“The University of Surrey Students Union has, for the first time, dedicated representatives for minority groups on campus. LGBT+, POC, Disabled and Non-UK Students disproportionately face barriers to accessing higher education, and experience discrimination and mental health conditions compared to their counterparts. It is my hope that the new Liberation Committee will not only ensure that the views and identities of these minority communities are included in the decision-making process within the Students’ Union – but that it will also be a committee that empowers change for their minority groups, ensuring that all students here at Surrey can study and access the services they require, no matter how they identify.” – Ricki Hewitt, proposer of the Liberation Committee motion and LGBT+ Representative.
Last year, at the Student’s Union Annual Members Meeting (AMM) in May 2017, a motion was passed to form a new Liberation Committee. This was to ensure that the Union was hearing the voices of the typically underrepresented groups within the university. From this year onwards, we’re holding open meetings and electing representatives for LGBT+ students, disabled students, non-UK students and people of colour (POC).
The representatives of each specific group were elected on Wednesday 18th and Thursday 19th October, and will be holding their first meeting on Thursday 2nd November, which is open for any student to attend.
The committee will report into the Union Executive committee, and any other relevant Zone Committee dependent on the issues raised. The Sabbatical officers may also feel necessary that they represent these views further in University meetings.
The importance of the Liberation Committee is to ensure that we are fairly representing everyone at Surrey, and that everyone should feel open and comfortable to come forward with any issue from any background.
I also managed to catch up with Vice-President Voice Alex Harden on the significance of this Liberation Committee.
Alex Harden, Vice-President Voice
Why is it important that we have a group of Liberation Officers as an addition to the previous union structure?
Having a team of Liberation Reps means that year-on-year, we’ll have representation for different sections of the student community. This means we’ll have new ways of engaging and representing the full breadth of diversity at Surrey.
How will they fit with our Union Structure of the full elected committee, and Union Exec?
The Liberation Committee sits across all four Zones of the Union and will have representatives from Voice, Support, Community, and Activity. Having the Zones involved too ensures effective representation across all areas of student life, and will improve the Union’s efficiency when it comes to taking action. The Union President, Saskia, will chair the committee and work with the Union’s Executive members to support our Liberation Reps throughout the year.
What action will we see from the Liberation Officers going forward?
Once a term, we’ll be working with each of our Liberation Reps to organise open meetings to discuss the key issues for the students they represent. After that, all of the Reps will come together with the President and members of each Zone to share their feedback and put plans in place.
SUBCULTURED asked members of the Liberation Committee about their new roles:
Ricki Hewitt, LGBT+ Representative
I’m Ricki (he/him), a second-year student in the School of Health Sciences here at the University of Surrey. I’m currently the President of the LGBT+ Society and LGBT+ Representative on the new Liberation Committee.
“A couple of key issues I wish to work on this year are: 1) Ensuring the union and university recognise the risk LGBT+ students face, and working to make sure services are accessible to everyone; 2) Ensuring that union officers, sport and society committees receive the training and support they need with a clear approach and support policy surrounding LGBT+ awareness events and support for their students; 3) Ensuring sanitary bins are provided in every toilet across campus, because some men menstruate; and work with the union on its policy surrounding trans and nonbinary toilets.”
Nathaniel ‘Nat’ Nelson-Williams, Black POC Representative
“Hi, I’m Nathaniel and I’m a first year Management with Marketing student. I’m a huge film fan, and I enjoy reading and writing screenplays in my downtime when I’m not running or competing in sports.
Since joining Surrey this September, I’ve become more involved in the Union having applied for Course Rep; joined five societies and two sports clubs; prepared to found a new society; signed up to the Opinion Panel; and run for Liberation Rep.
Personally, experiencing the benefits of broadening representation in secondary school and college was my main motivation for running for the Liberation Rep role here at Surrey. Every student deserves to be heard by their institution; and so the notion of a committee dedicated to representing underrepresented student groups at university was something I knew I’d truly love to be a part of.
As a Liberation Rep, I will work to tackle all forms of marginalization and underrepresentation on and off campus to ensure that the voice and experiences of my student group are truly heard by our Union and our university; as are my highlighted areas of issue for this academic year.
I’m very optimistic at the prospect of the Liberation Committee and the work we will do moving forwards, and I’m excited for the year.”
Diana Dakik, Arab POC Representative
“Hello! My name is Diana and I’m a Lebanese-Zambian international 4th year Veterinary Bioscientist. I really want to improve the communication between international groups and the union, particularly the Arab groups, to ensure better and smoother integration. My hope is that this would improve everyone’s time here and really showcase what the arab culture has to offer Surrey.”
Monique Botha, Disable Representative
“My name is Monique Botha and I am a doctoral student in the Psychology department.
Within my role, there are are a couple things that I would like to do in my role;
I would like to coordinate the voices of many students over issues they are already expressing; such as the support available to students with mental health issues, hidden physical disabilities such as chronic illnesses, and physical access to places on campus that still remind inaccessible.
I am hoping to be a person that students, whether undergraduate or postgraduate, can approach to say there is this barrier for people like me in the University that needs addressing, and I can bring that forward to the Union as the disability representative and actually work to pull those barriers down, to help create an equal learning and research environment.”
Huda Shahid Ali, Non-UK Representative
“Hi, I’m Huda, a second year Law student. Being Indian, yet growing up in Saudi Arabia meant that there was a constant struggle trying to set up a home away from home. The struggle continued as I travelled to a new country for university. My experience as a first year non-UK student was jolting and I found it difficult adapting to a new atmosphere. Going through everything on my own, I realised I wouldn’t want the same for any other Non-UK student. For this reason, my primary goal is to set a support system for international students where we can tackle problems as a team. This will provide a platform to voice our opinions and ensure helping hands so we can improve student satisfaction at Surrey.”
Asian POC Representative – TBC due to deferred election.
Written and compiled by Olivia Mitchell, Exec Voice Zone Officer.