“A circle of insanity”: Student Senate heats up

Student Senate

The Student Senate met for the penultimate time last Tuesday to discuss matters ranging from the resignation of sabbatical officers to safety in Cardiff following recent sexual assaults.

Sabbatical Officers resignation

In the meeting a number of senators took the opportunity to quiz current Students’ Union President Claire Blakeway on the resignations of VP Welfare Kate Delaney and VP Heath Park Campus Katey Beggan.

Criticising the handling of the resignations, a number of senators chose to highlight the delay between the actual time that the two sabbatical officers resigned and the time the Students’ Union put a statement out.

Claire Blakeway admitted that the situation hadn’t been handled well: “The Union has released a statement. Admittedly it was after they resigned – we should have put it out sooner.”

Steffan Bryn, the current Welsh Language Officer, took issue with the fact that none of the part-time campaign officers had been notified of Delaney and Beggan’s resignations before they came to light in Gair Rhydd and later on the Union’s website, forcing an apology from the Students’ Union President.

Bryn then queried whether the Union would have put out a statement in regards to the resignations had they not been reported in Gair Rhydd in April. Blakeway stated that: “We were working on a statement at the time that Gair Rhydd were investigating.”

Other senators were critical of the way that the resignations played out. Nadine Dahan was concerned that there was evidence that the officers did not have enough help, and that “no one would have had to step down had they had the adequate support.” Dahan also added that “there’s nothing wrong with criticising the way the SU is run; that’s how it should be run. You’ve missed the first step.”

Senator Jake Smith also chose to question Blakeway, asking “why did it take weeks to tell any students? They were airbrushed from Union posters before their resignations were announced.” He also asserted his belief that “There’s been a failure in transparency.” Usman Bukhari backed up Smith’s statement, adding that the Union needs to be “much more open and transparent.”

Pushed on what actions the Union would take to prevent similar events happening in the future, Blakeway was adamant that current structures in place were adequate and that feedback would be taken on board in order to make the system “as effective as possible next year.”

Student mentor scheme

The Senate then moved on to debate the five motions that had been put forward for the meeting. First up was a motion entitled ‘Every academic school should be part of the Student Mentor Scheme’, put forward by Senator Chiron Hooson.

Hooson declared that “it is unfair that there are students that benefit from this great service and others do not” in his opening statement, going on to explain that “currently there are plans to try to expand the scheme but there is a lot more work that can be done.”

After having no speakers against the motion, no proposed amendments or no open discussion, the motion went to a vote and the Senate moved onto the second motion of the evening, entitled ‘Lobby the Welsh government to end unfair housing charges.’

Unfair housing charges

This motion was put forward by Student Senator Jake Smith, who insisted that there was “no excuse for the Welsh government” not to tackle unfair housing charges, and highlighted the intense lobbying period in the first few months of government that could be key to ensuring success in the campaign.

The motion was heavily debated compared to the first, with Usman Bukhari speaking against Smith’s proposal. Bukhari stated that: “The issue I have with this motion is that I’ve heard it a lot from the Union but I just think that it’s very broad and not very specific – is this really a realistic proposal?”

Responding to Bukhari, Smith pointed to Scotland, where such action was already being undertaken, while also saying that the pledge to tackle unfair housing charges was “in NUS Wales’ manifesto. He explained: ” as a constituent member of NUS Wales we should be using everything in our firepower to do this”, adding: “We are the Students’ Union of Wales’ biggest university so let’s support this.”

Bukhari continued to fight his corner, referencing the news that students’ unions across the country were considering pulling out of the NUS after recent controversy surrounding the organsation, while also playing down comparisons to success in Scotland, where “the SNP have a more student-friendly manifesto.”

Defending the motion, Chiron Hooson said that “Clearly we want a motion that shows how we’re going to solve something here. Our Union led the campaign for not scrapping the maintenance grants and the Sabbatical team have to do things to help reduce cuts in the Welsh Assembly. It is achievable, we just need more fire and momentum in the lobbying campaign.”

Also supporting Smith’s motion, Senator Sarah Al Sayed added that: “If you don’t lobby it there’s definitely no chance of it happening; if you do lobby it then there is a chance of getting something done.”

However, Bukhari was still unconvinced of the credibility of the motion, declaring: “A circle of insanity is what I’m seeing here”, describing the proposed lobbying of the Welsh government as “futile”.

Sanitary banks

After summations from Smith and Bukhari, the motion again went to a vote, and the Senate moved onto the third motion: ‘Motion to implement sanitary banks in the Students’ Union.’ This motion was forwarded by third year student Lydia Griffiths, who was not present at the meeting so the motion was supported by Claire Blakeway.

Blakeway asserted her belief that “some students who menstruate find it unaffordable – they should not face discrimination because it is something natural.”

Immediately proposing an amendment, Blakeway stated that “I’m not sure a sanitary bank is the most efficient way to do this. We want to make sure there’s as many sanitary products in the bank as possible.”

After a number of small amendments, Senators Tim Nagle, Chiron Hooson and Madeline Page stated their beliefs that the motion was “vague”, with one suggesting that “in its current format [the motion] looks like a maths question. Page proposed a procedural motion to delay the motion’s passing until the wording had been improved and a stronger mandate was given by the motion. This procedural motion passed so Senate moved on to motion four.

Cardiff Council accessibility

Entitled ‘Making Cardiff Council more accessible’, the fourth motion was a renewal of the same motion originally put forward last year. It was again put forward by Jake Smith, who stated that “unless we bring councillors and students together then we fail students; they’re in areas that students don’t know about.

“This motion takes our elected representative…out of City Hall and into our Students’ Union.”

A number of amendments were made to the motion, including to expand the remit of the proposal to include Gabalfa, the ward in which the Talybont halls of residence lie, before it went to a vote.

Sexual assaults

The fifth motion, an emergency motion, was entitled: ‘Let’s help end sexual assaults at our Union’. This motion was forwarded by Matthew Carroll in light of recent sexual assaults that have happened around the Students’ Union.

Carroll was joined by second year student Alastair Babington, who has implemented a Safe Walk Scheme aimed to help students walking home late at night. Babington introduced the motion by outlining the urgent need for action regarding sexual assaults in Cardiff, the most recent of which occurred in close proximity of the Students’ Union, on Senghennydd Road.

Babington stressed the importance of offering an alternative option for students who are unable to rely on existing projects, such as the Safe Taxi Scheme. He referred to one student who was assaulted outside the Students’ Union, but was not able to make use of the Safe Taxi Scheme because the attacker had stolen the wallet which contained his student card. Babington then said: “Why this [type of safety scheme] isn’t in place already puzzles me.”

The Senate agreed that it should support the work done by the Student Safety Walk Scheme, though some Senators raised issue over the safety of potential volunteers. In response to this, Babington stated that volunteers with the scheme receive comprehensive training in areas including first aid and conflict management, whilst radio contact through the use of walky-talkies is maintained throughout the evening.

This motion then went to vote, and the Senate opened up to general discussion on matters not related to the evening’s motions.

Any other business

Among the issues discussed was the attendance of course representatives at senate events, with Senator Chiron Hooson saying: “There should be more encouragement to get course reps into senate meetings.” There is currently a maximum of eight course representatives allowed at any one senate meeting, however it was mentioned that attendance rarely exceeds one or two reps. The Senate resolved to increase advertising of meetings to course reps in the hope to attract more interest from the students.

The final item on the agenda was the applications for the position of Chair of the Senate for the 2016/17 academic year. There have so far been two applicants for the position, which is currently occupied by former VP Sport Bryn Griffiths, who will step down after the last Senate meeting at the end of this academic year.

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