A LEADER IS A DEALER IN HOPE
In 2018, Ayah Benberna, Erica Ramos, Rahma Ali and Lucy Holland were elected to lead the Students’ Union for the full academic year. They were championed by the Students’ Union for being the first all-female leadership team. Their successful election campaigns depended largely on their manifestoes, the full details of which can be found on the MDX- SU website.
According to a blog post on their website, this was an “amazing year” for the student officer team at MDXSU, with a series of successful campaigns, schemes and programmes to prove this.
Both Ayah Benberna and Rahma Ali promised in their manifestos to address concerns around catering, specifically that it was too expensive and did not offer enough variety for students with specific dietary requirements. Following this, several of the catering outlets on campus increased the dietary options that they provide. This included Streat, Broosters and Pizza i Made, who all introduced Halal options into their menu’s in December 2018. Streat also introduced a Gluten Free Policy which added a disclaimer onto their menu stating that the gluten free food they provided was non-packaged and therefore may be contaminated. Meanwhile, food and drink prices at all catering outlets remained stationary, despite attempts to decrease prices from the student officers.
In response to this, Middlesex University have referred us to a statement from August 2019 by James Kennedy, Chief Financial Officer at the University at the time of this statement, now acting as Interim Vice-Chancellor. This statement was concerning the renewed contract between the University and Chartwells, the catering provider, where it was admitted that catering “has not been at the standard that we would wish to serve the diverse needs of our students and staff.” The new contract, however, has outlined several ways in which they hope to “significantly enhance the catering experience for Middlesex over the next seven years” which includes more options for Kosher and Halal, as well as a 10% reduction in overall costs at their cafes and restaurants. Mr Kennedy felt “confident” that these changes, as well as the many others mentioned, would “provide a much needed step change in our on-campus catering.” Chartwells have been contacted for a comment on this but have not yet responded.
The ‘We Need To Talk’ campaign was launched to focus on mental health awareness and support. This was following promises in the manifestoes of Lucy Holland, Rahma Ali and Erica Ramos to increase provisions for students struggling with these issues. This campaign saw the introduction of the monthly ‘Chill Out Hub’, a place to relax, pet dogs and get advice on mental health services. Later they introduced a series of events entitled ‘Make It Happen’ in partnership with the Students’ Union itself. This was a recurring weekly drop-in session during the exams period which provided a relaxing atmosphere for students and provided them with advice on how to manage stress and prepare for deadlines. The ‘Make It Happen’ also included a visit from the charity All Dogs Matter who brought several of their rescue dogs onto campus to help students relieve stress. This was despite the failure to implement the “kitten and tea rooms” promised by Rahma to help destress students in her manifesto.
Ayah and Lucy both prioritised issues regarding housing and promised to try and provide more resources and support for students. This included those in university accommodation and privately rented houses. Together, they attended a meeting with the London’s mayor’s housing team to discuss selective licensing and the effect this has on students. There they had the opportunity to consult with London Citizens, a regional chapter of Citizens UK, a community organising group focusing on social justice and democracy. There has been no news of any progress on this since the initial meeting. We have contacted Citizens UK for a comment on this but have not yet received a response.
Lucy will continue to strive for better quality and more affordable housing for the students in her second term as student officer in MDXSU.
Rahma Ali and Erica Ramos aimed to increase awareness and protection surrounding hate crime, harassment and student safety on campus. Rahma’s campaign following this focused largely on academic discrimination, where she partnered with the Disabled Students’ Liberation group to highlight hidden fees facing disabled students throughout their time at university.
Erica’s focus was on her ‘We Believe You’ campaign, which pledged to support victims and survivors of sexual harassment and violence. The campaign promoted a zero-tolerance culture towards this issue. Despite gaining momentum fast, the campaign saw little success over the year, and shifted its focus to sexual health awareness. Partnering with the Burlesque Society, Erica continued to host The Night of Controversy, an evening of performances and activities surrounding sexual health awareness. This event originally started two years ago and aimed then to promote sexual health and raise funds for an LGBT+ charity. The evening occurred several times in the past year, where it raised money for the Terrance Higgins Trust, the UK’s leading HIV and sexual health charity. The Students’ Union have stated that in 2018-19, the Night of Controversy events “also incorporated some of the ‘We Believe You’ campaign by talking about consent/ sexual harassment.” However, according to Petria Koumi, Vice President of the Burlesque Society, the Terrance Higgins Trust was selected because of its focus on sexual health awareness, and the evening was therefore geared in this direction. She explained that there was “no mention of sexual harassment” in any of the meetings held to plan these events and was unaware that the campaign was intended to address these issues. There was no record of any successful campaigns focusing specifically on hate crime or student safety.
All four of the Student Officers were responsible for a collaboration with Love Not Landfill, a campaign to donate unwanted clothes to charity, focused specifically on young adults living in London. This project saw the acquisition of a clothes bank on campus, which is one of only nine set up by this organisation in London. They also continued work on the MDXSU Community Placement Scheme, which successfully placed four Middlesex University students in paid placement positions this past year.
Some of their other successes included the establishment of two new student communities, the HealthCare Students Community and Erasmus/Exchange Community, and the installation of four extra microwaves on campus.
Several promises from each of the elected Student Officer’s manifestos saw no action during the year. This included aims to introduce more modernised learning spaces, provide extra funds for students and ensure earlier release of timetables. There were also promises of a sexual health clinic, a helpline for students on placement, a monthly grocery market, and a student-led arts magazine which all failed to make any movement.