With only a single candidate standing for the position of Environment and Social Justice Officer, Impact’s Natasha Smith has prepared an article on the perils of holding a part-time position in a sea of full-timers, and asks why a position with such a wide ranging scope doesn’t quite excite the electoral attention that perhaps it should.
The recognition (or lack thereof) of the Environment and Social Justice Exec position demands interrogation. The title of the position itself seems to invite probing; how can one part-time student aim to tackle such vast global issues as the environment and social justice? These are issues that remain unresolved across the globe, and thus the scope of this Officer’s role extends far beyond that of Activities Officer or Athletics Union Officer.
Yet despite the vast challenge that such a title endows the ESJ Officer with, this role remains the only non-sabbatical SU Exec position; why is a student responsible for the environment and social justice of the University given half the time to tackle these issues? This year’s candidate, Ellie Louise-Stone, the current ESJ Officer, Tom Williams, and last year’s ESJ Officer, Matt Butcher, all agree that by singling out the ESJ Officer from all other Exec positions as a part-time position “sends out a bad message regarding the University’s priorities”.
This is not to say that the University undervalues the importance of environmental issues, however. Williams celebrates the fact that during his time at the University he has seen numerous staff brought into the University to deal with environmental issues, and there is certainly a strong presence of the University’s ‘green’ ambitions on campus at present.
In terms of working within this limited timescale, Tom stressed that the balance between course and Exec demands can be particularly hard to strike, and moreover that this battle against time can become disheartening: “one year is a short time”, he comments, “so you have to prioritise what the students want here and now; you begin with so many ideas but sadly it takes time to implement such changes”.
He does, however, emphasise the exciting nature of the position. “New things come up everyday”, he claims; as a “campaign-based role”, constant interaction with students is needed, and this is “exciting”. In fact, Matt feels that no other position on the SU is truly centred upon campaigning in the way that the ESJ position is, and that this truly distinguishes the role as something special and unique.
Given the vibrant and diverse nature of this role, it is surely a saddening sight to see only one candidate in the running this year; Ellie in particular feels disappointed that she faces no healthy competition in the elections. She aims to resolve this lack of awareness – a trend that correlates with the lack of awareness surrounding the role of Faculty Coordinators – by “targeting the right groups: those who would be interested if only they were aware of the diversity of issues that the ESJ Officer can help students to deal with, and how they can become directly involved in changing life at the University”.
Let us hope, then, that this year’s elections will bring increased awareness of a greater variety of roles involved in the representation of students in all areas, such as Faculty Coordinators and the Environment and Social Justice Officer. While this year we haven’t had a dearth of candidates to choose from, we can only hope that Ellie will increase the profile of the position a bit over her term.
But in the meantime, perhaps consider strolling down the corridor towards the Student Services Centre and stopping short outside a little office entitled ‘Environment and Social Justice’ and knocking on the door to find out more.