By Ben Waddell & Craig Mahood
Starting out a normal academic year as Vice President for Education or Sports President is daunting enough.
But for Lexi Ehresmann and Edd Keeler, this year could be the most difficult yet for the role.
For both, it is clear that mental health is a key component of their roles and something they look to address in the year ahead.
When asked to sum up her manifesto for the year ahead, Lexi said: “Accessibility, Support and Progression.”
In a year that could potentially see a lot of home-studying and uncertainty in international students, the roles that each volunteer takes are pivotal to ensure the Stirling experience remains as extensive as it has been.
Lexi said: “With the pandemic, this has particularly impacted non-traditional students so I want to take this year to increase the visibility of these struggles as well as increase the awareness and access to the resources that do exist.
“I also want to identify any gaps in our support services that need to be filled.
“The same goes for international students, one of my goals was to make sure Stirling remains open and friendly to international students, but with the pandemic this has kind of made things tricky.
“So my goal for this year is to make sure that international needs are properly attended to by the University in light of Covid-19, but also work to stop the sector wide view of international students as cash cows.”
Environmental issues provide a further passion for the new VP, something she is keen to include into the curriculum.
Lexi continued: “I have secured funding for a sustainable lifestyle kit project, which aims to make sustainable and environmentally friendly living accessible and open to our students as they start to develop independent life skills when they come to University.”
“I originally wanted to work on getting environmental issues and considerations included throughout the curriculum in all degrees.
“I firmly believe that the environment is all encompassing and our continued disrespect and ignorance for the environment is what has led to the dire state of our planet.
“I want to see the entire curriculum redesigned. We need to include the historical, social, cultural, and political context for everything.
“You shouldn’t be going to school to be a doctor or a nurse unless you learn about how the gender data gap systematically disadvantages and endangers women. You shouldn’t be able to get a degree to be an expert in literature unless we are expanding the book lists to include BAME and LGBTQ+ and foreign authors throughout history. You shouldn’t come out of University with an economics and finance degree unless you see how the system of capitalism marginalises and disadvantages POC, women, and the working class to serve the rich and powerful.
“Everything we learn must be contextualised within our history.”
Wellbeing remains a critical societal aspect – heightened greatly by the Covid-19 pandemic and this is something the University will be expected to continue promoting.
Lexi added: “With a switch to online learning and working in the last few months, I know many people are struggling to maintain a healthy work, school, life balance.
“I would like to work on creating a resource that helps students understand the importance of a healthy balance, and how to achieve this when we are working from home, something many of us have not had to do before.
“Additionally, while there is a lot of momentum in the University and the Union right now towards our mental health and well-being approach, I want to keep representing the interests and needs of non-traditional students.
“Finally, I’m working on how to make the different resources and people from the education side of things, including Personal Tutors, Faculty officers, module coordinators, and even myself as VP Ed, more complementary to one another rather than competing to do the same thing.”
The challenge of this year is nobody knows what is going to happen. Preparing for it is almost impossible but it is certainly not something to faze Lexi, despite an overwhelming start.
She continued: “This upcoming year is going to be a challenge, a challenge that I don’t think the contemporary higher education sector has had to face before.
“I sometimes feel like ‘wow, how are we gonna get through this without letting some of our students fall through the cracks’ but at the same time, I’m getting to know my SAAB team as well as the other Union Staff and there is a lot of really positive and ambitious energy.
“There is so much opportunity to just scrap any archaic or backwards principles and policies and just embrace what JEDI means today (I like to add a J for Justice to our Equality, Diversity, and Inclusion policy because I don’t think you can fully appreciate EDI without talking about justice, plus JEDI just sounds cooler!)”
Lexi is already aware of the many stakeholders that will rely on her changes and although she has many ideas, implementing them all will be tough.
“I know that a big part of my role is making the most of my seat on multiple committees and groups with the University and in external organisations.
“The University understandably has a lot of considerations to make, but at the end of the day, we are an educational institution whose obligations are to the students first and foremost.”
“There is no way I could achieve everything that I want in just one year. I mean I want to see a revolution and those things take time!
“But if I’m being a bit more serious, I definitely have some key objectives that I would like to achieve by the end of this year, or at least create a foundation for either myself or my successor next year to carry on.”
“So if I’m doing my job right, I will need to set aside some of my projects so that I can work with and for my students in that moment.”
Sports President Edd Keeler has described the introduction to his role as ‘challenging but exciting’ as he looks to tackle some key aspects during his tenure.
The year ahead for the ‘Sports University of the Year 2020’ is looking good with the opening of the news sports centre.
Edd said: “I aim to increase support for mental health through upskilling committees as much as possible and running training where possible.
“Increasing the accessibility of sport for students who identify as disabled and the inclusion of minority groups within sports are imperative.”
“I want to help all clubs develop however I can.”
However, talking to Edd about his aims he said: “Its difficult to limit this down to one or two things I have a couple of ideas in the planning phase at the moment and I hope they will make positive impacts.”
The year ahead can be quite nerve racking for the new SAAB team, with having to adjust to the role, but looking at the year ahead Edd said he feels: “In a word positive, we will have incredible new facilities and although this year will be different, we are going to have a brilliant year.”
As both Sports President and VP Education President get to grips with their roles, the year ahead looks exciting but challenging.