Interview: Ondrej Hajda, candidate for director of representation

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The director of representation, along with the Association president, is responsible for representing student interests to the University and external organisations, including the government. They are helped by the Students’ Representative Council in their activities, and they in turn control the SRC’s discretionary fund.

Read our analysis of Mr Hajda’s manifesto here.

Why do you want to be director of representation?

Good question. I think, it’s hard to summarise it into very few thingies. But I think that it is an amazing job this year, and I would like to continue with it. I know there were some things because all the roles, if its president, DoRep, DoSDA, the roles grew enormously every single year. Everyone has different priorities, and it’s just like, what do you want to do? I just like have some things that I really, really want to focus on.

What I want to focus on: I think one of the issues that Teddy, he was really passionate about, was mental health and stuff like that. He focused on that, that’s perfect, but one of the things that I was kind of missing, was the other part of student welfare, which was, for example, we didn’t manage to have the sexual awareness week this year. Which, I think, is such a shame: I’ve been condom rep for two years and it’s amazing! Come on, raise the awareness. And the other thing is that not many other people know about it and the Union hands out free condoms and you can actually have advice from the sexual health clinic here. And you have people come in like ‘Oh, okay, what can I do?’ So again this is like student welfare again focused on mental health because it’s like we see it throughout the year there are so many problems. Like with the condensed semester in semester one, so, focus over there.

Throughout this year, you’ve managed to do a fair amount of work with the library, and the school presidents and the peer proofreading scheme. How do you feel this year has gone for you? Is there anything you didn’t achieve that you wanted to?

There are – exactly, as you start saying what I did, all the projects started, but I didn’t managed to finish them. With the library survey, I started it, now we have the data, we know what we can achieve with it. The library is keen to do that but there is actually somebody who needs to go on with the approach and say see this is data, students want extended opening hours for example, and now actually push the library to do that. Because the discussion, like Amanda started the discussion, oh we should probably have 24-hour library but as well we should open 8 am through 2 am. This data has been there for a while, it’s not anything innovative, but it’s just the library’s saying ‘We will do it’, but no, you actually need to do it. I’m running on it, and I want you to do that. And with the data from the survey, I think it’s much more achievable now.

How do you think your experience as SRC education officer has prepared you for this sabbatical role?

Thank you for the question, because if you ask Teddy or Amanda – I worked with both and I was class rep my second year and [this year] I was the education officer – I think the main part of the DoRep role is education. Although it covers things like welfare, equal opportunity, democracy, the main part is education. Oodles and oodles of meetings. It gave me a great insight. First, class repping, which is like the representation on the school level, but also like when you work as the SRC education officer, you suddenly sit on the University-wide issues. We had, every other week, there was a meeting with school presidents, we met frequently with the proctor, the deans, so I actually have the idea and I know what’s going on and what projects have been put forward and what needs finishing.

Is there anything specific you want to finish?

The first thing is the library, the opening hours. The second thing is, we are trying to work – it was me, Fay, and Teddy – we started with the school presidents’ forum and Inclusive Learning Policy. The Inclusive Learning Policy is basically – we mention it at SRC as well – it’s the idea that we will agree with the University, something that happened in Edinburgh, I talked to Alex the VP for education over in Edinburgh about it, Teddy talked to him about it as well. The Inclusive Learning Policy is [that] we want materials about the module at least four weeks before the module starts for the semester. So you actually know what the handbook is, what are the essay topics, you know what are the readings, right? One of my major issues this semester was I wanted to have a head start for my readings for my semester two readings. I e-mailed the professor like ‘Is there any recommended textbook I should look into’, and they were like ‘Yeah there is, I’ll e-mail you eventually’. They e-mailed me after the break which not relevant.

Once you have this policy and it’s University-wide agreed, you actually know what you want to do. And one of the first things is have the module booklet ready at least four weeks ahead, and it will be distributed free to all students. Another thing is audio recording of lectures. Of lectures, not tutorials, of lectures. It’s allowed; you don’t even have to ask for permission of the lecturer. It’s allowed, but only for your own purposes. If you start distributing it, put it on the internet, this is a breach, it’s academic misconduct. I think it’s really helpful because loads of people learn better if they actually hear again when you study – it’s like, you can read it, but then you can actually hear it as well, and I think loads of people, it would help loads of people. The other thing is the digitisation of reading lists: I know the library did amazing work about it, but it’s just like: please, can we have the reading list at least four weeks in advance to have the head start.

The other thing is, the study spaces. It connects a lot with the library, but also, there’s this project with key permanent indicators that the University evaluates how well it copes and it’s more for internal review of the University. But one of the issues there is, we want to add study spaces, it’s one of the key preference indicators, and say every study is entitled to, and then we would pick a number of desk hours. This is when a student has access to a desk – a study space – with a power plug, where they can actually work. So it can be either library, it can be computer lab, it can be something different.

