Avila Chidume

Candidate for Vice President Education and Democracy

  • The university must take accountability for its actions.
  • Student's mental health must be a priority alongside education.
  • Personal academic tutors require adequate training to support students.
  • Students must be encouraged to pursue interests.
  • Provide students with the choice on information they receive.

Why vote for me?

Since 2016, I’ve been a proactive member of both the Students’ Union and university. Over the last four years, I’ve built strong relationships with each organisation. For example, my work with Careers and Employability has led to me securing opportunities in several areas I’m passionate about. Additionally, I’m currently representing the University at the Santander Emerging Entrepreneurs competition, which has enabled me to build a strong network of people from all over the UK. If elected, I would utilise my connections and experience to change how students receive opportunities, ensuring their success in their studies and beyond.

Through platforms like Senate and You Make Change, it’s amazing that we are free to voice our opinions on how the university operates. Now more than ever, we need to lobby the University to do more for students within the current pandemic. I am here to help make that happen. COVID-19 has severely impacted the student body, and the University’s responses have severely impacted everyone. Accountability must be had for their poor communication and delays in announcing changes to our learning.

I’m also a strong advocate for individuality. We need to tailor more opportunities for people to help them thrive in the best possible environment. I want to ensure that when students return, they’re mentally prepared for the stress university can cause, and that their PATs have received the correct training to support them. We need to abolish the stigma surrounding asking for help: whether that be from your peers, tutors or requesting extensions. Despite Enabling Services existing, many students are unaware of their services. For most students, their first port of call is their PAT. If their tutor is insensitive or unsupportive, it can create a toxic environment for the student and may result in poor performance or dropping out. I know of many accounts of students being told to drop out or change course by their PATs after disclosing personal issues, which should be against university conduct if they offer no initial help. Working closely with the Advice Centre and other Sabbs, I want to implement mandatory lectures at the beginning of each semester reminding students of all of the services available to them.

Another area for reform is the University’s commitment to helping students secure work experience in non-traditional sectors. COVID-19 has demonstrated that traditional opportunities are no longer viable, and competition is now tougher than ever. Final year students require a lot more support than what is currently provided. It’s important that whilst students are preparing for their final exams, they are provided with information on important deadlines, and given time to apply without having to sacrifice a job opportunity for an exam, or vice versa. During third year, my emails were always flooded with opportunities only available to first years. Students should be allowed to state what additional information they receive via emails. 

Next year will be tough, but I want to help.

 

So, if you want accountability and action, vote me #1 for VP Education & Democracy.

Questions & Answers Ask me a Question

What will you do to protect disabled student's ability to access their education while the pandemic continues and beyond?

I will work to ensure that disabled students are able to communicate to the University their needs. It is certain that many will not feel safe returning to campus and the correct accommodations must be implemented to ensure that they continue to receive the same resources as their peers who will be on campus. This may be done through the continuation of the study fund bursary in order to ensure that students have adequate internet access. The budget should be extended for those requiring additional resources they can only access on campus, such as a second computer monitor, or software allowing them to access information easily. Additionally, services requiring students to be on campus must be moved online, such as the Enabling Services’ study skills sessions and drop-ins. Accessing Government resources will also require support. Simple videos acting as guidelines on how to apply to schemes such as the Disabled Student’s Allowance are not only vital but can be used for many years to come. A collaboration with the Advice Entre and Enabling to set up weekly drop-in sessions to help students apply for funding and DSA would go a long way. The University currently offers VPN/virtual desktops for student accounts, they need to work on setting up something similar mirroring the assistive technology computers in the Assistive Tech suite available in the library. The Student Union should also have licenses for generic assistive technology which can be loaned out to students waiting for their DSA applications to be completed, or waiting for diagnoses to return, in order to reduce disruption in learning.

This question was also asked to Dipam Sengupta, Isaac Makponga, Amina Lechkhab, Grace Lampkin, Kendall Field-Pellow, Katie Ludvigsen, Alexander Beyene, Ijeoma OpokoAnswered by Avila on 19/07/20 12:14

Do you think enabling services actually help people with their disability, special educational needs or mental health effectively?

