An interview with Kent Union president Josh Frost

By Hamish Hallett and Tarini Tiwari

Image courtesy of Ainy Shiyam

Hamish Hallett and Tarini Tiwari spoke with Kent Union President Josh Frost just before Christmas about his time in the role so far.

The first question asked was about Josh’s first term as President:

“I'm sure when I ran it was a bit different to how it ended up. As most things it is easiest to explain in terms of money. In 2018, we were at about 13 million and now we've dropped down to 11 in 2019*. That means any potential ideas following that are also gone*. it's very difficult, honestly. For context, it is a crisis for every party. It is obviously not just the union it's this for everyone, there is only supposed to be about four board meetings a year and I've had five already.”

Over the last few months issues around race have been an important part of the University conversation.

Many groups on campus represent BAME interests in various courses and through University-wide societies. Tarini asked about Kent Union’s relationship with these groups:

“It's been a continuous thing that we don't just let it sit. We have a working group which meets regularly to discuss obviously what we're doing for it. Aldo is the guy who's dealing with those issues because I think from his engagement role that sits in his remit and he's been seeing the BAME groups quite a lot.”

Josh continued and said that he is bringing forward a policy that would consider reviewing building names on campus:

“We are having a building name review around Keynes and eugenics. There is a three-stage process we'd like to go through, first having a plaque so people actually think about the issue and then potentially adding a name on top of it so can have something like Keynes something building and then have a referendum when I'm not here anymore based on if people want to fully change [it] or they are happy with how it is.”

During the 2020 Union Elections, Josh was asked about what he would do with the Union policy regarding racial harassment.

At the time he said that he wanted to make it “easier to report harassment and reduce the actual causation of it.”

When asked about the progress he has made in this area he said the following:

“The Inform Kent tool is what I have be trying to fix, because it's the main one and people associate [it] more with sexual assault rather than overall harassment and poor behaviour. So, it's basically trying to make the user experience better and then starting to have it as more of a backbone tool.”

Josh made many promises when he ran for president earlier in the year.

They included safer campus life, more religious and mental health considerations, improving transparency of and accessibility to Kent Union, establishing a Medway officer, creating more events on campus to improve student life, making the Co-op cheaper and the sports centre 24/7.

However, when asked about if certain promises had been affected by the pandemic such as making the Co-Op cheaper and making the sport centre 24/7, he said the following:

“Severely, yeah. I'd say also in terms of remit because there's just so much going on. The sport one has been prioritised by Aldo because, as that role was historically sports, it makes the most sense.”

Josh said that the financial situation was so bad, staff from other parts of the union had to redeploy staff to keep the shop’s opening hours the same, so lowering Co-Op prices would be impossible currently.

“In terms of Co-Op, just to talk about the situation we're in, we had to redeploy staff to work in the Co-Op, because our situation is so bad. But if I was in the year before, definitely.”

Josh has recently updated his manifesto points to reflect what has been going on.

These promises include establishing safety routes and refuge centres, providing a wider variety of mental health services, launching a culture and identity reform, introducing a social media intern and improving Kent Union’s democratic structures.

Recently, the online student survey came out with a mixed reception.

42% of students surveyed were not satisfied by the quality of online teaching and the learning experience so far this term, and 81% of students disagreed that the teaching and learning experiencing they were receiving was value for money.

When asked about his response to the feedback and his plan on addressing the concerns raised, Josh said the following:

“I think the only thing that really says it – I hate to quote Love Island – but I was going to say ‘it is what it is it’. I find the value for money one has been a concern for a while anyway, but universities control how much we pay, which is a government thing. I'll bring the University perspective in just for you: The University did not know the extent of what's going on because I don't think the government does until about a week before they decide to do something. Obviously, when you plan your academic year for students, it’s quite difficult [on such short notice].”

When asked about if he has some form of influence to raise these concerns, he said the following:

“Yeah, I do definitely. We are in the Silver Group [a University steering group to discuss the pandemic on campus] to put forward issues and concerns for what's going on and communication [like that] does come up often. It's step by step – you don't know what the problem is until you make your own problem. I can't talk about some of what particular people say in meetings, I will say that there has been an understanding as time has gone on from the body and that comes in terms of the understanding how terrible the situation has been. I mean if you look at other universities – if you look at Manchester, it is a polar opposite of how they've treated their students.”

When asked more of a personal question in terms of what areas he could improve on personally as the President of Kent Union he said the following:

“I would talk about the accountability – I want to do more stuff like this. I'd say in terms of now, the problem is accountability, it's not in the right place. The problem I'd like to improve for myself is to be more accountable and to show more about where the accountability is.”

*These figures do not directly represent the current financial situation of Kent Union in 2020/2021.

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