zAK COLEMAN for President (UG)
Back Zak - for an SU focused on centring the issues students care most about
Candidate Profile Questions
1. If you could change one thing about Cambridge what would it be?
Definitely reducing the unmanageable workloads that end up really impacting student welfare and mental health. I’ll be pushing to implement the current SU’s proposal to introduce a week 5 reading week by Michaelmas 2022 to finally bring Cambridge a bit more into line with how most universities operate and give students some time to recharge, catch up on work, engage with extra-curriculars and just enjoy being in Cambridge. I really hope this policy can help address the culture of burnout and week 5 blues.
2.Why are you running for this role?
I’ve loved studying at Cambridge for the past three years, but have also been really frustrated by certain things about the way the University currently operates that seem to needlessly harm students’ experiences. Whether it’s huge discrepancies between different Colleges’ welfare and financial hardship support provisions, or the grin-and-bear-it culture of relentless workloads, or the lack of action on systemic structural issues of discrimination and unfairness, there’s so much that still needs to be done to enhance students’ experiences and make the university a fairer, more equitable place for everyone. I also really want to make sure Cambridge takes the common-sense steps to play a role in addressing the broader social issues that our generation is concerned with, especially in relation to implementing ambitious policies to address the climate emergency.
3. What should the SU’s long-term priorities be?
I think the SU should always orient its major areas of focus around students’ priorities, so I would always base our actions around the issues students tell us are most pressing to them through regular, direct consultations. Taking concrete steps to improve student welfare has to always be one of the SU’s central missions. I’d do this by advocating strongly for greater counselling provision, with a counsellor at every College. I’d also push ahead with the current SU’s proposals to address the mental health crisis at root. The week 5 reading week, which would only add a few days to each side of the term, would go a really long way towards helping ease the relentless workloads that we all see having such a negative impact on our own and our friends’ mental health. This would be a massive priority for me if elected. I’d also work hard to address disparities between students’ experiences at different Colleges by pushing for fair rent and standardised hardship funding and student welfare support, as well as calling for bold climate action policies. I also would not be against a major new SU campaign to re-open Cindies.
4. What experience would you bring to the role?
I have worked on my college’s JCR as the Environmental and Ethical Affairs Officer, and am currently the undergraduate representative on College Council. Both of these roles have involved consulting with students on the issues they care most about, and then working alongside the other Committee members to figure out how to most effectively advocate on their behalf with College management. Working with the JCR committee, I managed to convince the College to commit to commissioning a private consultancy study into how they would reach net zero emissions by 2030. I also co-founded the Jesus College Climate Justice Campaign, and have been working closely with the bursar to develop a Responsible Investment Policy for the College. Representing students on College Council during the pandemic has also involved advocating for fair COVID response policies, including no rent increases, increased welfare support for students, flexibility for those who need to return to Cambridge, opposing the College’s COVID harassment policy and calling for them not to exceed government COVID guidelines. I’m also on the SU Ethical Affairs Campaign, which has involved organising events for their Green Week and facilitating skills-shares between different College Divestment Campaigns. Most recently, I’ve helped launch the ‘Don’t Get Left Behind - Cambridge Colleges Divest Now’ campaign, calling for un-divested Colleges to come into line with the University and commit to full divestment from fossil fuel companies. On a more personal level, I’ve definitely struggled with the mental health effects of the Cambridge term at points, and hope to use this experience to help implement reforms which would make the Cambridge student experience more enjoyable for everyone.
5. How would you engage with students as their representative?
I think it’s so important that the SU is always accurately representing student opinion, and I’d make this a central priority across all of our work. On top of regular CSU Council, I’d set up direct consultations open to all students, students campaigns and JCRs on specific issues to ensure there is never a major SU decision without meaningful student consultation.
6. How do you think student life will change after the pandemic?
I’m so excited for students to be able to get back to all the great aspects of pre-pandemic Cambridge - meeting up with friends from other households and Colleges inside, clubbing, big group trips to Grantchester - especially for people in their first year who haven’t yet been able to experience ‘normal’ Cambridge. But I also think the pandemic has shown us how quickly even a traditional institution like Cambridge can adapt if it has to. I’m really keen that returning to ‘normal’ doesn’t mean accepting the same old unsustainable, relentless work culture of Cambridge. Instead, I’d push ahead with implementing the week 5 reading week by Michaelmas 2022. That way, students can actually take full advantage of a post-COVID Cambridge, as well as engaging more meaningfully with their subject. In terms of workload, ‘normal’ still means a system which needlessly harms student welfare, as well as the quality of our work, and I really want to make sure that changes.
7. Which well-known person inspires you the most?
I absolutely love Alexandria Ocasio Cortez and the way she’s making politics so accessible and fighting for the causes our generation care about, especially by pushing for a Green New Deal. Also the drag queen Bimini Bon Boulash from this series of Drag Race UK has got me through this term so far.
8. What’s your favourite memory of being a student?
Whenever there’s a big event at Junction, I always love the long walk there getting excited for the night ahead, and the embarrassingly drunk walk back.
9. What’s your favourite place in Cambridge?
I really want to say somewhere classy like the Bridge of Sighs, but in reality, pre-COVID, nowhere made me happier than Gardies between 2 and 3am, post-Glitterbomb. More recently, I’ve been loving the Jesus College nature trail, which is such a good place for a head-clear.
10. Tell us two truths and a lie about yourself.
- My campaign slogan is a shortened version of my nickname in my house Facebook group chat, ‘Back, Zak and Crack’
- I have never been inside the UL
- I once only made it about a third of the way up orgasm bridge, and was passing someone showing a friend around Cambridge, and he looked me straight in the eye and turned to his friend and said “Oh, I forgot to explain why this is called Orgasm Bridge”… :(