remits are. But when things go wrong, that’s when students think, “I need to see my Deputy President”, and that’s fine.
The next big thing for DUSA are the Exec and school presidents elections in February. What are you doing to make sure this year’s elections don’t have the same issues we saw last year?
We have lots of plans. First of all, changes we made to the SRC elections [in September] – really simple things – had a big impact. We usually had the candidates briefing in a meeting room in the Union. This year, it’s in Dalhousie. It’s a much more formal setting. I’ve also written a Q&A for candidates. We tried that for the SRC elections and it was really useful.
Last year, we had a lot of difficulties with what candidates were buying and how they used the budget they were given. There have been changes to the bye law now to insure that nothing can be donated from an external organization. I’m also asking all candidates to write me a plan of what they plan on spending their money on, so if I see something that wasn’t in their plan, I can ask them for a receipt right away.
I guess if you weren’t aware of previous difficulties, that all seems very strict. But without these guidelines, we would’ve been looking at cutting candidates’ budgets. When I ran as Deputy President, I spent my entire budget because I was out from 9 in the morning till 9 at night in the pissing rain. It is a priority of mine that creative campaigning should not be stifled.
Are you going to run for re-election?
No. I absolutely love my job as Deputy President, and I love DUSA. I’ve worked for DUSA for over three years. However, I need to go traveling, and I need to leave Scotland. But I know the day I have to leave I will be devastated.
DUSA Media is part of DUSA, but you knew that already. The interview has been condensed and edited for clarity.