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By Muhummed Cassidy
LSESU Disabled Students’ Officer
Last Thursday saw the first Union General Meeting (UGM) of the year, chaired by Mahatir Pasha, from the democracy committee. The Union General Meeting (UGM) is a weekly meeting where students can find out what their elected student union representatives have been up to and debate policy that shapes the LSESU’s campaigns.
In attendance was all the part time officers, including myself the Disabled Students Officer (DSO). I was elected in March 2016 to represent the interests of students with disabilities, wellbeing issues, or illness, to the Union and the School. Two of our full time officers were also present: General Secretary, Busayo Twins, and Activities and development officer, Julia Ryland. The event was well attended by members of the student body.
I was able to report on how I have been working on implementing my manifesto commitments. I spoke about how I have been implementing my main manifesto commitment of creating a disabled students mentoring scheme.
Essentially, this is a scheme whereby second and third year students can volunteer as peer supporters for first year disabled students. Mentors will offer general support and guidance on all things student related. Mentees will seek to gain practical advice, encouragement and support, learn from the experience of others, and increase their social and academic confidence. If you are interested in participating in this mentoring scheme, or getting more information, either as a Mentor (if you are a second or third year student) or as a mentee (if you are an incoming first year), please email firstname.lastname@example.org. There will be a launch event at the end of this month.
I also spoke about how it was proving difficult to reach out to disabled students at the LSE because I do not have a set mailing list for this constituency; I mentioned that I was now looking into establishing a mailing list for disabled students at the LSE. However, I did not have the opportunity to mention the background as to why it is that it has been difficult to reach out to disabled students. Essentially, Disability and Wellbeing Service Manager, Sarah Slater, has refused to share any of my messages with disabled students on the DWS mailing list. During the summer I had asked her to share the mentoring opportunity with second and third year disabled’s students. Yet she ignored my emails; following follow up emails she responded by saying ‘we can’t really email students for you – so sorry’.
Naturally, I was taken back by this response because as part of my role as DSO I am required to work directly with the LSE DWS. I simply could not understand why they, of all people, would decline to share this opportunity with disabled students given that it is an opportunity that will be of great benefit to many disabled students at the school, of whom this department directly work with and supposedly support. I, therefore, asked Sarah to explain why it is that she will be unable to share this opportunity with students on the DWS mailing list and whether she had any concerns about the scheme that I could address for her to feel more comfortable about sharing the opportunity. I was further ignored.
I was finally contacted by the Head of Student Wellbeing, Adam Sandelson, who reinforced that the DWS would not be sharing the opportunity and that they ‘would not wish to become a vehicle for mass mailing of students’. In my response to this, I noted the many instances where the Disability and Wellbeing Service had previously emailed students about opportunities, including those which were not run by the school or SU. I noted that that I find most concerning with the conduct of the school is the lengths and efforts the DWS had taken in order to be uncooperative, unhelpful and difficult. It would have costed them less time and effort, and most importantly would have been in the interest of all concerned, for them to have shared the opportunity.
I am currently exploring what measures I can take to challenge the uncooperative nature of the DWS. Indeed, during my election as Disabled Students Officer, I spoke to many disabled students who expressed dissatisfaction with the uncooperative nature of the LSE Disability and Well-being Office and I have to say that I myself can relate to these concerns having experienced them in a personal capacity as a disabled student. Its appears that I am also experiencing this even when trying to exercise my duties as an elected officer in the SU.
I would like to use this opportunity to make a promise to students: As a disabled student officer, I want to foster a more corporative relationship with the disability and wellbeing office. In addition, I will work to ensure that they, and other departments within the school, are fulfilling their duties towards disabled students. You can count on me to challenge and act upon any concerns that students report regarding any unfair approach that departments within the school may have towards students with disabilities.
Going back to my experience at the UGM, this was my first ever time attending a UGM so I was not too sure what to expect; I enjoyed the experience and was happy to directly interact with students in the audience. For the next UGM, however, I will be sure to brief the chair that, as a disabled speaker, I will require extra speaking time.
This UGM was also an opportunity introduce the discussion of whether social mobility is a problem at LSE and whether the LSESU should take the step of introducing a part time student officer to tackle this. Members of the panel included Mateusz Maciejewski, the founding president of the new LSE Social mobility society at LSE, and Ronda Daniel, a final year Sociology student, who offered a very personal insight into her time at university as a working class student.
The UGM was recorded and can be found on the LSESU Facebook page.