VP Student Support Interview and Manifesto Analysis: Domi Bačanskaitė

Interview

Guardian: What would you to limit the effects of the proposed cuts to the Disabled Students’ Allowance?

Bacanskaite: First of all, we need to make sure that the University are not cutting the funding to Disability Services, which is obviously a huge problem because we have an increasing number of students, but the funding is being cut as well, so we need to tackle that because the University needs to support those students affected by the cuts to DSA, so that the cuts would not be as much of a problem. But, overall, trying to get the opinions of the students and seeing where support is needed and try to tackle that. I think, at the moment, disabled students are definitely not involved in the decision making and that should be changed.

Guardian: As the University proceeds with the Western Redevelopment consultation over the coming year, what will you do to make sure that the University makes sure that disability access is at the top of their list of priorities?

Bacanskaite: Obviously, liaising with the University, and obviously disability access is very important, but there are a lot of things that we need to think about before building the Western Infirmary campus. At the same time, we need to focus on current issues as well and not just put all the funding into the future and think about future students completely disregarding the issues at hand. Having a representative at every stage of the new campus development to ensure disability access is extremely important. I know at the moment they have been consulting students over the Learning and Teaching Hub that is getting built sooner than the rest of the campus, and they are discussing the design and everything, and as long as we having students pushing for accessibility and pushing for their needs getting met, that is obviously extremely important, and the same goes for the Western Infirmary campus.

Guardian: As VP Student Support, what would to promote the agenda and the work of liberation and equality societies on campus?

Bacanskaite: I think obviously having a lot of societies during Freshers’ Fair is really important, but some people find that they want to join societies later on, so having effective communication and outreach to the wider student community and not just the very closed SRC community as such, so we need get better communication channels. I know Liam was talking about that in his manifesto, having a full-time member of staff responsible for communications and ensuring that the information we have gets out there. Also, we need to talk to clubs and societies and seeing what support they need. That is maybe more VP Student Activities obviously.

Guardian: In your manifesto you talk about the Consent Campaign: is it your intention that consent workshops should be mandatory as it is in other universities in the UK?

Bacanskaite: Yes – definitely. I know there is a meeting on Friday where they will discuss how to go about it so it’s quite difficult to say what we will do because we don’t know what stage it’s going to be at by the time, if elected, I am in office. I think having it as a voluntary thing would not ensure enough reach to students, because once again there will be students who are already interested and already informed and they will attend those workshops, but if we want to make campus a safe space for everyone we need to have every enrolled student to go through that workshop. In which case, in the beginning, it would need to be not only Freshers, but students who are in their later years [of their degree] at the moment, and then every year after [the policy has been implemented]. Maybe not during Freshers’ Week, because it’s already so crammed with all the activities, but having at a week later or something like that for every new student. I think that’s really important because sexual harassment is a problem that we need to tackle.

Guardian: What will you do to make Freshers Week more accessible to students with disabilities?

Bacanskaite: Ensuring that we get in touch with them before they arrive here and they have the help they need. Obviously, students need to inform the University about their disability but that doesn’t necessarily mean that the SRC knows about it. We need to ensure that they feel welcome and that they have someone to help with accessing the events, maybe, just meeting them beforehand, chatting to them. I know there have been ideas from the Disability Service about a buddy system, but I do not know if we have the time or the resources to put that in place before Freshers’ Week, but it’s something to look into if only for that week, to make sure that they know that they’ve been taken care of, and not just kind of ‘these events are happening but it’s up to you to make it to them’.

Guardian: What is your view on the need for a Religion Equality Officer on the SRC?

Bacanskaite: I think that’s something to definitely be discussed, and especially with the religious communities already on campus, to see if they feel represented, and if not, how that can be changed. Admittedly, that’s not something that I’m very well informed about, as I am not very religious myself, but that doesn’t mean that the SRC should just ignore the issue and hope that somebody else takes care of that, so I am really open to discussing that and seeing what could be done about it.

Guardian: How do you intend to promote the green agenda if you are elected to the SRC Executive, and how do you intend to make sure that the University does the same by appointing somebody or a group of people to promote the green agenda on behalf of the University?

Bacanskaite: The Glasgow University Environmental Sustainability Team has been doing a lot of work like the Go Green Week at the moment and I would want to put those kinds of events on together with GUEST. With the new campus, obviously that’s something else to be taken into account. I think that the SRC in general needs to campaign on many issues on a more national level and not just within the University, as much as it’s important. We are not in the NUS, which means that our voice doesn’t get heard nationally unless we make it heard, and that’s one of those things. The Divestment campaign has been really successful but we need to push for the University to actually implement the changes, and work to challenging them and not just working with them.

Analysis

Compared to her rival, Bacanskaite has relatively less experience on the SRC. She has served as Charities, Clubs and Societies Officer for a year, meaning that she had responsibility for managing society affiliation, grant provision, and organising the occasional charity event. Although she has been on the SRC for a shorter period of time than her opponent in this election, it is possible that she has done more in that time. An active member of GU Amnesty International committee, she has a presence on campus that could prove useful to her as VPSS

Like most of the candidates in this year’s elections, she vows to ‘hold regular drop-in sessions’ and ‘increase the visibility of the services available to students.’ These are not necessarily bad ideas, but are they proactive enough to engage those students who pay little or no attention to the SRC? Currently a major national issue, Bacanskaite has committed to running compulsory workshops on sexual harassment and consent, which ‘every new student’ would have to attend. This has recently become common practice at other British universities, and the principle underpinning the policy is sound, but it is not entirely clear how it would actually be implemented. If all matriculated students would have to attend these workshops, then Bacanskaite would need the support of the University in order to compel students to do so. Without that support, this policy could be a non-starter.

Bacanskaite has committed to liaising with Counselling and Psychological Services to ‘ensure that student feedback is taken into account when making changes to the service.’ The outgoing VPSS has worked with CAPS to improve the quality of the service they provide, and a number of changes have already been made. It might be better for Bacanskaite to review the impact of those changes before committing to further changes which may, or may not, be necessary. Encouraging any student service to incorporate feedback from students is a promising sign though.

Perhaps the least controversial aspect of her manifesto is the promise to ‘keep up having dogs on campus with slots available for students during stressful times of deadlines and exams.’ Who could possibly disagree (expect perhaps those who are allergic to dogs)? On a more serious note, however, Bacanskaite pledges to cooperate with the Disability Service in ‘tackling the isolation that disabled students often face.’ Whoever becomes VPSS will have to do something to address that problem. There is every reason to believe that Bacanskaite is the best person to do it, but it is worth nothing that her rival, Una Marie Darragh, is currently the Disability Equality Officer on the SRC, and will already have the relevant connections needed to solve the problem.