Interview with Jesse Phillips

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Tom Burgess from SCAN sent Jesse Phillips some questions over email, here are his answers.

How have you been over lockdown? Have you learnt any new skills?

Between work obligations, training for archery, SU training, and various meetings as I get settled into the PTO role – I’ve been surprisingly busy during the lockdown.  But that hasn’t stopped me from trying to pick up some new skills.  I’ve been learning Welsh on Duolingo, which has proven quite fun.

What made you run for your role in the first place? 

I struggled a lot with coming to terms with my sexuality before coming to University, especially coming from a background which wasn’t particularly accepting.  When I came to university, I found the LGBTQ+ community here to be incredibly supportive and caring.  There are so many people who’ve helped me so much; I wanted to give something back to the community.

For those students who don’t follow student politics what does your role involve?

It’s a part-time, voluntary, student role in the SU.  The role has two major parts: political and welfare. On the political side, I sit on the Exec of the LGBTQ+ Forum in the SU (A group of LGBTQ+ students – open to all LGBTQ+ students – who have regular meetings and social events throughout term, community-based welfare support, and campaigns to raise awareness of LGBTQ+ issues. I also sit on the SU’s Exec Committee; which lets me bring LGBTQ+ issues to the forefront of student politics and ensure the voices of LGBTQ+ students are heard through policy-making, lobbying, and campaigning.  

From a welfare perspective, I provide a point of contact in the SU for people to come and talk to.  I’m here to listen, and to ensure LGBTQ+ people in need of support get the support they need.  I work alongside the LGBTQ+ Forum’s welfare officers in providing this sort of support.  The majority of what we do is simply listening to people and signposting them to where they can get support.

What are your main aims in the coming academic year?

In my manifesto, I set out 5 overall aims: raise awareness of transphobia, reform the LGBTQ+ Forum’s welfare system, remove the mystery of the Forum Exec meetings by publishing minutes and ensuring Forum members have a say in what we do, reach out with LGBTQ+ awareness campaigns further than our Uni, and ramp-up cross-campus activity to support the LGBTQ+ community.  

These are long-term aims, but I believe they can be achieved through hard work and determination.  The LGBTQ+ Forum exec has already started the work on the third aim by publishing minutes on the LGBTQ+ Forum’s Discord server.  

At the forefront of my efforts right now is laying out a groundwork for ensuring there are safe spaces on campus (beginning with the SU) to allow us as a university community to better provide for the welfare of all students, which feeds into the fifth aim.

Could you expand on your plans to raise awareness of transphobia?

Raising awareness is a big thing, and it starts with campaigning and making voices heard.  First and foremost, it’s something which has to be done as a community.  We’ve run a lot of poster campaigns to raise awareness of various issues in the past, and that’s certainly one avenue to look into, but we need to do more than just that if we want to have more of an impact.  

The LGBTQ+ Forum’s exec has been looking into the possibility of holding open talks and events – opportunities to talk and to learn.  Most hate comes from a lack of understanding.  By using grassroots campaigning: talking honestly and openly to people, we can find common ground to learn from each other and come to a place of respect.

How will you make the welfare hour more inviting? 

Welfare Hours are the main way in which the LGBTQ+ Forum provides welfare support.  The idea is that each welfare officer on the exec finds a welcoming space and sets aside an hour each week where people can approach them.  Whilst it works for a handful of people, a lot of people find it intimidating.  

One thing I want to do this year is to reform that and make our welfare provision more accessible.  The first step towards that is talking to a wider group of LGBTQ+ students to find out what we can do to make welfare accessible.  I also want to better advertise what welfare provision is available (as a lot of people don’t know), and to increase that provision.

Have you got any other universities in mind for collaboration for national LGBTQ+ awareness campaigns? 

My focus will initially be on north-western universities and universities who already have good relationships with Lancaster.  

With the government’s leaked proposals for changes to the Gender Recognition Act last month I had to start this research earlier than expected, to put the LGBTQ+ Forum in touch with LGBTQ+ groups from other universities to work together to publish a public response (written by the Trans Officer for the Forum), which has reached over 11,700 people on Facebook and been shared by other Universities’ LGBTQ+ and Trans+ groups.  I’m still hoping to expand this list of contacts and build it into a bigger network.

In your manifesto you mention building a safe space for LGBTQ+ people and making the SU a safer space- how will you implement this? 

Following a meeting with some of the current and former FTOs last month during handover to discuss how the SU could better support Trans students, where we talked about how to make the SU safe for our students; Oliver suggested I write up a policy to bring before the SU exec to ensure this is both feasible and enforced in the long-term.  I’ve been working on that in my spare time since, and I’m hoping we can have it in place by Michaelmas term with a view to expanding safe spaces to other spaces across campus.

Have any of your plans been affected by Covid-19? 

I think everyone’s plans have been affected by the pandemic, and mine are no different. It’s made me shift my priorities a bit to adapt to work in a different way to ensure that I can live up to the promises I made during the election period.

The recent presidential election campaign involved the controversial disqualification of the RON campaign- what do you think about this?

I found the lack of transparency around the decision to be disillusioning to say the least, as did a lot of students.  A part of my political role as an officer is to express this concern to the SU.

That said: since taking on the role of PTO, everyone I’ve worked with in the SU – both officers and staff – has been enthusiastic about improving live at Lancaster for students.  I’m excited to keep working as part of the team – to keep advocating for students.  We’ve got a great, hard-working team this year, and I look forwards to seeing a positive change in the way the SU works in the interests of students.

What have you missed most about university life?

Just being around friends.  Whether that’s shooting with the Archery Club, having a pint with SSAGO (the Scout and Guide society), or spending a late night in the Comp Sci labs.  The thing I miss most about university life is the people I live it with.

What will be the first thing you do when you get back to campus?

I desperately need to get to Costa to fuel my hot chocolate addiction, Greggs for a sausage roll, and the library to take out a small stack of textbooks.

Finally, which is better Sultans or Ketcap?

There’s no competition.  Sultan’s all the way.

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