I don't think it would be an exaggeration to say that this is a unique time to be taking over as a sabbatical officer in Cambridge. Students are facing unprecedented changes in their lives, and it's been amazing to see how students, JCRs and MCRs have come together to support each other. The exciting news is that on 13th July we launched Cambridge Students' Union, merging CUSU and the GU together for the first time ever! Cambridge SU has so much to offer students- from better representation for postgraduate students, to centralised administration of academic reps, to our three full-time elected liberation officers (BME, Disabled Students' and Womens'). Our new and improved website has all the information you need on how the new union works and how you can get involved, so check it out when you have a chance!
Who am I and what do I do?
Two weeks ago I started out as President (UG) at the new Cambridge SU, a few days after graduating in History at Robinson. This is a new role, split up to ensure that both undergraduates and postgraduates get equal representation in our new joint union. My job can be split roughly into three parts; representing students to the university, working on student campaigns, and connecting students with their SU. The first part involves sitting on university committees and working with stakeholders to ensure that student voices are heard. As an SU we are far more powerful with grassroots student campaigns behind us, so the second part of my job involves working with those campaigns to show wide support for our policies and influence powerful stakeholders in making decisions. The third part of my job involves engaging students through College Forum (which J/MCR reps are invited to in order to share best practice), keeping people up-to-date with my social media, and sharing my work with SU Council to remain accountable to students. On top of this, I chair the SU Executive, made up of sabbatical officers, SU campaigns without sabbatical officers and a small team of part time officers representing different constituencies.
What are my plans for the year?
This is an unprecedented time to be a sabbatical officer, and I will be busy making sure that the university works for everyone over the coming year, whether that is in the education the university offers, the representative structures we have available to students, or in the way the university interacts with the world around it.
COVID has brought in a myriad of new challenges for students. Over the summer, we have been working hard to ensure that this university is a safe place for students to study- by consulting with different groups, and making your voices heard on university-level committees. This is something we are continuing to work on as the start of term nears
On education, my key focus is on making workloads sustainable for students. Edward Parker-Humphrey's Student Loneliness Report laid out recommendations which include an improvement in college pastoral support, more opportunities for socialising, and a radical proposal for changes to the Cambridge term-time. I will be bringing his proposal for a new term structure- including a real weekend (you heard me right- a Monday to Friday week!) and a reading week with minimal changes to the amount of time people spend studying in Cambridge- to SU Council in Michaelmas Term for approval by the student body, and will then push for it at a university level. I am also going to be working with other officers on a raft of reforms to safeguarding including better supervisor training, a centralised process for academic appointments and further reforms to the disciplinary procedure.
On representation, engagement with Cambridge SU is vital to how far we can represent students, and that's why it's one of my priorities for the year. I will continue to run College Forums through the summer to help JCRs and MCRs coordinate best practice for the most challenging Freshers' Week in recent history, and I will be working with them to establish better communication channels with us- my proposal being committees designating officers who liaise with the SU. I will also be working closely with our postgraduate team to make sure that JCRs and MCRs work together on issues affecting both, be that extortionate rents or better supervisor training for graduate teachers.
On making the university work better for all communities, I am already working with student campaigners in the Living Wage Campaign and local unions on ensuring that our university workers are paid better, have representation in colleges and have the best possible working conditions. I am also working with campaigners on encouraging the university and its colleges to divest from the fossil fuel and arms industries, and to cut research and funding links with such industries. Throughout the year, I will be coordinating with the BME Campaign and anti-Prevent campaigners to see the university implement compulsory anti-racist training and oppose the government's Prevent policy as far as possible.
There is so much further to go in making Cambridge work for everyone, but this year the whole SU team and I will be fighting on the issues that matter to students. I hope I will see you all at some point at an SU Council, a campaign event or just around Cambridge, and I am always looking to hear about new things that you think the SU should be working on. Enjoy the sunshine and a well-earned break, and see you all soon!