Next week while the majority of the officers will remain to continue to represent, lead and empower the students at Exeter, I will be parting ways with the colleagues and friends I have spent the past 382 days working with on Friday.
It has been one hell of a ride and as much as I enjoy a good rollercoaster, it is time for me to get off. Like any good rollercoaster, I have experienced waves of joy and excitement as well as moments of pure fear and dread.
I have learnt more than I ever thought I would, not only about higher education or leading an organisation, but also about myself and I am grateful for the experience. It is truly one I will never forget.
When escaping to an overnight stay at a farm with the other officers back in November, I pulled together all of the initiatives I had worked on during the first half of my term in office. It included things like introducing 50+ marginalised students into the Guild’s representative system; embedding a student and staff safety advisory board into the governance of the University; finalising a University wellbeing review; organising the most successful black history month the Guild has had to date and navigating a four week UCU strike action. At that point in the year, we were certain that the next term would allow us to slow down and take a breather. Oh, how we were wrong.
Along came the resignation of our CEO, three external trustees and one student trustee, another round of industrial action and strikes, the Black Lives Matter movement and not forgetting a global pandemic.
I don’t want to be as quick to say this year has been the toughest academic year yet, as I’m sure every year will face their fair share of challenges, but I can hand on heart say that it has been an unusual one.
Being an Officer is unlike any job I’ve had previously and any job I will have in the future. As a Full-Time Officer, you are catapulted into the top of an organisation with hardly any knowledge into how the organisation runs, let alone the issues you will be faced with. My undergrad in drama was not a lot of help when attending meetings with University Senior Management discussing the severity of student mental health, systematic racism or sexual harassment. I was completely and utterly a fish out of water and spent the first six months of the role trying to stay afloat.
It wasn’t until January that I had found my feet and got to grips with the role, but after having worked 60+ hours a week prior - I was drained. This was swiftly followed by being subject to online harassment where I was told that my work had been ‘worthless’ and that I should ‘resign’ as my ‘negligence is killing people’. It was at this point that I lost my motivation and truth be told, I was completely ready to give up, throw in the towel and move on. I was convinced that the attacks on my wins were the views of all 25,000+ students and all of my efforts had been worthless. I was even more devastated because up until that moment I believed I was going to run for a second year.
It took a while to fight off this mindset and use the criticism as a driving force to do more, which brings us to March. The month the global pandemic hit, and we were told to pack up our belongings and relocate home for the foreseeable future. Suddenly the student population needed their voice to be heard more than ever and I was thrown into a frenzy of rent pauses, students as tenants’ rights, housing conditions and hate crime incident responses. I swiftly gained my passion back for making positive change and tried to serve Exeter students better than ever.
At the age of 22, I was leading a charity organisation with a large turnover while assisting a Russell Group University through a global pandemic in which I fight for the best possible outcome for students that are currently situated all over the world. Who would have thought it?
Although I have shed some light onto challenges that I have faced this past year, I am by no way saying this has been a negative experience. At no point have I regretted standing up in the 2019 Guild Elections, nor been ungrateful for being successful in them.
One of my fundamental values in life is honesty and that is what I wish to portray in my closing statement. This year has been tough. I am exhausted; mentally, emotionally and physically. I have been tested and challenged beyond any extent that I thought I would have and have cried more in the past year than I think most newborns do. As an undergrad, I used to complain about being tired after the nights out, 10+ contact hours and 3 rehearsals a week, but now I laugh at my naivety. I can safely say that I have never known what true tiredness feels like until now.
I’m extremely proud of all the positive changes I have been able to achieve in just a year – a night bus; a pop-up bar on St Luke’s; increased wellbeing hours and so much more. These changes wouldn’t be possible without the help of what has been an incredible officer team, the staff at the Guild (who are among some of the most hard-working staff I have ever had the privilege of meeting), University Staff (who have been so understanding and helpful), but most importantly the students at Exeter. You will hear all the negatives about Exeter, but this year has opened my eyes to so many students who have a real passion about making Exeter a welcoming place. I am grateful that I got to work alongside them and experience the positives here.
I still think back to the 20 February 2019: the night of the results party. The night I didn’t attend as I had convinced myself I had been unsuccessful. It was only until my parents, who had tuned in, called me to tell me that my name had been called and I was able to make Exeter a better place. That night has changed my life and it is all thanks to those that voted me in. I hope I did you proud and I hope your voice has been heard, loud and clear.
A massive thank you to all those who have supported me throughout this past year – the students, staff, family and friends. I would like to express another massive thank you to my officer team who have experienced this rollercoaster of a year with me – I couldn’t have done it without you. I am proud to be a student of Exeter and will forever #BleedGreen.
Have an enjoyable summer, stay safe and thank you.
Vice President of Welfare and Diversity 2019-2020.