Interview conducted by Niall Coleman, features editor
Why is it that you have decided to run for this particular position within the Students’ Union?
My main goal as Equality and Diversity Officer at Queen’s would be to see the creation of Liberation Officer roles within the Students’ Union. I realise that if I am elected, that I cannot personally represent everyone. You can’t be a voice for all groups; you can only facilitate these groups. There would be a representative member of staff to work on behalf of marginalised groups. This would be on a part-time, voluntary basis – a post created to facilitate and organise these students. There are many universities which have these officers, and I would very much like to see the same here at Queen’s. At the minute, I don’t think the Union is an accessible and open place. A lot of students feel that there is no space for them where they feel comfortable.
The role of VP Equality and Diversity Officer fundamentally concerns representing marginalised groups within the student community. To what extent to do you feel you can personally relate to this aspect of the role?
As a white male, for a start, I would say not particularly – not at all. This is something I am very conscious of, and I am very aware. I can relate to these groups – with pressure from politicians on issues such as the DUP’s conscience clause, I understand that these issues have reverberations across the student body. I can escalate the voices of these people who feel ostracised and marginalised – a microphone to their concerns.
As a student with an interest in the pursuit of equality and diversity, what campaigns thus far in your life as a QUB student can you say you have been involved in?
I suppose the first time I got involved in liberation issues was around two years ago, when I was involved in a demonstration on International Human Rights Day. Council has been fantastic this year, and I have found it to be an incredibly humbling experience working with such a diverse group of people. I like to think that I have made a real difference during my time on council – all university forms, for example, now have provisions for transgender and gender variant members of the community. We discussed how to rephrase questions to reflect a diverse student body – that motion has passed, and I am really pleased about that. I would like to see gender-neutral bathrooms – I would like to look at the viability of such an idea, and I want to continue looking into this idea during my time on council.
As an active and prominent member of QUB Sinn Fein, do you feel that you can truly fulfil a balanced role as Equality and Diversity Officer?
Past sabbatical officers have been affiliated to political parties, and this is on a personal level. We are here to represent all students, regardless of what background they come from,
regardless of their own political views. I will never let any of that get in the way of fulfilling my role – if you’re good for the role; you won’t let that get in the way.
What measures do you plan to take to create a more Equal and Diverse Students’ Union?
In terms of students of faith, or of none, on that matter –
I would like to see a provision of space for these groups to practice that. For example, we have the Catholic Chaplaincy – a lot of other faiths have nothing. We have a huge international community at Queens, across a whole range of ethnic groups. We need to recognise this diversity – we need to tie all of this together, and celebrate our university’s multicultural nature. We need to allow international students to integrate – they are under a lot of stress. They need to be made to feel welcome at Queens! We need a visible celebration – a festival, perhaps! We need to look at this, not just on my remit, but anyone’s! I would love to see that – stalls, music, festivities and diversity. As Belfast continues to establish itself as a multicultural and diverse city, we must encourage that and develop that within our own union.