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Nela Cadinanos Gonzalez: “I wish nothing but to give back in any way possible”

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After the difficulty of the last year, Union President candidate Nela Cadinanos Gonzalez believes she can help build a stronger and more resilient student community.

For the past year, Nela has been working with the SAABs on several ways to improve the campus – and after encouragement from current President Amy, she decided the best way to make an even more substantial change was to run for President:

In an interview with BRIG, Nela outlines her plans for the year ahead if she is successful.

“Overall, I have always been driven by an immense desire for making a change,” she says.

“Now, I want to take the next step, and bringing the change through our university will be a great contribution for my journey.”

Part of Nela’s manifesto includes supporting the welfare of students, with plans to adapt the Scottish Government’s Mental Health and Wellbeing Strategy to fit the needs of Stirling’s students.

Having spoken to students who have had bad experiences and following other universities plans, there are certain aspects of the current systems that she would like to work on.

“I know the current ‘One At A Time’ system has reduced waiting lists significantly, but the appointments are still given in a period of two weeks.

“Considering the Scottish Government has recently provided £16billion for health, I think our university should provide more staff to support students asking for mental health assistance.

“… it is not really accessible because it is not well-promoted and many students are unaware of it, so I want to promote the assistance available, for example via the module outlines and in Canvas pages”.

Nela, a third-year international management and French student, also feels there is an organisational gap, having heard from students that had been allocated different councillors – making it difficult to form solid relationships.

“It’s important to think… it is extremely hard to ask for help if you are… mentally suffering.

“And if you do not receive adequate support, after taking such a difficult step, you feel unmotivated and hopeless”.

She told us about plans to use CBT (cognitive behavioural therapy) sessions to offer an understanding of how individuals may be perceiving the world, and using the Mindfulness movement to help others control their inner stress.

Having used this practice to help herself over lockdown, Nela is willing to support these practices on a regular basis and not just in events this Wellbeing Week.

She also highlighted the important role exercise has on our wellbeing, and suggested having sport psychologists who are licensed mental health professionals would be beneficial to Stirling’s array of student athletes.

She wants to include workshops supporting students with topics such as social health, sexual health and even financial health.

Sustainability is also an important issue on this year’s agenda.

21-year-old Nela says being involved in meetings with senior managers at the university will allow student body voices to be heard and ensure the Union is actively engaging with all conversations about sustainability.

“It is our duty, as conscious human beings alive in the age of climate change, to contribute to the healing of the planet.

“The intersectional aspect of environmental degradation is something which motivates me to wake up everyday and try to find solutions.”

She worked with Nourish Scotland and the Scotland Food Coalition, highlighting the issue of food systems and food insecurity, and helped push the government to deliver the Good Food Nation Bill to fight for sustainable food choices.

Nela plans to introduce Rocket Composters, similar to City of Glasgow College’s, that would help the recycling of food waste while saving money from disposal services. It has the added benefit of supplying campus with free compost.

While working closely with the Union, Nela contributed to current VP Education Lexi’s Sustainability Lifestyle Kit by selling bamboo toothbrushes in collaboration with NGO We Are One, and looks forward to watching the project grow.

She has also been working with Johannes, the current Environmental Development Coordinator, as part of the Environmental Network:

“We have exciting plans for this year: we wish to create a Tree Nursery though our community garden, which consists on selling Scottish native trees to rewinding projects and then funding sustainability projects on campus.

“… with the long-term goal of setting the path for our Union to become carbon negative”.

Representation is also on Nela’s manifesto:

“I am aware of the Gender Awareness Training that members of the Union received, but I think there is a lack of intersectional aspects related to gender, race, and so on.”

She harbours hopes of making training more intersectional, similar to the University of York, and developing an intersectional approach to training on sexual harassment, violence and hate crimes.

The Spanish-native has also looked into internationalisation at the university and, having engaged with BAME students, has found there are significant issues she would like to address.

“I think our university did well by running a survey last year for exploring different issues that BAME students suffer from.

“By engaging with some of them, I have found that when incidents of racism occur, much like sexual harassment, students do not know where to report this and they do not have much faith that it will be dealt with effectively and fairly.”

She also highlighted that the survey pledged to uphold diversity standards, but has discovered “BAME students feel that there is little to no representation of themselves on campus, in classrooms, etc”.

“… students often do not feel motivated enough to be engaged at these levels, so I think our university should get more involved with organisations like Black Professional Network (BPN), that provides free leadership and development opportunities”.

She also has plans to help future international students with extra paper work by “allocating a tutor from the Internationalisation Office to support them with the bureaucratic process, which can be quite challenging, especially on first years”.

Nela believes a Union President should have passion, empathy, a desire to make a change and give back, and be able to actively listen and have direct engagement with all students in the Stirling community:

“Nothing cannot be solved by hope and passion, and I have this.”

Nela’s Manifesto can be found on the Student Union website.

Voting opens March 8th at 9am, and closes March 9th at 6:15pm.

Feature Image Credit: Nela Cadinanos Gonzalez

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