By Alex Neale
One of these people will be your SRC President in 2023. Get to know them first.
The two prospective SRC Presidents for 2023 sat down with Tharunka and answered questions about university life, their policies, and why you should care about the upcoming election.
Christine Nohra – Unite – Bachelor of Laws and Media Majoring in Communications and Journalism – shared inspirations from their cultural background as well as precariously positioned degree structure. They also voiced Unite’s ambition to restore campus life to pre-pandemic levels of activity.
Paige Sedgwick – Together – Bachelor of Engineering, majoring in Mechanical Engineering; Bachelor of Arts with Politics – spoke about the work she did in women’s and queer spaces, tackling homelessness as part of this year’s SRC, and a number of other proposed changes to campus that her ticket promises to campaign for.
Have you run for the SRC before or have you been a student representative?
Nohra: I’ve not run for SRC before, but I am president of the Young Australian Lebanese Association (YALA) here at UNSW.
Sedgwick: I’m currently a councillor on the SRC.
What initiatives are you involved in in those capacities? If none, have you been involved in other aspects of the student community?
Nohra: Being president of YALA you are involved with a lot of intervarsity events. Even last Saturday, we had our cruise that’s being sponsored by the Lebanese union.
Being involved with a cultural society, it’s very different to an academic society because you need to make sure that you are making a safe space for everyone that has come from a middle Eastern background. It’s not just for Lebanese people. And it has allowed me particularly to really make a difference for those people who feel as if uni has not welcomed them in that way.
Sedgwick: I’ve been working with the women’s officer over the past year, both with management and with external charities. And then I’ve been supporting Liora [Hoenig], who’s the Queer Officer. I don’t identify as queer myself; I’m always happy to go and help with her events, and same with other officers who are looking for support with their events as they come up.
Inside the SRC the work that I’ve done has been with the women’s collective. I’ve been looking at how the uni can provide free menstrual products to everyone who menstruates and providing [menstrual products] in both uni spaces and arc spaces.
I’ve been working with the club space this year to make grants easier to get for clubs on campus. I’ve also been working with students who come to me with issues like homelessness.
I’m a student executive in college; I’ve faced a lot of issues with the way things were being run at college and at university. Outside of my role as counselor, I work with the colleges to help with SASH (Sexual Assault and Sexual Harassment), making sure that those modules are implemented and well run, and people know about that sort of thing.
What are the biggest issues facing UNSW students in 2022?
Nohra: I would say uncertainty. I would say uncertainty for educational cuts. I would say uncertainty for how student life is going to improve. And I would also say uncertainty for education.
Now the biggest thing with this is hybrid learning. We know that our vice chancellor could be pushing towards more of a hybrid learning environment. This is very dangerous because, although hybrid learning is great for students who can’t necessarily come onto campus 24/7, it should not be the only option -it should be an alternative. To think that it’s the only thing that can be available is very tough, because we as university students think of university as an in-person experience.
The fact that it could be dominated [by] online is not fair because, in that case, you can just go and watch Khan Academy videos and be happy with it, you know, but that’s not what a degree should be about.
You should be going into campus, learning in person, and seeing your lecturers in person. And that’s [what] we want to implement, and ensure that there are enough staff to cater for at least every course to have an in-person class lecture and tutorial.
Sedgwick: Obviously one of the big ones is the changes in the ADA faculty. It’s really important to make sure everyone in those faculties is supported and that what they’ve come into uni with is what they will come out of uni with, so they don’t have a delayed degree process.
Another area which I think is really important at the moment is mental health support. [It] is essential for students when they have come back on campus after so long at home. I think it’s really important that the SRC really promotes those resources and makes sure all students know they can access free mental health support through the uni at all times. Same with special considerations. That’s definitely a big push because there are a lot of things like Fit to Sit which just aren’t accessible to a lot of people.
The third one is just making sure campus life comes back reinvigorated. Obviously, this year has been the first year back on campus and I think [campus life] will increase from there, but it definitely won’t increase unless clubs have the support needed to do that.
Are you currently a member of, or are you affiliated with any political parties?
Sedgwick: I’m a member of Labor.
Why did you choose to run for SRC president in this year?
Nohra: When I first started at UNSW I felt very unwelcome. I come from an area very far away from Kensington, and I know for a fact that if I came onto campus and I knew who my student body was, if I knew who the students were that were representing me, I definitely would’ve felt a lot more welcomed into the community.
I initially went into this because I want to see a real change, but I want to see the faces of who the SRC are. And I know that if I was to get elected, I would want to be on the ground 24/7, letting people know who I am and why I want to help them.
Half of my degree is journalism, in the arts faculty, and seeing all of these degree mergers and cuts has really upset me because I have a lot of friends that are just doing arts, and the fact that there are some courses being cut that you need to complete a degree is just not fair.
Sedgwick: Working on the SRC, I’ve really been shown the way that small things can really scale. And that’s what we want to do, make simple changes that make someone’s life so much easier. I’m a regional student who’s moved away from home to come to uni. I’ve lived on campus, I work on campus, I study on campus, and I’m always in touch with students and the issues that they’re facing.
This year, a couple [of] people turned to me because their accommodation had fallen through last minute and they didn’t have a place to live. I found it really empowering that I was part of a body that could work together to be like, ‘oh, okay. Someone’s just turned to me because they’re homeless. What are the channels to make sure they have somewhere to go tonight?’ And that’s crucial, that people know that they can turn to us.
The SRC throughout the last two or three years has implemented heavily subsidized accommodation through the Mulwarree apartments. So that’s one avenue for long term housing for students that struggle with financial support. That’s a really important, key one, but the other one is just, if you call security at any time and you tell them that you are don’t have a place to stay tonight, they will work with the accommodation providers on campus to find you a place to stay as soon as possible. And I don’t think enough people know about that.
