Candidate Profile: Willow Wong

Orbital Magazine interviews VP Welfare and Diversity candidate, Willow Wong.

Willow Wong, Current VP Welfare and Diversity, VP Welfare and Diversity

Why are you re-running for your role?

In the simplest terms I want to re-run as a lot of the projects I have been working on take longer than just a year, such as improving the health centre – which is a long-term project in its infancy. I want to take responsibility for the project that I spearheaded and see it through. The same is true of council tax for which I have been fighting with Runnymede Council over for the last year. With first year sabbatical officers in general there are a lot of challenges and barriers in this role which you have to overcome and when it comes to the college’s student facing staff there is a lot of instability and reshuffling. At the very least having that continuity from the SU side of things could be beneficial for welfare issues.

What are your key manifesto points?

Health Centre: I want to improve the health centre even further and build upon the work I have done this year to ensure better health care provision for students both physically and mentally.

Out of Hours Parking: This would help more students are able to safely get home after any late nights on campus.

Zero Tolerance: I would want to build a stronger policy regarding harassment and discrimination on campus.

Lobbying: I would lobby the college for cheaper accommodation for students when building new halls that are fully fit for purpose.

Democratic Review: I would use the impending review to ensure that liberation networks and the Equalities Council work and function efficiently.

On your current manifesto you say that you have achieved free STI testing on campus. Do you think that this is misleading considering that the STI clinic remains closed?

So, keep in mind that that is a campaign poster which has to limit its word length. I do understand where you are coming from, I think the reason I put it there is because I do take pride in having hosted a very successful and well participated event (the two-hour STI testing on campus during Let’s Talk About Sex Week). It is important for people to recognise even pulling in an external service from Surrey where sexual health provisions are so hard to come by is an achievement. I hope that this point will facilitate future discussions with the college about how to bring back the STI clinic as soon as possible.

You’ve also said that you have improved the health centre – could you tell us how?

I don’t think there are any specific statistics I can give right now especially because a lot of the work I have done around the health centre has been around research and pulling together my recommendation report, essentially poking at the system and seeing where it cracks. Even collating all that information and putting it on the desk of Paul Layzell I feel like that is a big step towards keeping the agenda at the front of GP minds that students have a voice and we are not afraid to act upon it. Next week I am meeting the GPs again and that is after the report has been finished to agree on what actions they have implemented since I last met them.

So has it actually resulted in any changes?

I think so yes. One thing to keep in mind is I think a lot of frustration has been around the inconsistency of the service level at the Health Centre. The very first meeting that I had with them I told them it isn’t okay for students to have to disclose why they want an appointment. What they have since implemented, which I am not sure how universal that is, you can now write down the reason. The Health Centre is very uncooperative and that’s the reason we are using the college as a lobbying power and it’s a long ass process and is super frustrating. I have sent some nasty emails of asking what exactly Paul plans to do with the report as he has had it for close to a week now.

Tell us about the promotion of diversity and support for different groups of people that was on your manifesto last year.

One of the things I’ve learned this year is the importance of policy in college and the SU that support vulnerable communities and the difference between that and raising awareness and doing different events. I’ve learned that I would want to prioritise the policy work instead due to time constraints. What I’ve done so far has been behind the scenes looking at zero tolerance policy and reporting platforms for BME students that may feel unsafe on campus have a place to go for the college to register the reality that a lot of students who are white feel that they can’t intergrate into campus. Yes its important to celebrate diversity in the physical sense but with increasing activity by Neo Nazi’s saying “it’s okay to be white”. I feel that it is more important for BME students to feel safe on campus to then work on the ‘we are pretty great’ campaigns work.

What was your role this year in guaranteeing accommodation for post grads this year?

I was part of the residential steering group in the college that oversees intake and halls life. There has never been a strong voice saying that student experience plays a big part in this too. For the most part that is because VP Welfare and Diversity was traditionally never in that steering group, it was the President. And the President’s perspective is drastically different to that of VP Welfare & Diversity. What I said is that post-grad students regardless of their age are leaving home too and are settling in places they are unfamiliar with. They are in need of assistance so I said that they haven’t engaged with the crowd and they didn’t know how else to fill George Eliot. That opened up the door to me writing a paper on who should be given priority consideration for halls as from this year. So I compiled a list and said here are all these students that you should be taking better care of as ultimately you, as RHUL have the social responsibility to take vulnerable students out of the private sector and protect them.

What would you have done differently within the SU looking back?

I would have liked to have looked at the Equalities and Diversity Policy at the Students’ Union as its over 5 years old and outdated, I don’t think its fit for purpose. That’s what we are holding students against when we decide what is and isn’t acceptable behaviour and that sets the standard of the Students’ Union as an organisation. If we are measuring ourselves against something that’s already 5 years old we are putting ourselves in a dangerous position. I’ve had students coming to me with upsetting stories of sexual harassment and sexual assault and I hate that I have to tell students if you don’t go to the police we can’t help you and I don’t think that is good enough.