As your Student Officers prepare to say goodbye, we asked them to reflect on the past year. Here's George on his year as SU President.
Last year I ran to be Students’ Union President because I wanted to be able to be a part of driving much-needed change at Durham. My experiences as a student here were in many ways fantastic, I was able to engage in incredible opportunities outside of my degree and live in a beautiful part of the world, meeting lots of amazing people through the range of student communities that Durham fosters. But I also faced significant barriers at Durham personally, and saw many of my friends struggle at an institution which promotes a student experience that can be inaccessible to many prospective and current students. I believed that Durham could be better and I knew that the changes we needed to make wouldn’t be possible without a strong Students’ Union, fighting for students’ interests and always on their side.
Throughout this year I’ve worked hard to maintain this faith that Students’ Unions and student politics can, when done right, transform the lives of students. This isn’t always easy. We’re often told, both inside and outside of Durham, that student politics doesn’t really matter and that student representatives lack the power to achieve real, lasting change. However, as I come to the end of my year as President, I am more confident than ever about the vital role played by Students’ Unions in being agents of change, at Durham and on campuses across the world. I’m proud to have led a Students’ Union that isn’t afraid of its place as a political student rights organisation, standing up for students and doing what is right, even when that isn’t always easy.
This year I’ve introduced two main areas of priority work: supporting student workers by campaigning to defend and enhance their rights and creating a community strategy for Durham SU, strengthening our ties with key stakeholders and promoting students’ interests across the wider community. I’m incredibly proud of the progress we have made, which I believe will have a lasting impact.
On student workers, we’ve campaigned to make students who work alongside their studies more aware of their rights in the workplace and how to exercise them. We’ve promoted an online hub of resources, our student worker rights quiz, taken part in National Student Employment Week and celebrated inspirational student workers through the Student Employee of the Year Awards. Our lobbying has also brought about a step-change in the University’s approach to the students it employs. As directed by University Council, the Casual Workers group led by the Deputy Vice-Chancellor has considered the rights and remuneration of student staff as a key part of its remit. I am confident that the group will soon be bringing forward robust proposals meaning pay rises for students who undertake bar work and postgraduates who teach, as well as making their rights as University employees clear.
I’m also proud of our Durham SU Community Strategy, developed in partnership with partners across the University, sector and wider community, and recently approved by our Board of Trustees. The strategy sets out an ambitious vision for our external-facing work over the coming years, making Durham a great city to live in, giving back to the community, making sure all students have a good home and ensuring our representatives truly speak for students as members of the Durham community.
I have been particularly proud to have been crowned the winner of the Officer pancake-flipping competition and egg-rolling race, as well as being praised by an esteemed sector colleague for my ‘consistently great Twitter game’. On a more serious note, my year as President has given me the opportunity to articulate the barriers I have as a student with disabilities, and which are faced by many students every day. In debates on lecture capture and inclusive marking, I spoke about my personal experiences, and I hope that by doing so I have been able to draw more attentions to these issues and make life just a little better for students with disabilities that study at Durham in future.
I’d like to thank all of the incredible Students’ Union staff that I’ve been privileged to work with this year. As Officers we get to take credit for the work produced by Durham SU, but none of what we do would be possible without the monumental support they provide, allowing us to tackle our roles every day feeling powerful and confident. I was also incredibly lucky to serve alongside a phenomenal team of student leaders – Charlie, Meg, Saul and David – you’ve all achieved a huge amount and your dedication to improving the lives of the students you represent amazes me every day – I know you’ll do great things with whatever you choose to do next.
Finally, I’m so excited to watch from afar how Durham SU continues to move forward over the coming year. We’ve elected an exceptional set of student leaders and I know that Kate and the team will do superb job of representing Durham students and driving forward this exciting organisation next year.