Being a Students’ Union Officer is no easy job in any year, and this academic year has already proved to throw up a number of unprecedented challenges for the higher education sector.
Whilst this calendar year has been challenging, there are always plenty of great things going on in Students’ Unions though, and more often than not, Students’ Union Officers are at the very heart of that.
As part of our Sabbs in the Spotlight series, we have caught up with the incredible Jenny Marchant who is President of Education at York St. John Students’ Union.
Hi Jenny! How are you finding this academic year so far?
Hi there! It’s been a whirlwind of a year to say the least. There is a lot going on in the HE sector this year, and it’s ever changing especially in the midst of this global pandemic. I’m feeling super lucky and empowered to be a part of helping the student movement, and to be providing that support to our students. It’s tiring to say the least, but rewarding too.
So tell me a little bit more about your role as the President of Education at York St. John Students’ Union. What does a typical week look like for you?
A typical week is pretty hard to define, being a sabb is a constantly changing role, and it’s important to be flexible! I spend a lot of my week sitting on various University committees, being the student voice representative. I lobby and challenge university decisions to make sure that they are in the best interest of students. I also oversee the academic representative system, which has nearly 200 representatives, and I work on campaigning and advocating for students. A new role has been hosting virtual student events such as book and film clubs. I do miss the personal interaction with students, but we all have to. adapt to these unusual circumstances.
This is your second year as a Sabbatical Officer, how hard have you found this academic year in comparison to last year?
It’s honestly like an entirely new role being a Sabbatical Officer in 2020/21. Obviously the last few months of my first term were completely mad, with everybody going into lockdown, and suddenly being plunged into working from home. This year has continued to be a challenge. It’s been a testing time with the difficult circumstances students are facing around the country, and it has been difficult working on improving the situation for students. The role has changed in many ways, I certainly never imagined running virtual fresher’s events, but I’d say the determination from Officers around the country to improve the student experience grows stronger in the current climate.
When you ran for re-election, what were the main priorities you campaigned on for this year?
I ran with a focus on looking into student mental health in the university journey, and what improvements can be made in university systems and structures to support student’s studies. Another big campaign point was to lobby for lecture capture to be implemented at York St John (which I’m still working on!). I also promised to prioritise inclusivity and accessibility on campus, and to campaign for better provisions at the institution.
If you could make a long-term change to the higher education sector, what would you like it to be?
I’d say a big thing I’d love to make a change on in the sector is the representation of students in all areas of university decisions. Student representatives and their voices are crucial in universities nationwide, but it is so important that we grow that student voice to become bigger, more powerful, and collectively enable more efficient change.
You’ve done some brilliant things at York St. John Students’ Union so far. What would you identify as your biggest achievement?
I’d say a rewarding moment for myself was releasing the University Safety Net Policy at the Students’ Union, in partnership with the University in the first few months of the pandemic. That was a moment where I felt I could really see the positive impact the work done had on students at the institution, and how the student voice had been heard. It was the result of many hours of work and virtual meetings, lobbying for the best outcomes for our students. Seeing the Safety Net released really was a moment of relief and made all the hard work seem very worth it.
Are there any campaigns you are working on at the moment that you’d like to collaborate with other Students’ Unions on?
I’m looking into campaigning on sustainability in HE, and looking into what students and universities can do to do their part for the environment. I think this is something some Unions are doing fantastic work on, and I’d really like to do some collaborative work on this. I think being a second year Officer means you can really utilise those officer connections around the country for the student movement.
And finally…. What’s your favourite thing about York St. John Students’ Union?
I think I’d say how fab the student engagement is. The Students’ Union has a close knit relationship with the student body, and I’ve always loved how much of a community it is. We have so many student members willing and passionate about getting involved at the Union, and I think that has always been a really special trait the Union has. Things may have changed but working in a Students’ Union remains one of the most fun jobs around, and I’m really grateful to have this opportunity.