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My Year So Far: Mrittunjoy

last modified Oct 22, 2019 04:09 PM
As I start my last term as your VP & Chair of Exec, I look back on what we've achieved this year.

Joy is found not just in finishing a journey but in undertaking it. I feel the same for my time as Chair of the Executive Committee and Vice-President of the University of Cambridge Graduate Union, which has been quite eventful. I began in January 2019 and some ten Union Councils later, I am as excited and dedicated to accomplishing the tasks of student representation, leadership and welfare. From gradual but sure-footed campaigning on housing and welfare, to fiery University committee meetings, to working as a team in the GU on points of interest for the student community, this journey has given me a perspective not only on education policy, leadership and liberation activism like few others stints could have.

The first major area of work for me has been on housing and living expenses. Decent, affordable housing should be a basic right for every student in the University. In the beginning of my term, I started the GU Housing and Living Expenses (HALE) campaign, with a GU Council motion and policy. We reached out to our membership with articles published in Varsity early in the year to increase awareness of the realities of student housing. We obtained an early win in the Phased Deposit scheme for private providers who advertise with the University Accommodation Centre. In the last few months, we have developed and distributed a housing toolkit for MCRs. We have also been lobbying for transparency in housing and living expenses by informing prospective students seeking affiliation with a college about aspects such as number and kinds of rooms available, and rent ranges.

I have also been consolidating our Graduate Rights campaign. This year, I have worked with stakeholders from across the University, including the University Counselling Services, to look at various aspects of Graduate Rights, particularly around awareness building. Firstly, clear expectations are a crucial part of a good postgraduate research student experience. To this end, a major achievement under the Graduate Rights campaign this year, has been that after sustained campaigning by us, the University now has an official 'Research and Resources Overview' form. Secondly, as part of the campaign, I have also been working on improving training modules for students in research courses and making it more accessible to students. With the help and support of the Students' Unions' Advice Service, we have been able to get Epigeum courses, such as 'Managing your Research Supervisor or Principal Investigator' course, for research students and staff transferred to Moodle (which can be accessed just with a Raven ID).

Last but not the least, I have good news regarding anonymous student feedback on supervisors and supervisions, which I and other GU officers have been campaigning and lobbying for. The University's new pilot enables postgraduate students to provide anonymous feedback, through their College Graduate Tutors to, or directly through, the Office of Student Conduct, Complaints & Appeals (OSCCA), which will then be shared with the Department or Faculty. Besides these three wins, I am also launching a petition on Mandatory Supervisor Training for supervisors of all postgraduate research students, since that every student deserves good supervision. As part of the Graduate Right and Welfare campaign, we also released the Personal Welfare Handbook for students that I worked on last year, from my time as the GU Part-time Welfare Officer. Working on a policy I passed this year, I have been working on departmental welfare, particularly lobbying for the establishment of one welfare champion in each department for welfare signposting, accessible to all students. Physics has already implemented this, while biomedical sciences and some humanities departments are working with us on this.

I have been leading the GU campaign on anti-casualisation. I proposed and helped pass policy on this, back in March 2019. As a follow up on this policy, the Graduate Union worked with Cambridge UCU on the Raise the Bar initiative for all workers on casual or temporary contracts. You can read more about our demands here.

As the Union's primary engagement officer, engagement with the students is key to what I do. As part of our new engagement policy, I initiated engagement drop-in sessions and covered various places around the University, from Darwin College to Girton College, West Café to the Buttery.

As a BAME student, in the past four years, there have been times when I have felt the presence of unconscious bias and subtle racism in the University space. Speaking out and breaking the silence on things such as unconscious bias in the University space should not be an issue. I felt this was a priority point for me and therefore spearheaded a new campaign called Campaign for Race Equality and Awareness using Training and Engagement (CREATE). Under CREATE, there are three major areas of focus: Showcasing postgrad BME voices and experiences within the university, eliminating unconscious bias and discrimination within the university and creating communities of support for BME postgraduate students. In Michaelmas 2019, we will begin by working with departments and college MCRs to look at training on race equality, along with looking at best practices in colleges and standing up against instances of racial discrimination of students in the Collegiate University.

Lastly, in my capacity as Chair of the Executive Committee, I have worked with a great team of volunteers. I have also made changes here: greater accountability, with a Progress Card by each part-time officer at every executive committee meeting, and an intersectionality forum of liberation executive committee officers.