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 sixth installment of our series, Vice President of Communication and Campaigns Zuchaela Smylie talks about an upcoming mock referendum on independence, student enterprise, and the role of student media.
You promised in your statement to “provide a gateway to student involvement in important social political issues affecting them”. What have you done in that regard?
The first thing to increase student involvement was the Big Education Debate, which was a joint event between DUSA and the University. The main focus was what independence could mean for higher education in Scotland, which obviously is a big issue to students. This doesn’t just affect students from Scotland but also those from the rest of the UK, the EU, and around the world. If Scotland becomes independent, it’s going to affect everyone, with fees, immigration laws, etc.
Since then, Iain [MacKinnon, DUSA’s President] and myself have been working with the “5 Million Questions” group [an initiative by DUSA and the University to hold debates on topics related to the Scottish independence referendum in September]. We have been giving them the views of students and advice on how they can get them involved.
We managed to secure the Union as a polling station, which is great for students – particularly those in halls – who may not know where their local polling station is. It means that they have this central hub where they can vote. We’ve also had the electoral commission here and will have them again, and they’ll be offering advice to students and give them the chance to register themselves to vote.
Then we’re having a mock referendum on independence the same week as the Exec elections [in February] to gather what students’ attitudes are. It’ll be a paper ballot, very similar to the real thing.
You also said you would want to encourage “student ideas and employability”. How is that going?
That’s been hard to implement and it’s currently in the initial stages. The Big Education Debate took up a lot of time and so did [DUSA Radio’s 55-hour] Marathon Radio Show.
I noticed that there were a lot of students who had their own businesses on the side, whether it was offering a service or a product. Students often find it hard to get part-time jobs while they’re here. So when I was thinking about my policies last year, I wanted to help promote students who also run a business.
The first idea I came up with was the Winter Market [in December]. We had a few stalls for students to sell their products, and we hope to turn it into a semi-regular thing. I would also like to create an online student business directory, where any student can register their business.
You also talked about “reinvigorating the student media systems and advancing their social worth and recognition”. How have you helped DUSA Media?
I was lucky enough to be blessed with a great team. I can’t take any credit for that but I think they’re all doing great.
This is dusamedia.com’s first year and it has definitely taken off. The Magdalen is doing great. There have been some controversial articles, but all in all, the magazine has definitely been improving a lot this year: The new design and the new logo are phenomenal and the front covers are getting better with every issue.
Perhaps the biggest boost has been in DUSA Radio, which was non-existent toward the end of last year. One my ways of raising awareness for that was through the Marathon Radio Show, which was done in coordination with this year’s RAG [raising and giving] effort.
I would like to push DUSA TV in the second semester, that’s something we’re going to talk about.
There’s been some controversy about one of our articles last semester. In light of that, talk a bit about how you understand DUSA Media’s role on campus.
It’s important that DUSA Media represent student views. Now, students don’t necessarily agree on everything. I think people should be able to express how they feel as long as it’s within the law and their remarks aren’t racist or sexist or so.
DUSA Media is funded by DUSA. What are the pros and cons of that arrangement?
I think it’s a good solution. It means there’s a budget set aside for the media, which provides a sense of security for DUSA Media’s work, and it provides continuity for the outlets. It also means there’s a balance of what you guys want to do and what DUSA needs you to do, like working with the Exec and promoting the Student Representative Council (SRC).
Some people may feel that they have to be more sensitive about what they write and those who want to be extremely controversial may feel that they don’t have the freedom to do that. But I don’t think that that’s necessarily a bad thing. Sometimes, when things are independent, they fire out of control.
Your title is VP of Communication and Campaigns. We already talked about the campaign side, what’s the communication part about?
Each week a member of the Exec writes a post for the Exec blog. I oversee those and make sure they’re put on the website and the Exec board in the Union.
We have been concerned with how hard it is for people to access things like the Exec page on DUSA’s website. Other student associations make it a lot easier for students to find that sort of information. We are working on improving that for the Exec, the SRC and student representation in general.
I will say that perhaps the communication side of things has not been my strongest point so far. I’ve given myself a kick up the backside and we’re communicating more on social media about what we have done, what we are doing right now, and what we will be doing.
You said in your statement is that you would like to organize better website designs for societies. How that’s coming along?
That’s something I have not even looked at. It’s probably something that is not realistically implementable for me. I didn’t realize how many different campaigns and other things I would have going on.
Another point you mentioned was mental health awareness. What are your plans for that?
Katie [Jowett, VP of Student Welfare] and I had been planning various mental health events. We had hoped for it to be a yearlong campaign but unfortunately, due to other commitments on both ends, that wasn’t feasible. It was a lot of work, we had a very short time for planning… But there will be something next semester. It’s an issue that’s really important to me on a personal level and something I would really like to focus on.
What’s the thing that surprised you the most since taking office?
The wide range of things I’m doing. One minute I will be sitting in my office planning the next campaign, the next minute I’ll be down riverside taking part in a Sports Union charity event, and after that I’ll be sitting in an important University meeting.
I also didn’t think I’d be having a radio show with Jade [Rea, DUSA’s Deputy President]. I’ve really enjoyed taking that up.
Are you going to run for re-election?
I’ve been considering it for some time and have decided that I will be running again.
DUSA Media is part of DUSA, but you knew that already. In addition, the VPCC directly oversees the work of all DUSA Media outlets, including dusamedia.com. The Interview has been condensed and edited for clarity.