Guardian: What have you achieved so far during your time on the GUU Board and as Honorary Secretary?
Slater: I’ve been on the board for two years now, firstly as PSM and then Honorary Secretary. My job is very hands on, dealing with the day to day running of the place, as well as the bigger things like Freshers’ Week and Daft Friday, which fall under my remit. Both were really successful and we were able to use the old building effectively by streamlining the events.
Guardian: How do you intend to oversee and manage the completion of the new Hive extension being built at the GUU?
Slater: Over the last couple of years, the Presidents have been spearheading the development, and Owen’s done a huge amount of design work on that with various people. Until September, it’s about keeping the pressure on the University. They want to finish in time for Freshers’ Week as well, but we need to make sure they know how important to us it is that it is ready by then. There’ll be a lot of meetings, a lot of chat and a lot of teething issues, but I think I’ve got a lot of experience in terms of running the GUU’s club nights, which has involved a lot of things to consider in terms of security and stewarding, and that’s been my responsibility this year. To put a whole new building on the side of that really needs someone who can think about all of those things.
Guardian: You talk about wanting to include an LGBT club night at the Hive as well as a language Café in the Union. What are your reasons for these pledges?
Slater: The new club is a blank canvass. The next Board will be incredibly exciting because it has this new building for which we can come up with a new scheme of entertainment, and I think there’s a place for an LGBT night on campus, weekly, maybe just monthly, but we’ll definitely have a brand-new nightclub and it would be good to provide for everyone. In terms of the Language Café: we’ve now got a new International Society which we haven’t really engaged with much yet and so it would be good to help them become established. The Language Café is an event where you just come down, have tea or coffee and chat in different languages, which would be great to see become much bigger, much more regular and also make it our event again.
Guardian: You mention that the GUU is seen as unwelcoming to some students. Why do you think this is and how would you change this perception?
Slater: Since I came to the GUU in first year, things have changed; I think just the atmosphere of the place is a lot more friendly, but there are still people out there who have never used the place and base their perception of it on what they’ve heard or what’s happened in the past. It’s important to get all these people in so they can see it’s not like that because it is very welcoming. There are other things we can do: have more diverse events, focus on things that are not necessarily alcohol-related and make sure that the new club doesn’t become our main focus, because everything else we do has to remain important. We’ve got a bit of a big scary building, I suppose, and if you’ve never been inside or spoken to any of us then it may appear unwelcoming. The new building should help us look less intimidating and give the GUU a new look to a
Guardian: You declined to attend the controversial Dayak Dinner held in the GUU last semester. Why was this?
Slater: Well, the dinner was private and was hosted by a board member for a group of friends essentially, and not everyone on the Board or committees were invited. I was, but didn’t want to attend because I didn’t feel particularly close to those people.
Guardian: So there wasn’t any principle behind it?
Slater: (Pause) For this dinner… no. In the last few years there was a culture of guys’ dinners and girls’ dinners, where all the Board was invited to their respective one, as well as there being mixed dinners, and people seemed to enjoy that. But it’s not really what people want anymore and times are changing so it’s not something people are so interested in anymore. But if it is a group of friends who want to meet up and who all happen to be male then I think that’s fine.
Guardian: Yet you talk about the perception of the GUU, so don’t you think single sex dinners exacerbate that negative image?
Slater: I think it depends on the dinner… because if you see a group of old gentlemen in the building having dinner then it looks bad, but then you find out they’re really old friends from years ago and just want to meet up.
Guardian: But perhaps to the outsider, the people you want to attract to the Union, what is the difference between, say, a single sex dinner like the Dayak and the 139 Dinner?*
Slater: Yeah it does looks bad, doesn’t it? (Pause) The 139 Dinner was obviously very damaging, but the people involved in the Dayak are just friends wanting to meet up, just like how the men’s or women’s Hockey teams want to meet up sometimes.
Guardian: So we won’t be seeing any action being taken on single sex dinners under your potential presidency then?
Slater: Wouldn’t like to say anything certain, no. But I don’t want to start any more single sex dinners though.
Guardian: Moving on then. What is it that you could specifically bring to the role of GUU President?
Slater: It’s about direction. The year coming up has so many things to consider and it needs someone who can lead from the front and motivate the rest of the board, who will be very new, and gather them into a team to lead the GUU through the next year. What sets me apart is the experience I have, the organisational skills and the ability to think about the whole picture and make sure everything gets done on time.
*The 139 Dinner was a dinner held in the GUU for the 139 members who voted against allowing women membership at GUU. The dinner was banned after accusations of vandalism.
Slater’s capitalised buzzwords, ‘PASSION’, ‘DEDICATION’ and ‘VISION’ that frame his manifesto do little to dispel the air of banality that surrounds them. However, he tells us that the Union has “changed remarkably since my first year”. It is true; GUU is changing, and for the better. He wants to continue that change.
Slater lists his previous achievements on the Board of management, which include the success of Daft Friday 2014, and the almost biblical image of the GUU serving a thousand students breakfast the morning after. He also talks of his input into the GUU’s new Strategic Plan, a document that will be setting the agenda for the Union’s development for the next few years.
When we look at his ‘vision’ for the future, we begin with Slater’s desire for an LGBT club night. Not only does it strengthen the bond between the LGBT+ society and the GUU, it also improves the perception of the Union. It is something that would be a positive move not only for the Union but the University as a whole, being able to cater for the campus’ LGBT population.
The addition of the Language Café to the manifesto has a similar inclusive and progressive feel to the LGBT policy of Slater. It can only be a good thing for the Union to try and attract and make International students feel welcome at the GUU. This is pertinent when Slater talks about the negative perception of the Union. He describes it as “the most welcoming place on campus” but never really explains how he is going to get people to that. All he says on the matter is he wants students to feel included. Slater really needs to tell us more than just he wants people to think better of the Union.
Change can come from the Strategic Plan, which is being kept secret until the upcoming Annual General Meeting at the GUU. Slater talks about how he wants to ensure it is implemented properly and effectively by setting up a committee. Slater has a reputation for getting things done and so there is little reason not to believe him on the Strategic Plan.
Overall, Rory Slater’s proposals are not outrageous or revolutionary. They are a quiet but strong collection of ideas that have genuinely positive intentions for the Union. He is obviously a candidate who cares strongly about the GUU, not for his own gain, but for the good of the Union. There is a sense pervading throughout of faith in his union, however, especially in terms of the perception of the GUU, that Slater is unable to see the Union from an outside perspective, to see it as an institution that has to tackle its flaws rather than give itself a PR makeover.