Should you take over as SRC president, what would be your number one priority?
Nohra: My number one priority is improving all student life on campus. We’ve talked about education, social life, clubs, and societies, but it’s a combination of all of them. Because at the end of the day, you want to come onto campus, feel welcome, feel like your needs and interests are met. And you want to feel like the students that are working for you are delivering those services.
The first action to take is ensuring that UNSW delivers on what they promised students that are currently affected by the ADA cuts. We would make sure that there are sufficient courses and staff for the students midway through these degrees [whose courses may no longer be offered].
Sedgewick: I really, really want to make sure that O-week is the number one space for SASH to occur. As we’ve seen through the multiple surveys that have been provided and done over multiple universities, I really, really want to push for [sexual harrassment] to be stamped out on campus.
Why did you choose to run with your chosen ticket?
Nohra: I chose to run with unite because I met Vihan Roy earlier this year, and he was the only member of the SRC I’d met before. I was expressing my concerns pretty directly about how, one, I don’t see their presence enough; and two, I feel as if [the SRC] is just not getting enough done. And he completely agreed with me. We came up with the idea to have a ticket full of club presidents and executives. We (the Unite ticket) have four club presidents and eight club executive members. We’re all very experienced in how to run something and how to get things done.
The current SRC is composed of Together and there’s a bit of Left Action in some of the collectives, but Together is the main one that’s been running for a couple years and they have done significant work.
But when you are running for so many years and when you’ve been in power for so many years, it’s so easy to get tired. I felt a lot more confident to go with a new party that’s energized, refreshed and enthusiastic to get things done that, maybe in the past, people have been a little bit overwhelmed and haven’t had the energy to work as hard for.
Sedgwick For me, with the current situation with ADA cuts, I want to continue doing Nay’s* work in that space because I think it’s really, really important that we make sure and push for students to be supported. We can’t just give up and be like, ‘it’s done. We can’t change anything now’. We just need to keep pushing through the multiple forms of activism we have on campus, whether that be emails with management, meetings with management or protests.
*Current SRC President Nayonika Bhattacharya, who ran under Together’s ticket last year.
What do you see the role of the SRC as?
Nohra: When I think of the SRC, I think working for students. I see it as protecting and promoting their rights on campus. It’s a group of 28 students who all need to be led by a president who has the charisma and the approachability to tackle very serious concerns.
I think with the nine collectives as well, you need to have a very empathetic background. You need to understand that you’re gonna be dealing with some very heavy issues. And when students are coming to you, you need to be strong and unified, and you can’t let anything divide you guys.
Sedgwick was not asked this question in the interest of time.
And what policies are you running under as, as SRC president, as a member of Unite/Together?
Nohra: So we have some four key ones and they’re under the sectors of education, social life, clubs and societies, and international students. For education in particular, it’s obviously in regards to the ADA cuts. We would have a lot of solutions to this, but it’d be very different to Left Action’s approach thus far, because they’ve been really successful in the info and the policies that they’ve put forward but in terms of protests, we will take an alternative solution and instead implement an awareness campaign for newcomers coming into the university. [Students] should all feel like this is affecting them, because who knows? their faculty could be next.
Other Policies Nohra listed included:
- Revitalising social and campus life by extending the Roundhouse’s Happy Hour
- Investing in more gym equipment
- Codifying club and society AGMs and EGs to take place online, rather than in person.
- Extend the opening hours of the Arc storeroom later than 4:00 pm.
Policies Sedgewick listed included:
- Ensuring students in all courses have free access to textbooks.
- Reducing single assessment weightings to 50% or less.
- Removing minimum 80% attendance to classes.
- Mandatory health modules for all student facing staff members.
- Special Consideration granted by tutors.
- Giving students who travel to campus from outside of Sydney i.e. Newcastle, Blue Mountains, priority access to class registration.
- Mandatory sexual assault and consent training for first year students during O-Week, improving accessibility to reporting processes for sexual assault on campus.
- Free menstrual products on campus.
- An extra bus stop on lower campus.
Do you think UNSW cares about its students?
Nohra: I think UNSW has the potential to care about students more. I think that UNSW is not doing enough as it is, and that’s why the SRC needs a revamp; with sufficient pressure on uni executives, they can understand where exactly they’re going wrong.
Sedgewick: I think that depends on the issue. I’d say things like the ADA cuts didn’t provide enough student support and that’s why a lot of the groups on campus are very opposed to the way those courses have been rested, because there’s not enough student consultation around those things. Other stuff, like setting up the food bank during COVID when people were experiencing significant financial hardship: that’s an area where management did listen to us, and that’s why Together was able to enact that food bank on campus.
There are a lot of areas where they do listen and they are really cooperative, and they do want to hear how they can do better; like in the queer space, there’s a lot of stuff going on at the moment to trial unisex bathrooms and those sort of things. Same with free parking, and trialling different parking methods on campus. The uni is listening to students’ needs, but then there are obviously areas where the uni is not listening to students’ needs and not following up. I think it’s probably not a yes or no answer to that question.
What’s your favourite book?
Nohra: The Power of One by Bryce Courtney.
Sedgewick: I don’t know if I have a direct favourite book. I read so many. My probably guilty pleasure is that I really love reading cheesy romance books. Other than that, I love reading political biographies of everyone across all political spectrums and lots of different countries.
What’s your favourite hero?
Sedgewick: I feel like everyone has flaws and everyone has good intentions. I think the work Michelle Obama does is really cool.
*Responses have been edited for grammar, brevity and clarity.