Backlash over perceived “cuts” to Mental Health and a lack of commemoration of Holocaust Memorial Day made for a tense, yet completely ineffective, student council meeting on Tuesday 11th February.
The Student Council is made up of twenty students, elected every October. According to The Students’ Union, the purpose of the council is “To receive reports from Presidents and hold them accountable to their manifestos[,] To discuss student ideas and to either veto student ideas or allow them to pass on to the Trustee board[and, ] To discuss and vote on Bye Law changes.”
Ten councillors attended, but without fifteen of the twenty councillors attending, they cannot vote on anything – referred to as a ‘quorum’, or minimum attendance requirement, of 75%. This means that both of the two meetings this academic year have not reached quorum.
The student council has the highest quorum out of all bodies where this is defined in SU byelaws, of 75% whereas most bodies only require 50% + 1 attendance. The student council has not met this quorum for either of its two meetings this year so far.
Despite this, the board of trustees, which includes elected presidents and appointed trustees, only requires six attendees out of the twelve potential posts to vote on issues. Were a similar quorum applied to the student council as well, the ten councillors in attendance may have been enough.
The ten student councillors in attendance for Tuesday’s meeting were: Ben Hilsenrath, Collines Mugisha, Jacob French, John Paglinawan, Khyja McCalla, Laura Burge, Max Rubens, Narice O’Brien, Rachael Johnson, and Tre Simon-Brown. The ten councillors who did not attend are: Amina Collins, Bishal Pokhrel, Emre Gundogdu, Fauzan Favian, Kathryn Beggs, Matan Sayegh, Nicholas Mills, Roberta Johnstone, Sasha Chipo Chimbumu, and Tadas Stulgys.
After a last-minute room change from the regular meeting place in Union 1 to Q Block, one Councillor told HUB Magazine that they “tried to attend going to both SU locations but couldn’t find anyone there or any information about where exactly it was”. Some other councillors stated that they were only notified of the meeting on the day of the meeting or that they were not aware of the quorum requirement.
Presidents in attendance were: SU President Precious Onyenekwu Tatah, Vice President (VP) of Community and Welfare Ubong Joseph Ante, VP of Education Jane Ojiako, VP of Societies and Communication Evan Botwood, and VP of Sports and Health, Joshua Edje.
Despite not reaching quorum, heated exchanges made for a tense student council meeting. The council voted 5-4 to reject the previous meetings’ minutes after Councillor Ben Hilsenrath raised that comments had been added retroactively.
In questioning the presidents, Councillor Hilsenrath lambasted the level of detail in the presidents’ update reports, saying that he “would like to see for the next meeting a bit more than half a page […] on what you’ve been doing over a three-month period”.
Later in the meeting, councillors Hilsenrath and French proceeded to chastise the presidents on their previous measures to help mental welfare surrounding exams, referring to free tea as not good enough. Concerning drop-in sessions with qualified councillors, Hilsenrath questioned why existing services were removed before new services were enacted. President Onyenekwu Tatah and VP Ante responded that, as they voted as a team on this change, they could not comment individually, with VP Ante adding that the lack of councillors will be addressed with UWE’s Wellbeing services. VP Ojiako responded that some students do find the measures, such as free tea, useful – a sentiment shared by Councillor Burge.
Further criticism on wellbeing came from Councillor O’Brien, who stated that Farmhouse drop-ins with student advisors aren’t effective, with no immediate care provided, suggesting that UWE has cut back on qualified counselors, adding that measures such as free smoothies would not help with her own mental health issues.
Discussing Holocaust Memorial Day, Councillor Rubens rebuked The Students’ Union for not commemorating the 75th year of commemorations, asserting that there was no excuse for not knowing about the day due to it being marked in previous years. President Onyenekwu Tatah responded that she didn’t know about the day, adding it is “not physically possible to do everything”, with VP Ante adding that they encourage student suggestions.
Further questions from Rubens to VP Botwood lambasted the 21-day external speaker policy, which requires 21 or more days of notice for political or religious speakers to attend events, with Rubens calling it “ridiculous”, accusing Vice Chancellor of UWE Steve West of attacking social sciences.
Not everything was as negative – VP Ojiako revealed that free sanitary products are being trialled at the SU building, and that the SU will lobby for UWE to adopt if the trial is successful, in response to a question by Councillor French. In his manifesto update, VP Botwood revealed that £1530 had been raised by a sleepout event for charity One25.
Further matters discussed included an announcement by VP Ante on the development of a website by the Students’ Union for advertising student properties and a new “Thursday Specials” initiative at the Students’ Union building, designed to serve up more diverse food every Thursday, with further announcements to come.
Furthermore, VP Edje added that further initiatives to involve the LGBT+ community in sports are planned, building on rainbow laces, to try to get an LGBT+ team to play on games day.
Photography by Maya Bond-Webster