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USU Board candidate interview: Vikki Qin

The full transcript of Honi's interview with 2020 USU Board candidate, Vikki Qin

Honi Soit: We’re going to start off with some general questions. Please introduce yourself – your name, your degree year, your campaign colour and your slogan.

Vikki Qin: Hi everyone, my name is Vikki and my campaign slogan is “Vi got you”. I’m currently a second year student studying financial economics and international business.

HS: And who is your campaign manager?

VQ: I have one campaign manager. Her name is Phoebe. She is a domestic student.

HS: So are you in a political party? If not, can you describe your politics to us?

VQ: I’m not in any political party. I’m just an international student. I don’t have a political view here in Australia. I’m an independent. 

HS: In terms of ideology though, can you give us an idea of where you would sit on a political spectrum? Are you progressive, conservative or a centrist?

VQ: These terms are a little bit confusing to me. I’m not sure. I think I’m in the middle. Because I have friends from all these different types of groups. I would say maybe I’m slightly more progressive because I have LGBTQIA friends and I really support them. But in terms of personal politics views I don’t have any specific views.

HS: Are you in a faction on campus or have you previously campaigned for any student elections?

VQ: I’m not in any factions but I did help out with my friend Benny for his election last year. 

HS: Could I ask why you’re running for USU board? What are your reasons?

VQ: I became a campus activity coordinator this year which has allowed me to understand the USU on a deeper level. In the process of planning exams and interacting with students during exams I realised there was a lot of room for improvement with the USU. For me, I am joining the election because I want to be the person that is able to push these improvements and back the student experience on campus.

HS: What makes you think you’re perhaps better placed than some of the other candidates running? Do you think you have relevant experience or qualities that make you worthy or better than the competition?

VQ: I don’t think I’m better than anybody. I feel like everyone is really good. For me, the difference is that I think some of them are running for their political party and they may be pushing for certain ideas. For me, I am just for everyone’s benefit. I have been planning events and working with general life things in middle school and high school because I was a councillor. This is the type of thing I do. I always plan events and look after students’ needs. I think, in terms of this, I’m pretty experienced.

HS: What are some of the events you have planned at Sydney Uni, for example?

VQ: I haven’t been at campus for that long but what I’ve planned so far is the Pride Festival. That’s the main thing I do is the Pridate Festival. The main event for the Pride Festival is the Glitter Gala. Other than that, I was a resident assistant at USyd accommodation so I planned the monthly events and some annual events.

HS: Which candidates are your top two favourites and which is your least favourite or, alternatively, which candidates do you think you’re most similar to and which candidate do you think you’re least similar to?

VQ: That’s a very tough question. I don’t know all of them personally so I can’t say favourite but in terms of similarity maybe Ada. I heard that she is a post grad and she has been in Australia for a long time but she is also an international student like me. I don’t represent a particular group. I have a lot of international student friends and local friends. So Ada is quite similar to me. In terms of controversy, I heard that maybe Nick and Ben are a bit controversial but I don’t really know because I haven’t read up on what’s going on. I don’t have a favourite or least favourite.

HS: If you had to cut one million dollars from the USU’s budget, where would you cut it from?

VQ: For now, in terms of the global pandemic situation, I would cut it from the Make a Difference Foundation. Make a Difference is for a good cause. It’s for charity. But at the moment the USU is in a very tough financial situation. They can’t even ensure the wellbeing of their employees so I don’t think they have the capacity to raise money or do charity from other people.

HS: You mentioned the USU’s current precarious financial situation. We’re going to ask you some questions about this situation. Would you support or stand against a university takeover of the union? Why or why not?

VQ: No I would not because I feel like the USU is made by students for students. A university takeover would mean that student voices are not heard as much and it may go off in a different direction. I wouldn’t want to the uni to take over the USU.

HS: What about the recent standing down of many of the USU’s employees, over half of which are students? Do you think this was a good decision? 

VQ: I was one of those students. I was laid off due to this situation. Obviously to me because I was deeply affected by it I was a little sad that the USU wanted to let me go. But I understand that currently they do not have a place for me with their funds. At the same time, I wish the USU had thought of some ways to let me continue working. I plan events right? So maybe I could help them plan online events and then they wouldn’t need to fire me because I really need this income. 

HS: Last year free ACCESS was introduced with a new board coming in. Do you think that’s still a viable situation given the current USU’s financial state or do you think we should go back to paid access?

VQ: I think once you go free, you can’t go back. Once you already let everyone know it is free and then start charging again they will probably not want to be a USU member anymore. It is good in terms of charging for membership. But, at the same time, certain groups of people can’t afford to pay to enjoy the USU. I think, if we’re thinking of all students, even though it’s hard, we should keep membership free and look for alternative revenue streams.

HS: What is your opinion on how successful the current board has been and, more specifically, what is your opinion on Connor Wherret’s presidency?