Can you elaborate on the types of workshops which you intend to provide to help with stress relief?

Completely. It was something over the summer, a load of plans, and one of the main priorities from the education committee was mental health. However, then, with the creation of the [wellbeing officer] position, I outsourced it to Avalon. Ideas that we had: having brain food workshops. Just to tell students ‘this food is useful for you’, like if you eat this, it can help you. Another thing like that is a cramming session, and there is deep breathing, where you can actually relieve your stress, workshops like that. But the brain food – I think it’s an amazing idea. You know, you study for an exam, you eat junk food: that doesn’t really help you, does it. It’s just like nom, nom, nom chips. You want to eat something healthy, but also it can be really complicated because you don’t have the time, so it needs to be something easy. So I would love to invite a specialist – I’ve already talked to somebody from the Sports Centre, there are some people who do fitness, eating for fitness, and diet, and also with student minds, they have a specialist from Edinburgh. So I’ll talk to them, I have a contact for them, and trying to do something with that. I would love to have this done for this exam period, not just the next year. These are things that you can start but then you can just go on with them, it’s not something that there is a one-off event, because there are always new students and stuff like that.

To jump back to something you mentioned earlier, Sexy Health Week has caused a lot of contention. I know you enjoyed being condom rep, but how do you plan to overcome the contention involved?

First thing, with the Sexy Health Week, is exactly as you said: loads of people are like ‘What is this?’ But on the other hand, I think it’s the responsibility of the Union to actually raise awareness of this. And especially provide information – and look, the information is there. We are not forcing you to have sex, we are not forcing you to do something you don’t want, and we want you to know where the information lies and who you can ask for help if you have a problem.

What will your women in leadership scheme involve?

Okay so it’s actually something that I talked to Ali, I talked to Chloe, and I talked to Tina from the FemSoc, and it says, I don’t know, you might have followed it on Twitter, but there is the initial bit that is #sheshouldstand. It’s basically an initiative of mostly English universities and English unions to try to encourage women to take up more positions in the unions, like stand for president, stand for other sabbatical positions. The statistics are that only 38 per cent of students’ union presidents are women, which is kind of sad if you look at [that] about 60 per cent of students are women and 40 per cent are men, it’s the normal ratio.

So, what I would like to do, and what are the initiatives that work: well, at other universities, they actually take videos and interview women – it can be students, student officers, presidents, and they say ‘Look, I have done this. You don’t need to be a man to do that, right?’ They say ‘I did a brilliant job’. And if you look at Hibak, she does a brilliant job. Chloe, Ali as well; you want to encourage more people to stand generally in elections but I think we need to focus on the whole women aspect and actually try to – even if you look at the sabbaticals, it is Fay, in the Union sabbaticals, it was Fay, and then Ali stepped up. Otherwise, it’s kind of sad, there were like two women.

You also say in your manifesto that you want to work with the AU president, to tackle sexism, racism, and homophobia in sport. Where have you seen that problem and what do you intend to do about it?

Okay, so this is a big contentious issue. If you look, there is a huge Scottish campaign to tackle especially homophobia in sports, which the government put as one of their priorities with the whole equal marriage bill. I think it’s something we should put in practice here in St Andrews as well. What I would like to imagine with this, is at the beginning of each year, in September, I think it’s either in orientation week or week one, the AU runs workshops that are compulsory for committee members. I would love one of the workshops to be training for someone on the committee to be equality officer, just to have a look at the problem and see – it may not be a problem in your club, but can you think about this issue, how can you maybe approach this problem better? Maybe you will actually see that there are some issues that are not so welcoming to other people.

How do you intend to provide greater recognition to volunteers?

The Union is enormous. You have 130+ societies, you have all the student officers, you have SVS volunteers, me as a member of Charities Campaign, it’s a huge network of people. I think what is missing right now is the feeling that we all belong to the Union. So I would say ‘Oh, I am the psychology society president’ but do they really think they are a member of the Union and they are an active member of the Union? Because they are. And it’s something I would like to stress, if I got the sabbatical position, to actually say, look you are doing amazing work, you are doing this for the Union, you are doing this for the members of the Union. And just say that! If you look at the SSU officers, the SSC officers, the society of presidents, they put more time into their extracurriculars than their degree. I think there needs to be a way to recognise this.

One of the things that already exists is the St Andrews Award, but not many people know about it. The people that know about it, they’re like ‘It’s loads of paperwork and it’s not very straightforward’. To work with the Careers Centre to make this more approachable, to incorporate it into training for volunteers, if we are training every society president, if we are training every officer – look, there is this option, you can get a St Andrews award, you can work towards it, it will appear on your transcript. Something I really like is that if you’re a school president, after the year, it will appear on your transcript after you graduate. The St Andrews Award appears there as well. I would like to look to see if SSC/SRC officers could have something on their transcript as well. Because it’s a huge time commitment, especially if you do amazing work, and as I said, it usually takes up more time than your academic degree.

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