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In Conversation With… SU Presidential Candidate, Victoria Leonhardt

Q: First of all, congratulations for putting yourself out there for the role of QMSU President! There are doubtless plenty of students who have considered nominating themselves, but it takes real strength of character to push past the initial temptation to leave it to someone else and take that responsibility into your own hands. Can you tell us about what made you decide that you were going to run as a presidential candidate?

A: The answer to this question is simple. While making the decision was nerve racking, it was equally exciting. Over the years, I have become invested in the university and its many communities. In juxtaposition, the main thought running through my mind was: if not me, then who? It’s because I care so much that I prefer to have the responsibility. I strongly encourage all readers to be someone who takes the initiative. You will never know what you are capable of until you do.

Q: The QMSU website describes the President as “the figurehead of the Students’ Union”, someone who “represents and campaigns on matters relating directly to the education and welfare of students across Queen Mary”. What do you think is an issue that has been sorely unaddressed by former SU representatives, and what do you propose to do in order to change it?

A: It seems to me that the SU has had a predominantly inward focus, with some neglect of the outward issues. Previous efforts were channelled into improving various aspects of the SU. I think the focus should be shifted to strengthening the connection between the students and the SU. That way we can ensure the improvements are actually reaching the students. After all, they are the intended beneficiaries of those improvements. At that point we’ll also be able to work out what works and what doesn’t.

I’m tentative about the term ‘figurehead’. Figurehead is defined as a nominal leader – someone with status, but without real power. On the contrary, I would say that the president has a general and uncompartmentalized role. Student engagement is directly or indirectly linked to every aspect of the SU and the student experience. I think it is precisely the kind of thing that falls within the ambit of the president’s responsibilities. For these reasons it will be one of my top priorities. I think its importance is evidenced by the fact that the main difference between QMSU and the top-rated Student’s Unions is the level of student engagement. When we act as one, we are stronger and more capable of making those much-needed changes.

It is a relatively long document, so I have included a contents page to help readers navigate it.

Q: In recent years, there has been a climate of apathy amongst QMUL students towards the Students’ Union elections. Last year saw a mere 13% of students vote. Tell us about why you believe students should take more interest in the SU elections, and why engaging with your SU representatives is important.

A: I think the SU should take responsibility for the low interest in the elections. It is up to the SU to be something that students can and want to engage in. It should inspire, drive and unite the students. For me the question is: why is it important for the Student’s Union to make the elections as engaging as possible? The main worry is that low engagement renders the election undemocratic. If only a fraction of the student population vote, the outcome is not representative of the whole.

Q: Producing a manifesto is a crucial task for an aspiring SU President and they often require hours of careful deliberation. But, for those of us sitting in the Ground Café in our rushed one-hour lunch break and our brains scattered from a tedious lecture, how would you condense your policies down into a quick and direct sentence to a friend when time is of the essence?

A: With strong leadership; together, we can do more.

Q: The SU President is inevitably someone that incoming new students will look up to as an example of how to make the most of QMUL. If you could go back in time and start first year all over again, what would you do to make the most of your time here before graduation? For example, would you join a different society that you never previously got the chance to try out?

A: I think the common theme in first year is expectations. You have a set idea about what “Freshers” is going to be like, how many friends you’ll make, and – if you’re not from here – what London is going to be like. It’s a fresh start and the pressure to make the most of it is palpable. It’s a bit abstract, but I wish I hadn’t let my expectations dictate my time at university to the extent they did. The truth is that letting go of those expectations makes you happier and allows you to find your way faster. Don’t force it and don’t resist it.

Q: Well done for making it through to the end! We’re going to wrap things up with something a little more informal to get to know more about who you are as an individual, SU President or not. If you were an animated film or television character, who would you be and why?

A: Robin Hood (the Disney version), because we share the same stubborn sense of humour. No matter what, he never stops laughing and inspires hope in others. His courage is endless, and he is incredibly good-natured. I am also a keen archer.

You can find the manifestos of all the presidential candidates here:

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