VQ: I feel like the current board is pretty successful. I think of the promises they made when they were running and they have come true. Like, say, Cady – I remember her policy was renovating Wentworth. She made this happen. The campus looks much better now. Benny said in a policy that he wanted to bring some Chinese food to campus and that’s happening. They are successful because they pushed what they advocated. In terms of Connor, I don’t really know him and I don’t read up specifically on what the president would do. So I don’t have any opinion. 

HS: The Wentworth renovations were already planned before the election last year. International food on campus was kind of already happening as well, which I think speaks to the fact that many board members make promises and many of them don’t happen. Do you have an idea of why that is and how do you plan on navigating your time on the board to make sure your campaign promises come true?

VQ: I feel like the most important thing is that the promises we make are realistic. If I made some really big promises, they won’t happen. I think maybe some of their promises are a little bit too big or will take a long time to come true. Me, I will make realistic promises. If I think it’s best for students, I will try my best to make it happen and convince everyone on the board. Everyone has different ideologies too and what they think is best. What seems good to you may not seem good to somebody else. This is a very important factor. 

HS: Do you have an overall policy priority? Which singular policy of yours do you think is most important?

VQ: My favourite one is my policy of promoting free, reusable cups. You can borrow reusable cups with your ACCESS membership and return it at any USU cafe. When I was planning events this year, the USU often uses paper cups and this is very shocking. You can enjoy coffee and be good to the environment at the same time.  

HS: Do you think reusable cups is the best idea in a global pandemic? Some cafes have actually banned reusable cups.

VQ: Maybe not. I didn’t plan for a pandemic. Another policy now there is a pandemic and art students are joining us on the main campus, and I know a lot of people really love USyd merchandise and want to have their own input, I have a policy where there will be an annual competition for students to design their own hoodie. The winner will become the official USyd hoodie. Everyone can join and it will be online.

HS: Let’s dive more into policy then. Let’s talk a little bit about the USyd hoodie. You’ve put that front and centre. Why do you think that’s an important initiative to be running in this kind of a time?

VQ: It doesn’t feel like hoodie or merchandise is a good price. When I wear a school hoodie, I want to be proud of it. And also students are bored at home right now right? If you let people have the chance to design this thing, it will encourage them to occupy themselves and do something meaningful. 

HS: We also noticed that in your policy statement many of the policies have been promised in the past – things like more multicultural food and events, upgrading the ISL, the reusable cup system, cheaper sanitary products. These are things we’ve seen in the past in previous elections or they are already in the works in the USU or in place. What are the unique things that make students want to vote for you?

VQ: I feel like if it hasn’t been delivered in the past it’s fine for someone else to make the same promise. Just because a previous person wasn’t able to deliver it doesn’t mean I can’t. Some of the policies like the multicultural one I mentioned again because I feel like there are still people being left out, even though the USU is already trying to be as multicultural as possible. On campus, we don’t see, for example, Thai food, Korean food or halal food. I guess because my background is so multicultural – I grew up in Singapore – I have really been immersed in all kinds of cultures and groups. Maybe I therefore have a unique perspective. 

HS: Ok. To build on that, what makes you a new and exciting candidate? You haven’t really run in a past election before and you don’t have a track record in student politics. 

VQ: They should vote for me because I come to the election solely to push for student life and not for any political reasons and also because of my multicultural background. I am able to consider a more diverse group of people. I can understand a bit better how they might feel. I’m a bit more well-rounded in terms of my understanding of what different groups need.

HS: In terms of recycling older policies, I notice your policy of review systems was a policy Benny introduced last year and it didn’t come to fruition. How would this operate in a different way to reviews on Google and Yelp? Further, a lot of USU staff at cafes and restaurants have been laid off recently. Do you think that introducing a review system that will likely result in a punitive measure for staff will really help build morale after the crisis? Do you think this is an appropriate way to interact with USU staff?

VQ: I think it’s appropriate. For me, I could write feedback on the USU website or app. Last time when I opened the app, there was nowhere to write a review. I think it’s good because uni is a channel for people to say what they want to say. I think the USU may not be sharing enough feedback as of now. There is no very good way for students or staff to know what is really happening or what people really think. We need a better channel for that. To be fair, the USU is not relevant or cool. That’s why I feel like, if you let students truly give their feedback, the USU can improve and it might make a better name for itself among students.

HS: Do you think the restaurants and coffee should be the priority for this thought or should it be other activities and services that the USU provides? To me, the standard of the coffee at Courtyard seems trivial compared to the experience students are getting through C&S or through Surg. Do you think this is an appropriate thing to focus on?

VQ: For me, I am a little bit more concerned with food and whether students are enjoying themselves on campus. Food can be one focal point. But if I start a review system on the website or app, there can be different categories – food, events, or something else. Students can provide feedback for literally anything the USU is controlling. 

HS: In terms of your proposed increase in job opportunities for students, this is something already kind of in place within the USU, as you know being a former USU staff member. They quite frequently hire students for roles in the USU across all levels. How will this differ from the system already in place? 