From my own personal experience, I can say that Enabling Services genuinely try to help students. However, their support is heavily reliant on you having been diagnosed prior to receiving help from them. This approach fails students who may not be able to get medical evidence in time and can place them at a disadvantage. Better training is required for them to help students with invisible illnesses, less visible disabilities and mental health conditions. As with tutors, they should not be allowed to pressure students into suspending their studies without considering the student’s own desires and needs. The current system which entails ‘First Support’ has not been effective and requires reform. The whole system requires re-evaluation to adapt to the new climate which we live in.

This question was also only asked to AvilaAnswered by Avila on 19/07/20 12:13

How do you rate the University of Southampton's policies regarding the Covid-19 outbreak- and what would you have done differently than the current university administration were you in their position?

The University’s response was strongly affected by the Government, a lot of their decisions such as ending term early was in the student’s interest and intended to protect our health. Global pandemics do not happen often, the entire situation was unprecedented. However, when it came to responding to student queries about grading systems and non-detriment policies the University fell short. They failed to properly support students by choosing to take their standard "business as usual" approach to the situation. They should have accepted that current situations could not be adapted to their framework and needed a better approach. Their approach made it extremely difficult for students to adapt to lockdown and to maintain the same level of work which they were able to produce pre-lockdown. Many students struggled, especially those in their final years, and with personal family obligations which made it difficult to access the correct support. The University’s inability to create a single policy that people could turn to was also detrimental, the non-detriment policy should not have been changed as many times as it was, and student academic representatives should not have been left to try fill in the gaps for them. Additionally, during the Easter break the University failed to communicate with students. Pressure was added to the deadlines people were facing, especially those completing their dissertations. While some schools attempted to address concerns weekly, recorded live Q&A sessions would have greatly helped students, especially those living abroad whose statuses are now in question. The University needs to recognise that when students return for the new semester many will have experienced traumatic circumstances due to unhealthy living conditions, having suffered from COVID, and even losing family members and friends from the disease. They are going to need additional mental health support and the university must be prepared to offer it.

This question was also asked to Dipam Sengupta, Isaac Makponga, Amina Lechkhab, Grace Lampkin, Kendall Field-Pellow, Katie Ludvigsen, Alexander Beyene, Ijeoma OpokoAnswered by Avila on 19/07/20 12:17

How will you encourage more University of Southampton students, particularly those who feel disillusioned with student politics, to engage with SUSU's democratic elections?

I believe a lot of students are not aware of the Union’s role. We are so used to seeing updates on social activities being conducted than actual changes within the University and Union that impact students. A larger platform must be given to the VP of Education and Democracy to inform students on their work. It is important to reiterate that students are in control of what issues are raised and presented to the University. Some students feel disillusioned, that the Union has no impact or power, which is not true. However, it should engage more with students instead of leaving them to take time out of their studies and social lives to protest issues that the Union should be representing them on. Students need better reassurance that their voice and votes matter and they produce outcomes when used. A suggestion would be for SUSU to encourage students who are not necessarily seeking involvement in elections to get involved, despite career aspirations. Additionally, SUSU must stop silencing the students who are actively engaged in politics. They must be allowed to lobby on behalf of students who feel disconnected, and most importantly, let them feel able to criticise the system without the fear of being publicly denounced.

This question was also asked to Dipam Sengupta, Isaac Makponga, Amina Lechkhab, Grace Lampkin, Kendall Field-Pellow, Katie Ludvigsen, Alexander Beyene, Ijeoma OpokoAnswered by Avila on 19/07/20 12:19

What would you do in your role as VP Education and Democracy to represent PGR student interests? What research have you done into the specific educational issues facing PGR students?

It is important to begin by acknowledging that these groups have been side-lined and to invite them to discuss what it is they require from the Union, in order to begin working on providing adequate support. During the campaign my team have been helping me contact PGR students and asking them what their experiences have been like. If elected I hope to work closely with existing student officers such as the Joint Honours Officer and PGT Officers to gauge an idea of what these student communities need rather than speaking for them.

This question was also asked to Dipam Sengupta, Isaac Makponga, Amina Lechkhab, Grace Lampkin, Kendall Field-Pellow, Katie Ludvigsen, Alexander Beyene, Ijeoma OpokoAnswered by Avila on 19/07/20 12:20

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