Written by Josh Suttill
Rhiannon Jenkins is no stranger to standing up for University of Leicester students. Now she’s running to be elected as the next President of the Students’ Union.
Leicester Student Magazine spoke to the third-year English student who wants to ensure that the students’ time at the university is the “best days of their life.”
Rhiannon recently led the ‘Students Against Redundancy’ campaign in response to the proposed disinvestment and risk to 145 jobs at the University. She even directly asked the Vice-Chancellor if he’d consider taking a cut to his £250,000 per year salary – he refused.
The anger and frustration at what she labelled as the “mismanagement” of the University was a crucial cornerstone in her motivation to run for the SU Presidency.
“My motivation comes from the fact that I really care about Leicester and the University,” Rhiannon told LSM. “I’ve loved my time here but it’s upsetting to see that other people don’t have that experience and it’s upsetting to see that the University has let people down.
“I’ve been personally let down by them as well. I’m fed up, I’d had such a good time at Leicester and then to see what’s happened this year, and how careless and thoughtless the University management has been and how much they’ve let the ball drop, it’s made me really frustrated.
“That’s not the experience that students should be getting, it’s not the treatment that students deserve. It’s time to step up and stop the University from ruining everyone’s student experience.
“We all get told University is the best time of our life and it hasn’t been recently. While COVID and lockdown can’t be blamed on anyone, there are people to blame when it comes to the mismanagement of our university.”
Rhiannon has come face-to-face with the senior management already this year, and she was disheartened by the attitude of the majority of its members.
“That meeting showed how ineffective at managing the University our managing board are,” she explained. “They continually dismiss students and their concerns. Just the way they try to talk to us is very condescending. Students can tell that just from the press releases that the Uni puts out.
“That meeting drove home to me, and I believe this wholeheartedly, how little respect the executive board – not every member, of course, some of them are professors and they work every day with students and are brilliant – but some members of the board have no regard for student opinion.
“I want to change that, that’s not right. We need to remember that the SU is a tool for students to fix the University. Something that is broken in the University is not just the way the University governance is structured but the people that we’ve allowed to run our University.”
Rhiannon is aware of the positive impact that the SU President can have, having worked on projects with the 2020/21 President Mia Nembhard.
“The change that the SU President can make can be on a University-wide scale, they can bring in initiatives that impact everybody but also they can make changes for individuals and that’s really important,” Rhiannon explained.
“Some things that won’t seem like much to the next person will be everything to some people. Things like pronouns policies, introducing hardship funds and making sure they’re more accessible, introducing more lifts on campus and sustainable period products, even though it doesn’t affect 100% of students. The small percentage that it might affect, they matter.”
The issues closest to Rhiannon’s heart and personal experience include counselling waiting times, the sexual violence reporting system and sustainability. She thinks the latter “is not as effective as it could be.”
Although she highlighted those, when asked which policies were the most important to her, she insisted that she was committed to achieving and enacting all of the policies on her manifesto.
“I genuinely want to say all of them, and I know that sounds like a really ambitious, overwhelming, maybe arrogant comment, but I genuinely care about all of it and they’re so important.”
As well as standing up to senior management, Rhiannon has mental health and wellbeing issues at the heart of her manifesto. She used her proposed policy of integrating ‘The Locker Room’ as part of the SU.
“The Locker Room was started by the amazing Kyle Hibbert [University Tennis Co-coordinator], which promotes men’s mental health and wellbeing,” Rhiannon said. “It’s a kind and welcoming community which is outside of sport. That’s really close to my heart because I lost my best friend to suicide, a month before I came to Uni in 2017.
“I know how difficult it is to find community and reach out, every time there’s mental health week, stuff on social media says ‘reach out to your friends, reach out for support’ and people post stuff on their stories. But even with that there, some people don’t feel able to.
“With stuff like The Locker Room, and affiliating that officially with the SU, making it an official safe space on campus is so important. Signposting it, advertising it, working with local organisations to promote it and also strengthen it with legitimate counselling.”
In addition to her detailed manifesto, Rhiannon highlighted other issues she wants to address such as introducing mandatory training on liberation issues and ensuring a safe return to campus, with a restructured Union that prioritises student well-being and trust.
You can cast your vote now – https://www.leicesterunion.com/voice/elections/voting/ – polls close on midday Friday 5th March.
You can find our interview with Pedram Bani Asadi, one of the other Presidential candidate, here. Ghanshyam Nonghandvadra is also on the list of candidates running for the position.