Your VP for Welfare and Community candidates: Sam Whitnall
Alejandro Javierre 10 March 2021
Image by: Raluca Ene
Sam Whitnall is a candidate running for the role of Vice President for Welfare and Community.
The first year politics student is running on a campaign of ensuring effective staff-student communication and improving mental health on campus – an issue he believes will be a defining topic of the new year.
In an interview with InQuire, Samuel highlighted that as a relative newcomer to campus politics, he could bring a new perspective on student issues.
“I think that there’s some real weight behind some of the things a first year can put forward.”
Sam highlighted that many first-year students have had their entire university experience coloured by the difficult situation this year.
He said: “You’ve probably heard the term ‘coronavirus’ quite a lot recently.
“Obviously we, as first years came in not knowing anything different and we didn’t have pre-existing support.
“I think that provides a rather good opportunity that rather than going back to the way things were, [we could] look forward and see what we can do to improve the situation as an is at the moment.”
One of the biggest issues of the year have been increased reports of attacks on the Elliot footpath route, one of the most common ways of reaching the campus.
Sam said: “It’s something that’s quite difficult to tackle – not impossible, I don’t want to say it’s impossible because it is something that I would like to work on.”
“Obviously there have been increased security and stuff like that in the area, it’s really more about how we can expand on that and make it safer no matter what.”
“You shouldn’t have to have security officers patrolling the footpath all evening just for it to be safe.”
However, when asked about whether Kent Union’s actions on the situation have been positive, he said: “I think that the Union have rolled with the punches.”
“They came in expecting a normal year, and they’ve obviously had their priorities shifted towards coronavirus.”
“But having this spring out, it’s become a much more predominant issue and I think that it’s working short-term, but long-term we need to re-evaluate the situation and see what we can do to keep people safe."
Sam is also an advocate for environmentalism on campus, which features heavily in his campaign material.
“Obviously we are in a climate emergency, and I understand that every little bit of action contributes to the larger goal.”
“I think when it comes to people’s welfare and their mental wellbeing, these green spaces you can just go and reflect and escape from some of the things that are troubling you – I think they’re so important to people’s wellbeing.”
“Having these areas where you can play sports freely as well are absolutely brilliant, I would very much like to see these maintained – even expanded but obviously it’s not as simple as just going ‘well let’s plant some more trees.’”
He added: “I think it should become a long-term fixed goal of the union even past the coming year.”
The conservation then touched on the provision of hardship services during the lockdown.
“Not everyone who had a job was lucky enough to have been caught by furlough and the majority of sectors where university students are confined to have been told they have to shut.”
“It’s really disheartening to see there is such a stigma around mental health and getting the help you need.”
He added: “People need to realise it’s okay to need to talk about these things and it’s okay to get the help you need when you need it rather than continuing to struggle and get to that point where you are on the brink.”
Finally, the line of questioning turned to the rent situation on campus, and recent pushes for a new rent strike against on-campus accommodation fees.
Sam said: “With regards to accommodation, obviously we’ve had a concession when it comes to payments – I wouldn’t say it’s the best, but it’s definitely better than what a lot of universities have offered.
“Obviously we are going to push for more, and we are pushing for more; why should people be paying for these facilities they can’t utilize?
“It’s really tricky because you want to strike this balance between what’s fair for students – which is a full refund – and still being able to keep all of the facilities available when things do re-open.”
Sam appears genuine. For most candidates, being a first-year student would likely be seen as a disadvantage, but a lot has happened in the past year and campus might be fundamentally changed by coronavirus and Brexit. While many may be quick to judge first year students running for top roles, however they have historically proven to be considerable contenders – with on first year student coming a comfortable second in last year’s presidential election run-off. Sam’s nuanced positions on many of the issues facing a prospective welfare and communities Vice-President sets him out against what would otherwise be a highlight saturated race, and his points were hopeful, but also largely realistic given the resources at the disposal of the average full-time officer. Whether is status as the only first-year student running for the role is a boon or a curse with voters, however, is something yet to be seen.