YUSU Election Debate 2016 – Overview

Photo credit: Bethany Lang
Photo credit: Bethany Lang

Yesterday marked the YUSU Candidate’s Debate for the up-coming elections. In anticipation of the cardboard wars which will be happening across campus throughout the coming week, candidates were able to voice their policies towards a live audience of students. After ironing out a few technical difficulties, a team from the Yorker live-blogged and tweeted along with the other spectators. The event was held in the Lounge at James College, and was chaired by Sophie Jewett, University of York alumni and Managing Director at York Cocoa House.

The first candidates to take to the stage were the aspiring Sports Presidents. The overall issues seemed to be introducing mental health care to the University sports sector and improving inclusion. Beth Cash was particularly on the ball, jumping to answer questions. She referenced her infamous campaign video as evidence that she is willing to put herself out there for students. Stephen Bates spoke of a need to build on the athletes that we do have to improve sport as a whole. Isaac Beevor forwarded more investment in smaller sports clubs. Aaron Doherty stated that he was at the forefront of expanding the boxing club, and wants to do this for other clubs too.

The second panel was made up of the Community and Wellbeing candidates – minus Jack Chadwick, who seems to have abstained due to recent allegations publicised by the Yorker itself. The two candidates answering questions were Rosario Neyra, who expressed the need to represent every single student, and Dom Smithies, who stated that his aim was to make every student’s University experience as good as his.

The third and perhaps the most compelling debate was between the candidates for Student Activities Officer. Lucas North, Charlie Watkins, Alex Lusty, Heather Kelly and Dom Elhert made up a full panel, with Golfo Migos unable to attend but still in the running. Lucas urged students to celebrate the north, outlining policies such as the introduction of formal qualifications to help students earn more than a degree. Charlie Watkins advocated societal equality on all levels, whilst Alex Lusty promoted his Society Card policy, which is designed to save students money. Heather Kelly clearly demonstrated her commitment to RAG and Volunteering, expressing her view that enough RAG opportunities are offered, they just don’t receive sufficient publicity. Dom Elhert advocated the ambitious creation of a new YUSU space dedicated specifically to events.

During the session, an audience member asked how the candidates planned to remove the stigma of drinking from sports socials. All candidates saw this as an issue, with Alex asserting that it’s not all about drinking, and explaining how his Society Card will give access to other activities like bowling. Dom plainly stated the need to introduce events that aren’t inherently alcohol based. Another question from the floor asked candidates how they planned to promote student volunteering. Heather, an ambassador for RAG and voluntary work, stated that volunteering could and did fit into University life. Dom disagreed, arguing that many students have enough to think about when studying and doing paid work. He proposed that the way volunteering is offered needs to change, to which Heather agreed.

Lucas clearly felt strongly about the issue of free speech, stating that there is a huge difference between free speech and platforming. Lucas’s overall argument was to stop allowing speakers to platform at the University who will pose a threat to student welfare. Despite Lucas’s strong conviction, Alex responded by expressing a need for controversial speakers in order to facilitate debate – provided it is controlled. Heather added that University is the place to debate issues and remove the taboos associated with certain subjects. Dom, Alex and Charlie left the stage after performing an impromptu Macarena to the delight of Sophie Jewett, who praised their enthusiasm.

Next up were the potential Academic Officers, minus Lisseth Inza. YUSU veteran Thomas Ron (alias Tron) said that he wanted to finish what he had started and add more to that which had been offered already. This included greater care for disabled students and expanding the availability of Years in Industry for the humanities subjects, for example. Tamaki Laycock emphasised diversity and negotiation, and the importance of finding a balance between teaching and research. Thomas Ron disagreed animatedly, as for him the quality of direct teaching is more important. Tron delivered a buoyant performance whereas Tamaki remained collected, even recovering well when Tron reminded her that she studied a Social Science and not a Humanities subject.

After a precise eight minute break, the last session began. The final debate saw the Presidential candidates take to the stage to give an overview of their policies and promote their visions. Ananna Zaman was unable to make the debate due to illness. Only one of the present candidates was a member of  a college other than Vanbrugh.

Oliver Wilson spoke about practicality and improving the cycle routes between Heslington East and Heslington West. Ciaran Morrissey wanted to bring decision making to students, whilst JJ Wilson embarked on a full-scale endorsement of all things digital in order to bring YUSU into the modern age. Habib Nasar stood for better communications, including a petition site with which issues could be put forward. Millie Beach advocated a supportive system which would increase contact between representatives.

The candidates were asked what they had done in terms of college involvement. Millie held the position of Vanbrugh chair last year, and talked about the need to recognise diversity between colleges. Oliver simply said that he had never served in a college JCRC, which he felt reflected the majority of students. Habib was the International Rep for Vanbrugh and believes that college teams have the ability to create a ‘second family’ atmosphere.

When asked their stance on college BME officers, Millie, Oliver and Habib all felt that the decision to have this position belonged to the colleges themselves. JJ differed from this, detecting a current need for BME officers in order to increase representation. After being asked if free speech is more important than student safety, Ciaran quickly reprimanded the questioner for using the word ‘safety’. His assertion that we should not shield people from other’s opinions was met with considerable applause. All candidates agreed that University should foster debate.

In light of recent controversy concerning International Men’s Day, the candidates were asked if was necessary to create a Men’s Officer. The general consensus was that the creation of this position would only cause further conflict and could be better dealt with by the already existing welfare team. Millie said that this was a recurring issue which perhaps needed a compromise such as an equality committee. Habib voiced the importance of empowering women, whilst JJ proposed a referendum to see what the student body really thought.

Sophie closed the debate by informing YorkVision that, sixteen years since she studied at York, they were still a “pain”. She then wished all of the candidates good luck, and announced that the voting was officially open.

You can cast your vote at yusu.org/vote

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Laura Cox

News Editor 2015/2016.