SU President sets out her agenda for the coming year

Taking the necessary steps: Vice-Chancellor, Colin Riordan, vows that Cardiff University will be in touch with international students staying in Cardiff over the next week. Source: Josh Gibbs

by Charlotte King

With a new academic year just around the corner, Gair Rhydd thought it perfect timing to speak to our Students’ Union President, Jackie Yip, about the upcoming year, her policy pledges and what she and her team are hoping to achieve over the coming months.

Settling in for the interview, Yip joked about how nervous she is that this year’s Sabbatical team are looking up to her for help after she spent the entirety of last year looking up to someone else for guidance. The interview started off touching on a far more serious note, however, as Yip addressed the controversy and hostility tied to her election as SU President.

Following her election, Jackie Yip announced on social media that she strives to be “a president who leads by example, one who is kind and who strives to do the right thing in the best interests of students.” When asked about how she plans to fulfil that promise, Yip said: “I think being kind grew out from a very negative and very distressing campaign and election, and I don’t want [students] to be put off by the process and think we are always very negative.

“I want students to know that they can come to me and that we do things, we make real, important change. I think that’s what I mean by leading by example and being kind.”

Yip had also previously commented on “wounds” in the former Sabbatical team; we asked her how she plans to avoid any further controversies within the team this year. The SU President said that she has not only been ensuring the team regularly meets to discuss their work progress but she also “[invests] so much time and even money into making sure [they] bond socially”. This year’s Sabbatical team “were all elected as people who knew each other: friends; housemates” and Yip commented “that in itself causes different issues with where we draw the line between personal and private life…[but] there hasn’t been any disruption” so far. She sees being a good role model as “[mediating] that line between firm and friendly.”

It quickly became evident that connecting with students is high on Jackie Yip’s agenda as SU President. After graduating from Cardiff University a year ago now, however, we questioned if that makes it harder for her to connect with today’s crop of students. Yip expressed how she won the election with “the biggest majority in Union history”, suggesting students trust her and feel some sort of connection with her regardless of when she graduated. “I am constantly on the ground talking to students which is the most important thing, the talking and communication. I think if people don’t feel that connection, then come and speak to me. Come and tell me what I’m missing.”

Representing the interests of Cardiff University’s entire student population is no easy feat. Our student population is incredibly diverse, so we questioned Yip on where the Union stands on supporting political campaigns and whether she deems it appropriate to support any political leanings in her role. In response, she stated: “I always see my role as to facilitate every side of the debate. We have so many political societies and I happily facilitate their conversations…[but] we have to mediate that with what we believe is in the best interests of our students.”

We undoubtedly live in uncertain times politically; will we be leaving the EU shortly? Is a general election on the horizon? Yip told us that the Students’ Union is anticipating that Brexit could have a “significant impact” on our students and the university itself, and in light of the student senate voting in favour of the Union supporting a People’s Vote last year, Yip explained that the Students’ Union “[has] a mandate to stand towards that political side now” but says she will continue to encourage students to voice their opinions, regardless.

In light of this, we questioned the SU President about her recent post on Facebook suggesting Prime Minister Boris Johnson is “satan” and whether she thought that was an appropriate comment. Yip explained, “No, that maybe wasn’t so correct!…that was me being a little bit shocked that the voices of students were trying to be silenced.” Elaborating further, Yip told us of how Cardiff University Students’ Union is currently rallying with all the student union Presidents across the UK in a ‘register to vote’ campaign.

The conversation then turned towards Jackie Yip’s policy pledges for the year that she made during campaign week. From improving mental health provisions to more recorded lectures, Yip made a lot of policy promises that she hopes to implement over the coming year. Naturally, we wanted to know more.

Cardiff University came under criticism last academic year for closing its counselling referrals to new students at the start of exam period. Yip pledged to improve mental health provisions on offer to students by working with the university on “community-building” provisions, such as encouraging joining societies and sports teams and volunteering to “[tackle] student loneliness”.

“It’s all about collaboration to make sure that we have many different folds to map out and tackle as many issues as possible…We would [also] like to bring in more one-to-one counsellors…but the university is bringing in intervention officers too so we can try and filter out students before they get to that stage.”

The university has also faced criticism in the form of accusations of institutional racism. Yip’s opponent for presidency, Amr Alwishah, campaigned for a ‘Hate Crime Reporting Centre’ to provide further support for BME students on campus. We asked the current SU President why she didn’t campaign for any such centre herself. Yip said: “As a BME woman, this is massively important and racism and hate crime resonates with me very strongly” but she hopes to work with the Student Support and Wellbeing centre already established in the Union. Instead of “spreading ourselves too thinly…we can put all our support into the disclosure response team that already does really amazing work.”

Alongside working towards increasing the number of recorded lectures “for the benefit of students and lecturers”, getting therapy dogs on campus and setting up a rooftop garden in partnership with the university’s Pharmabees project, Jackie Yip says she is also hoping to work on catering around the university. Plans to get a Greggs on campus are in motion, soon Yip hopes to see microwave and kettle stations installed around the university and she aims to ensure all surplus food in the university and Union can be donated to the homeless in Cardiff.

“I personally don’t believe in banning anything and I think the most important thing we can do for students is empower them with choice…Students want choice, at the end of the day.”

The interview came to a close with Jackie Yip sharing with us what she’s most looking forward to as SU President. Whilst she hopes she can get the Union the top spot in the Whatuni Student Choice Awards for 2020 after getting third place in 2019, Yip believes that “we already do enough to be number one” but feels our Union “[doesn’t] have the size and we haven’t perfected our marketing” yet. Instead, the SU President hopes to spend this year laying out the groundwork to get us to number one in a few years time and is most looking forward to meeting students, speaking to people on campus and “making change that matters.”

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