Opinion: VP Student Engagement Debate 2020

The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of InQuire Media

Image courtesy of KTV

Traditionally, Student Engagement VPs have been big characters; people who are popular and are enigmatic. But after sitting through fifty minutes of this year’s candidates in conversation, I was left thoroughly underwhelmed.

Carolina appeared completely egotistical from her opening statement. She reeled off her university CV of the past three years as Team Kent Network Chair and Captain of Women’s Fencing and applauded herself from being involved in the union “from the start” (something I’d personally keep quiet). Her answers to the questions were conversely banal. She simply wants to make Medway feel “special”; for her, a weekly calendar of events posted up is enough to make university social life accessible, an idea just as preposterous as a ‘general newsletter’ to engage non-sporty people in campus activities. In her favour, she definitely exemplified her confidence and political experience; but anyone who ends the debate with as original a statement as “I’m 100% here for the students” fails to inspire hopes of a VP ready to work in the colossal shadow of Emily Window.

Alicia certainly started very strong. Her opening statement made clear her aims for sports taster days and larger efforts in fundraising. She appeared strong in her belief that Medway should also be its own institution alongside part of the University of Kent and her desire to help “vulnerable” students access university society through her policies. It was especially refreshing to hear her say that, whilst the union should encourage people to get involved with campus life, students need to help themselves too. However, halfway through the debate she seemed to flounder. Her idea of “swap days”, with students from Medway and Canterbury swapping campuses, was laughable; she began to repeat and stumble on questions. By the end of the debate it was hard to understand what she was arguing, especially when she adopted the typical politician’s hand movements. These were so well incorporated that, if she isn’t elected to the post, she always has job security directing traffic.

Megan faltered at the start. She appeared robotic reading from her piece of paper in her opening statement and her ideas for “starting from scratch” at Medway appear impossible to achieve in the one year she may have in office. One thing was certain, Megan had a lot to say and wanted people to listen. She packed her time with her ideas and argued how her four years at Kent had given her a “grasp of what students want”. As the debate went on, she appeared more comfortable and soon appeared the most dedicated; she didn’t shy away from arguing that the biggest issue affecting student groups was inequality and proposed good ideas regarding engaging non-sporty people. Meg emerged as Kent’s answer to Boris Johnson with regards to her building plans; she wants a new weights room in the gym and appears to be planning a whole Olympic park in Medway. Meg emerged as a vibrant if not overly eager person, admitting herself that she talks “too fast” and actually having to be cut off during her closing statement.

Whether it was confidence in mass student support thanks to his meme pages or a genuine emotion of boredom, Aldo gave an unmistakable vibe that he clearly didn’t want to be there. His monotone voice droned on for the whole debate, never once showing any passion or interest. He started disastrously by stating that people were only at Kent because they couldn’t get in anywhere else, making us all appear the neglected downtrodden (I was delighted when I got into Kent, thank you very much). His repeated sentiment was ‘communication’; we need to communicate with Medway, we need greater communication with the union, greater communication will stem the growing problem of societies. Worse still was his insistence that “we’re all the same”. He’d clearly never met a postgrad when he made that comment and presumed we were identical to undergrads; nor does he understand the relationship between societies and sports clubs when he insisted we “all come together” as though it was as simple as organising a picnic. Frankly, I expected a little bit more from a person who claims his meme pages are the voice of Kent students, both in knowledge of student issues and actual interest in the role.

Sneha was the model of composure throughout the debate, answering questions with clarity and strength of character. The only candidate from Medway campus, she certainly had some fresh ideas and perspectives. One particularly intriguing idea imported from Medway was weekend events to make social life accessible to all, it would be interesting to see it tested in Canterbury. Sneha’s biggest policy seemed to be events. More events should be put on to encourage inclusivity, more should be hosted at Canterbury for Medway students and events are a way to bring “collaboration” between student societies. A candidate who knows what she wants, Sneha has Medway in mind with her campaign; I only hope it doesn’t come at the expense of Canterbury votes.

Catherine appeared the dark horse of the debate. Whilst her enthusiasm took a while to come out, what she said was definitely interesting and worth hearing. She made clear in her opening statement that “stagnating society issues” was a big problem at Kent. Equally clear was her attack on the “misplacement of funds” within Emily Window’s current gym membership plan and recommended free membership should be offered to those who contribute and volunteer most for the university, an amazing and novel idea in my opinion. She plans to give students more say on society finances and hopes to give more funds to those societies to run more events throughout the year to encourage inclusivity. Though not extraordinary, and far from charismatic, Catherine seemed a plain-talking and honest candidate with some good ideas. Whether she has the character to push those ideas though, we will have to see.

Heather was certainly the shyest of the candidates, her quiet voice struggling to show confidence, especially against the arrogance of Carolina or Megan’s megaphone voice. But what played in her favour was what that voice was saying. Her opening statement showed how she had engaged with students and asked what they wanted, revealing the biggest complaint was communication with the union. Unlike Aldo, Heather understood that postgraduates have different interests to undergraduates and that the union needs to appeal to them individually. Heather’s biggest attribute was her blatant honesty. She openly admitted how she’d never visited Medway, which was “a shame”, and attacked the current engagement system for prioritising sport. Nor was she afraid to voice her problems with the debate itself, arguing (after repeatedly being the last to answer questions), “going last is hard, everyone’s said everything”. Heather definitely appeared the most trustworthy and benevolent of the candidates. My concern is that her apparent lack of confidence will mean she won’t be able to fight for her interesting ideas once in office.

Ultimately, I believe the Student Engagement election will be a popularity contest between Megan and Aldo. But after watching the debate, I hope students give Heather, Catherine and Sneha a chance; these are the black sheep of the contest with some promising ideas. However, I still remain thoroughly disappointed with the lack of character and basic ‘oomf’ within the Engagement candidates this year. With such a high-powered and wide-ranging office as Engagement VP, these are vital attributes that these candidates better get quickly.

You can get your own opinion of the candidates by watching the debate here

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