The Black and Ethic Minority network is supposed to be an extremely important support network throughout the university and yet it is the only position without any candidates standing for election. Impact went to find out why and found many different potential reasons for this.
When asked the current Democracy and Communications officer, George Wright said that while it is “worrying when any role is unfilled”, it is not a unique occurrence with there being no candidates for the mature Officer standing last year. He said that no candidate is standing, may in fact be a “blessing in disguise”. Wright believes that the reason for no one standing is that during SU elections there are so many different elections going on, that messages can become “muddled” and that by having a specific by-election on the BME Network; it will increase publicity and interest in the election, what’s being promised and the network itself.
Katie Mackay, the current Equal Opportunities and Welfare officer, agreed that it could potentially be a blessing as it will mean “George can focus” on the BME election specifically. She also stated that there are many societies that represent specific minorities, so minorities don’t feel the need to go to this huge network. She said that setting up or being part of a smaller society was more empowering than being part of a huge network and that the International Students’ Officer has had similar problems.
When speaking to the candidate’s standing for Mackay’s position, Elorm Haligah agreed with Katie. He said that he was involved with the Afro-Caribbean society which provided all the services of the BME network so there is no real need for people to become active in the Network. If he wins Elorm would like to make the BME network more of an “umbrella network” bringing other societies together. His sentiments were echoed by Matt Byrne, also standing for Equal Opportunities and Welfare, who said the best solution is to further integrate the BME network in with the societies themselves.
Rosie Tressler said that she would introduce workshops for BME students, as she says this has worked greatly in the Women’s Network and has encouraged more women to stand for the Student Union and Women’s officer. Sophie Hindley said she would like to make “role more open” through allowing people to speak to Rep Officers about their jobs, in the way people have been allowed to ask Exec Officers.
While Wright acknowledged it has been “a tough year for the BME Network”, with two major controversies in the past term, he didn’t think this was the main reason for the role being unfilled. Mackay, however, thought it was one of the main reasons, as she said Michael Etienne, the current BME officer, was affected “very personally” by events last term, which she feels may have put people off the position. Etienne refused to speak to Impact.
Mackay said there is currently a Rep Officer review taking place and hopes many of these problems to be solved by the democratic reform Wright is overseeing in the Student Union.
When asked about how to combat student apathy in the BME network, Hindley stressed that it was “a tricky situation” but said she would “get in touch with cultural societies” and their members about the BME Network. Byrne, on the other hand, said he would prefer a more informed electorate to a wider electorate who are only voting “for their friends”, the path to an informed electorate, he claimed, would be to publicise the network, although he acknowledges this is a “typical generic answer”. Tressler disagreed, saying that she would like to see “a bigger turnout” but that it wasn’t one or the other, that the way to achieve this was by better informing a electorate and having a number of decent candidates for the role. She thinks the best way to reduce apathy within the BME Network is to get Exec and Rep Officers speaking to BME students and the cultural societies about how important the role of BME Officer is, far in advance of the elections.
Everyone interviewed agreed that the lack of candidates is not a reflection on Etienne or his committee but more an indication of student apathy in general and a network whose importance continues to be challenged by smaller minority societies. It is also highly unlikely that the same thing will happen again in the BME by-election, where there will almost certainly be candidates running.