“Students are burnt out, tired and frustrated”

Written by Toby Cray, featuring interview from SU President Mia Nembhard

Mia Nembhard is the President of the Students’ Union (SU) at the University of Leicester, she has agreed to speak with me over Teams, to give an insight into how the SU represents the needs of students. This year has presented new problems to the running of the SU, with everything been done remotely, but this has not stopped Mia from representing students’ views.

The SU has worked alongside the Students Against Redundancy group to give a voice to students who oppose the proposed disinvestment strategy. The latest example of this was a motion passed at the student council meeting on 2 February, that means a vote of no confidence in the Vice Chancellor and the Executive Board will be held soon.

Mia gave praise to this student led campaign, stating: “I really appreciate the efforts of students like Rhiannon, and others, who were behind the disinvestment campaign.” The Vice Chancellor faced fierce criticism at the meeting, led by a proposal which was signed by the Students’ Union, that said the university’s management showed a “blatant disregard for staff well-being.” Being able to criticise the university freely is important and Mia is very clear when she says that any interference with her ability to communicate “would be inappropriate” as she doesn’t “believe in student censorship.”

This vote has come on the back of widespread criticism over the proposed cuts, with the Leicester UCU branch passing a vote of no confidence in the Vice Chancellor on 25 January. However, opposition to redundancies is not new to Mia, as she states: “there has never been a year that we haven’t stood in solidarity with staff against redundancies and cuts.” 

Mia passionately wants to help students stating: “If you don’t want to make change you wouldn’t become an officer because it is too much work.” So, she initially found it hard to see misinformed criticism on social media, but after working on the activities team last year she has found “filtering the constructive feedback from the general meanness of some people,” to be important to her well-being.

Last year was a particularly difficult time to be an officer at the university, with the #metoooncampus activist leading a student-led campaign and survivors of sexual assault coming forward. “We were doing work that we were never supposed to be doing, so we were taking on case work on behalf of survivors and without training, it was quite traumatic.”

Mia has been part of the efforts to try and improve the flawed system, but the changes to the reporting system are new, and will take time to show an effect. Mia though thinks that the planned external audit has the potential to bring about real change. “They are going to look at everything on campus to do with student survivors and look at it holistically.” This change is going to take time as “the university still has a long way to go in supporting survivors, but we also will be there every step of the way to hold them to account.”

Mia notes that she is grateful for the response of students to the tuition fees campaign, where the SU’s survey was filled in by over one thousand students, particularly as “students are burnt out, tired, and frustrated.” Mia is keen to help students in any way she can as “whoever comes up to me I want to do the best for them.” However, she acknowledges the limitation on the SU’s reach “you’ll never be everything to everyone”, but she is always willing to take on feedback of students “I will try to think of as many students as possible, but if I lose insight, tell me, I will change it. I might not get it right the first time, but I will not put it out yet, until I have that consensus.”

Implementing changes takes time, however “a lot of people want results now, but it might be a month, two months or three months, but the dedication is always there, so I think we have a really important role in changing things on campus.” Mia is keen to emphasize the role of the SU is to empower students, particularly giving them opportunities to vote on issues, making it important for officers to provide transparent updates about campaigns. 

The SU officers are paid representatives of students and the SU exists to tackle any issues that matter to students, “if you want support with it, that is why we are here.”

Learn more about Mia’s work as SU President or get in touch with her here

Toby Cray is a second-year journalism student at the University of Leicester. You can find him on Instagram here: @toby5.c

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