VQ: I know with the system in place you can have Pulp editors and student leadership opportunities. But these opportunities are very rare. What am I trying to propose is positions for students, say, in cafes. I was a barista right? I tried to apply for a USU cafe but because there are other people, not students, who can work full-time, they might have preferred them. I have a lot of friends who want to work at USU food outlets but don’t have experience. The USU only hires experienced people. I think what I am trying to promise is hiring students only. Maybe one or two full-timers from outside but the casual staff should only be students. Students with zero experience therefore have somewhere to start and then they can move on and go somewhere else.

HS: You are proposing restricting hiring so it’s almost only available to students?

VQ: Yes, ideally. A lot of students need a job at uni. If the USU can provide them with training and their first job, it would make things much easier. A lot of them want a job but they just can’t get one because they haven’t worked before. The USU should be the platform to give them a chance and training.

HS: I notice in your policy statement, there are a couple of things that are a little vague, particularly on the improved C&S funding. You talk about a more transparent funding system and equity. I’m not really sure exactly what material policies those involve. What specific change would you make to C&S funding to improve transparency and equity?

VQ: I am in a lot of clubs and societies and I feel like the funding system is not well informed. Say if you are a smaller club. It’s harder for you to get funds from the USU compared to the big clubs. When they changed the funding system – was it last year? – they did not consult all the clubs. It was very confusing for everyone. If I were to make changes, I would consult all the clubs and societies first and get everyone’s opinions to make sure everyone is happy.

HS: So you would increase consultation? 

VQ: I would increase consultation. Maybe monthly or every two months I would check in with the needs of clubs and societies. Maybe last time the funding was enough, but in a different time they may need more or less money. I would make sure everyone has enough funding for equity’s sake. 

HS: Apart from the change in funding not being communicated clearly, do you think that the current board or recent boards have had issues with transparency?

VQ: I can’t really think of a specific one now.

HS: Still on policy: you’ve indicated that you want to pressure the university to increase multilingual mental health services. I’m wondering exactly how you’re planning on doing that? 

VQ: I think this is a little more difficult. Maybe with the hiring process: I could have some meetings with the uni and emphasise to them why we’re having those kinds of meetings. For CAPS, if we’re hiring professionals, we should ask what kind of professionals we’re hiring or what languages they speak. It could be translators even. This is a real need. I have some Chinese friends who are trying to get consultations but they are so afraid to go because they can’t really speak English and they can’t describe how they feel and they won’t understand what the professionals say. I will probably try to work on the translators first. Obviously it would be the best if we can hire professionals who are bilingual. 

HS: The hiring process for CAPS is not something the USU generally has much of an overview of. It’s more of a university concern. How are you proposing that you as a board director will increase or introduce some kind of multilingual, mental health service? What kind of plan do you have?

VQ: We do have in Wentworth a wellness centre on the second floor. I feel like for me I will push the USU to hire a professional therapist themselves.

HS: Right. So you would push for the USU hiring a therapist? That’s introducing a service that the USU doesn’t really provide in any other capacity. The USU doesn’t run any health clinics. Are you suggesting the USU should introduce a separate service to CAPS?

VQ: Yeah. I feel like why not? Mental health is a part of student life. There are only six times you can go to CAPS. What if I need more than six sessions? It doesn’t hurt to have two separate channels for students to go to. If they want to go to CAPS, they can. But if they need multilingual services for mental health, they can come to the USU as well. We can have a therapist too. A small team maybe? It is about time for the USU to look more into this. The USU always does events for R U OK? Day. Why not make sure that throughout the year students can really be ok by introducing our own service and making it multilingual, so that the minority students who don’t speak English that well can access this service. I know as of right not many international students who don’t speak English go to CAPS because they don’t dare to go.

HS: Given that the USU has recently had to lay off quite a lot of its staff. It seems to be in dire financial straits. It’s resorting to selling grocery boxes to stay afloat. Do you think introducing a whole new service, which hasn’t been tested before and will cost quite a bit of money to set up and maintain, is a good idea? 

VQ: I would say it’s not possible right now due to the financial situation. When I thought up these policies, I was thinking more for times when the USU is doing ok. If I became a board director, I will focus more on how the USU can recover their revenue and go back to their prior financial state. After we solve these problems, then we can move forward and push all these policies that can benefit the uni.

HS: Adding on top of that, do you think the USU has a role in pressuring the university and taking a firm stance on things or even criticising the university at times? There has obviously been a lot of discourse on COVID 19, the pass/fail system and Proctoru. Do you think the USU has a role in taking a firm stance for or against that? 

VQ: I think even the management will think this is something that the SRC should do. The USU represents students and is for students. If it benefits the students, the SRC should lead the actions but the USU should help out also and play a support role so we can make sure that students are protected.

HS: That’s it from us. Anything you would like to add?

VQ: Not really. 

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