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What is the main difference between you as candidates?
Rāwinia: My aim is to lead a VUWSA that will engage with the everyday student who doesn’t do anything at university except go to class. I speak the language of the everyday student. My role this year has been attending boards and committees. I’ve had the opportunity to engage with high levels of the University governance. I think I’m more firmly grounded in higher-level engagement with the University.
Rick: What I’ve done while on the Exec is push the priorities that matter to everyday students – Fairer Fares, warming up flats, making campus safer. I engage with everyday students. I find it interesting that Rāwinia says this when she has a youth wing backing her campaign. It’s a little disingenuous. I come from this with the background of everyday students supporting my campaign. I have the experience of getting on and doing things.
Do you want to talk about the political comments just made?
Rāwinia: I’m really fortunate to have heaps of friends behind me; we’ve been out flyering, making banners, chalking. Some of those people happen to be members of youth political parties – not just one, several. Some are friends from high school, some from university.
What would your priorities be as VUWSA President?
Rick: It would be having the University really value students. Some of the approaches management take is that students are a nuisance, and we need to change that. That comes into our relationship with the city as well. Also, continuing VUWSA on the track that Rory and Sonya have got us on in the past few years, so we can be really relevant to students and financially stable.
Rāwinia: I think Rick and I are on the same page on where we want to go. He’s right on the money when he talks about having a university and a Wellington which values students. I’ve worked with the Wellington City Council and I’ve sat on the highest boards and committees at the University.
Rick: What have you done on those boards and committees?
Rāwinia: Heaps. It’s really unfortunate, because lots of my work has been hidden away in the Hunter Building. I sit on boards where I’m the only student representative on a committee of 20 managers. It’s so tough to make gains with students when you have a university which doesn’t necessarily value students. I’ve spoken out on the Social Policy major removal, I gave the longest speech the Academic Board’s ever seen. I’ve gained a lot of respect and gravitas from the University in my role. There are some members of the University who are student allies; I want to work hard with them. I think Sonya and I have laid the foundations for that. I’ve worked on the Māori Business major and on the future of Honours at Victoria.
VUWSA’s often criticised for a lack of engagement with students. How would you improve that?
Rick: It’s a fair criticism: VUWSA hasn’t done a great job over the past few years at engaging genuinely with our students. I’m really keen to partner with the City Council to run a three-day festival in Kelburn Park to say: welcome to Wellington. We started that this year with partnering with MAWSA for O-Week – it’s about building on that, and having more regular events as well, to build community. ‘Student engagement’ is often a buzzword; for me, it comes back to being in a place where the University values you.
Rāwinia: I agree that ‘student experience’ is a buzzword. Overwhelmingly, students say they haven’t engaged with VUWSA, [even] third- or fourth-year students. VUWSA should be running cool events, like O-Week at Otago. Also, not all students are here to have fun; we’ve got a diverse student body, we’ve got students who don’t necessarily want the rah-rah good time experience you think of. I’ve just come from a meeting with Deputy Mayor Justin Lester; we talked about how we can make Wellington city more friendly for students.
Rick [interrupts]: That conversation you had with Justin Lester, I had a few months ago. It’s a bit political you had that meeting today, VUWSA has been working on that for months.
Rāwinia: He’s super-busy; I wouldn’t hope that it’s seen as political. In my presidency, I would love to build on the work Rick has done. I’d be totally committed to carrying on the great work in seeking Fairer Fares for students.
Rick: What’s really important is that we engage with students. I’ve already started that conversation. As President, I already have those relationships, I have the institutional knowledge. I’ve been working on it this year; I want to get that done. It’s one thing to say you’ll do it; it’s another thing to show that you have done it.
Rāwinia: I was elected to VUWSA in my first year of uni, I knew nothing about the Uni; since then, I’ve built up my knowledge bank incredibly. I’ve demonstrated I can pick up institutional knowledge in a short amount of time.
Rick: We have been on VUWSA for a similar amount of time. You’ve done a fantastic job of going along to board meetings and reading papers. I’ve been to 8 am meetings every week with VUWSA, meetings which actually make documents.
Sonya Clark has endorsed Rick as a candidate. How do you feel about that?
Rāwinia: She’s coming from a genuine place, a place of caring about VUWSA. She wants to hand the reins over to who she perceives to be the best person for the job. The distinction is that’s her perception. I know the reasons she’s cited: he’s financially savvy, he’s got institutional knowledge, he’s tough. I’d agree with that: Rick’s been a great colleague. I too can offer all of that, maybe she hasn’t seen that this year, because much of my work has been behind closed doors. Those aren’t the only things that are important in a president.
Do you have a take on it?
Rick: I’ve really appreciated Sonya’s support. It’s a privilege to have her support to continue the great work she’s been doing in getting VUWSA on track. What Rāwinia keeps coming back to, about her work being hidden… she’s been frustrated that the Academic portfolio she has hasn’t been on the agenda. It’s up to the Vice-President to make sure their stories are out there. I think it’s important that things like the academic audit get brought to the students. That’s a crucial part of the Academic portfolio which hasn’t been brought to students this year.
How much of a mandate does VUWSA actually have if it’s around a tenth of students voting in elections? How representative is it as a body?
Rāwinia: That comes back to what I’ve been saying about engaging with the everyday student. The everyday student isn’t sure that VUWSA is doing anything for them. Students feel that at O-Week, they get a bag, they get their membership card, and that’s it. That’s problematic when we’re trying to advocate for students. It’s so important that we have all students on board with us every day, not just students who have always supported us.
Rick: Last year, we set up committees where we can get input from student groups around the University. It’s really important we take that further: that’s why I’ve advocated for things like the budget simulator. When we ran our Save the 18 Bus campaign, I set up a website and we got a few hundred submissions in a couple of days, we were able to take that to the Wellington City Council and that gave us a really good mandate. We had a 300-page submission because of that. Now the Wellington City Council consults directly with us because they see we have that mandate. On some other issues, we don’t do such a good job at engaging everyday students; we need to improve that.
What are concrete things you would do as a president to improve VUWSA’s relationship with the University?
Rick: I’ve been in contract negotiations with the University over our funding agreement. It was really important I paid attention to detail so that VUWSA stayed an independent student association while maintaining a good relationship with the University. We need to continue with the debate Sonya has built up; have their respect, but still speak truth to power.
Rāwinia: We have to work with the University but also oppose them sometimes. Students perceive VUWSA’s independence as really important. I too have built up a great rapport with management from all levels of the University.