Upon leaving office last week, former GUSA President Vivek Pandya stated the role is about delivering for students and not “cosying up” to the university.
TW: mention of gender-based violence
GUSA hasn’t exactly had a noble history. The sexual allegations brought against Paddy Everingham, a previous GUSA President, showed that the culture that enabled Everingham’s accused actions needed addressing with immediate effect. Vivek Pandya, the former GUSA President who handed over the ropes to his successor Mario Killmann as of July 1, had set a goal for re-branding the GUSA name during his time in office.
Yet, by wanting to trigger necessary change within the union, Pandya had to play politics with the university. He often found it frustrating when he was told no.
“The job comes with a lot of baggage because you’re a politician,” he said. “The job itself is brilliant and it’s topped off my Glasgow sporting experience more than I could ever imagine. But I do feel like I’ve got a bitter taste in my mouth from a university and people point of view.
“When I’ve been told ‘no’, I’ve learned to not get upset, as frustrating and demoralising as it can be, you’ve just got to keep pushing. I guess that’s the case in any kind of work, particularly a charity. You have to take the wins but you can’t be disheartened by the setback.”
Pandya argued that his successor needs to remember that he is first and foremost a unionist.
“He is a unionist, or should be a unionist and if he focuses on that and doesn’t get roped into the delivery aspect too much and focuses on supporting students as the best he can, then he’ll have done his job very well. The university might not like that from him, or they might get frustrated with him because he’s held them accountable. Whether that’s to do with kit, facilities, or anything else we’ve done this year.”
Warning against being a subject of the ivory tower, Pandya commented, “in the union, you’ve been elected to represent students and not cosy up to the university.” He also cautioned the four unions at the university to remember who they’re fighting for and who they’re fighting against: “I think the thing to remember with the four unions is that the fighting isn’t against each other. It’s against the university. And unfortunately, at times, the unions are pitted against each other.
“The university is slow at changing and is quite stubborn and obstinate at times. It’s important to have our students focused in mind and we should hold the university accountable. Four voices are louder than one or two.”
Pandya hopes that in the future the four unions still exist at the university as they all offer different things that deliver for Glasgow’s diverse student body. He also urged that GUSA should become an independent charity like the SRC.
When he came into office, Pandya was focused on starting the necessary conversations addressing gender-based violence, but also equality and inclusion in sport. The success of the Beyond Equality initiative has resulted in a reduced number of GBV cases being brought to GUSA. However, Pandya warns that he has only begun to sow the seeds in terms of addressing the problem.
“From what has gone well, there have been fewer cases of GBV that have come forward this year. Maybe more clubs have dealt with any of these cases or whether GUSA’s work has resulted in a genuine decline in GBV in sports clubs. We’ve done a lot of work on conduct and we’ve empowered clubs to do a lot of things themselves when previously they didn’t have the confidence to do so. We’ve revamped the welfare training, so welfare convenors aren’t becoming club counsellors but are more like child protection and safeguarding officers.
“I’ve not fixed anything – I’ve started a conversation that wasn’t happening before. I’ve only had a brief amount of time this year. Mario is going to continue the Beyond Equality work.
“We’ve managed to secure funding for the next five years to run similar workshops like we have this year and have the initial funds for GUSA culture, which will help enable the union in tackling gender-based violence on campus which has been a major problem. But recently we’ve only just heard about the report on racism within English cricket. So who knows where we’ll be in five years’ time regarding racism and sport, and other areas including transgender rights and inclusion in sport.”
In the future, Pandya hopes that the university acts on the recommendations provided by GUSA this year to improve the sporting experience at Glasgow. He stated that there needs to be investment in another indoor facility like The Stevenson Building, more specialist staff—particularly to increase international student involvement with university sport—and for intramural to be introduced as part of the university’s sporting culture.
“Intramural would bring campus life together which would help build that Glasgow identity we love. For example, playing in a 5-a-side football team with friends or from faculties against other teams, like the Engineering society playing against Portuguese society,” he said.
“In 15 years’ time, I hope that the university has looked at GUSA’s sports strategy and invests time, money, and resources into staff, clubs, and infrastructure to really push sport for both performance and recreational sport.
“We need to get an understanding of what students want, otherwise they will go and join places that are cheaper.”
The best moments from his year in office were GUSA Ball, winning Taxis Cup, Varsity, and the Men’s Scottish Cup. So whilst his year in office has centred around addressing much of the problematic culture that has characterised GUSA in the past, Pandya walks away from Glasgow with some fond memories.
Reflecting on his journey, Pandya said that learning to be persistent as a unionist was one of his key takeaways.
“One of the hardest things to do is be persistent. Does that make me a good unionist? Sure. Does that make me a frustrating colleague? Undoubtably. But I think in this job, you have to keep on fighting for what you believe is right, and yes, it will rub up a lot of people the wrong way. It can be very frustrating for them to have to deal with your nuisance.”
Change doesn’t come without determination, persistence, and disruption. Pandya hopes that his work is not only continued by his successor but with the work of the future presidents to come. Like in all areas of our society and university life, sport needs to have equality, parity, equity, and inclusion if it is to fully represent the diversity of Glasgow’s student body.