It’s here – my first blog post as your Welfare and Rights Officer! I can’t wait to get properly started on an exciting year of campaigning for change, representing students’ voices, and supporting efforts to make Cambridge a better place for everyone.
Campaigning for the rights of their membership has always been central to the work of a union, and students’ unions should be no different. Unions recognise that our collective power is greater than when we stand alone, that it is by coming together as a community that we can create real change. I ran to work for CUSU and the GU because I’ve been involved in campaigning within Cambridge for several years now, and I know the value of collective organising in an institution where it so often feels like the odds are inescapably stacked against you. Our job in the students’ union is to stand up for students, but also to enable students to campaign to stand up for themselves, raising the most marginalised voices and supporting those who speak up for change.
As Welfare and Rights Officer for both the undergraduate and graduate student bodies, I want to ensure that the advocation of rights is always at the heart of the work CUSU and the GU do, because we know that any attempt to provide welfare support without confronting structural issues is just papering over the real problems. And in a higher education context where the sheer cost of a degree creates pressure to make university “worthwhile” or “cost-effective”, even as the increased use of metrics and league tables undermine our ability to learn in alternative ways, where a mental health crisis is so often discussed by institutions but the causes of it so rarely countered, centering a politically conscious, rights-based campaign for student welfare is ever more essential.
So what are my plans?
This year I want to support college-based rent campaigns, and also to look beyond the university into the housing crisis faced by the local community. Working with Whitworth House, a women’s refuge that faced closure last year, and other local homelessness campaigns, I hope to involve student voices in a conversation about the right to housing that is broader than their colleges, linking up with campaigns around graduate housing within the city and encouraging students to see themselves as part of the Cambridge community.
I also want to work closely with the BME Campaign, FLY, and other student-led campaigns that centre anti-racist organising. I’ll work on opposing Prevent, the racist legislation that profiles students along racialised stereotypes and integrates surveillance into mental health services. I’ll be supporting campaigns for decolonisation, and pushing for widespread anti-racist training for staff and a disciplinary process that works for BME students who have been racially harassed.
There are many more campaigns and projects that I want to work on – from providing more support for student sex workers and linking up with national campaigns for decriminalisation, to working with UCU to lobby against the casualisation that puts grad students in such difficult situations, to campaigning for better childcare provision across the university and better supporting survivors of sexual assault.
If you’d like to get involved do send me a message, and watch this space for more of my updates. Or, best of all, come and say hi to me in person at the Freshers’ Fair in October (I’m very friendly, I promise!)