Last Friday I sat down with Josh Cavendish, one of the three candidates who wishes to be our next President of the Durham Student Union. I wanted to ask Josh about him, his campaign and why he thinks he should be your President.
With this in mind I wanted to know the basics: who is Josh Cavendish? “I’m a third year Liberal Arts student…Over the course of my three years in Durham I’ve represented the University in six different disciplines; water polo, chess, bridge, ballroom dancing, rugby fives and I was also a member of DUOS…the University’s symphony orchestra.” Mr Cavendish believes his broad range of interests and studies has offered him insight into the relationship between the Student Union and students.
Onto the important question, I asked why he wanted to be President. He paused, and then reflected on how, when he organised an inter-university ballroom dance, the DSU “weren’t interested in giving us support, either financially or pastorally and that’s just systemic, I think, of the experiences I’ve had within societies.” He talked about administrative failings and pointed to “the last five Student Union Presidents [who] have been JCR Presidents.” He likened this to career politicians, questioning how well previous Presidents represented the broad range of students and societies. “I’m apolitical”, he claimed, and wants the job to fix what he saw as the DSU’s failings. “I simply want there to be a change, and that ballroom dance event was a tipping point for me.”
On other issues the DSU could improve upon, Mr Cavendish’s chief point was “synergy” in our collegiate system. He wants the Union to be more involved in college campaigns like, he cites, the recent Collingwood Welfare campaign, which he thought could have been beneficially raised to a university-wide level. “They haven’t engaged with the wider student body and I just find that a little bit off.” Josh thinks that a better, closer relationship with colleges is a more achievable goal than the “high-minded policies such as bringing down university entrance fees.”
In his manifesto I thought the major proposal was a “pitch-for-funding-system”. What is it, and why do we need it? “So, at the moment, it’s a piece of paper…you’re allowed a maximum of one thousand pounds, you put down you want this, this and this…and then you submit your piece of paper…and I think [that’s] a bit impersonal.” He mentioned the limitations of financial support provided by the DSU and the current, “impersonal” relationship between the Union and societies. Instead, he wants “a conversation, face-to-face…between a society’s President and Treasurer and the Student’s Union” to create a more bespoke financial plan for each society throughout the year. Justifying this, Mr Cavendish related how he wanted to encourage and help “good” societies who positively represented our University.
I thought this sounded fine in intention but I wondered about the logistics; how would his officers be able to meet with every society –over a hundred affiliated he says – in one term? Wouldn’t this be quite hard? “I think it would be, but there’s five officers and I think the time is worthwhile because how you…”, he pauses, and restarts, “…we’re students, we’re not adults yet. I think societies need that sort of coaching and it’s one of the Student Union’s primary jobs, the primary job.” He discussed other areas where the DSU had let him down in what he feels is their major responsibility, “I think people would respect the Student’s Union more if they were to help actively and engage with executives.”
On his manifesto point about inter-religious and inter-cultural events, I asked what he had in mind. “Well, I think Durham is a Christian university – half the colleges are Saint something – and the Christian Union do a fantastic job of presenting themselves to the student population.” Mr Cavendish would encourage cooperation with other religious and non-religious societies who, collectively, represent the majority of students but who could aspire to have a similar engagement with students: “I think it would be great if we saw other societies, religious and cultural, trying to do the same thing…to work with each other and also establish those links.”
I pointed to the focus on accommodation and fees within other candidate’s campaigns and wanted to know why Josh’s manifesto didn’t have the same emphasis. “I think there are two problems here. In terms of landlords, and fees in the wider Durham area, I think the other two candidates are going to find it difficult to gain traction whatsoever on this issue simply by railing against it because there are 2,000 students coming from Queen’s campus next year and demand is increasing and the supply is remaining the same. So, it’s naïve to think this is going to change in one year.” He wasn’t impressed with some of the previous attempts to tackle rising fees but suggested “what could change is working with landlords with regards to their contracts.” Instead of a year-long lease, Josh wanted to explore the possibility of sub-letting out of term-time.
When I asked if he wanted to comment on the other candidate’s campaigns, Mr Cavendish showed me a screenshot of a post on Durfess, a popular student Facebook page, which denounced him in no uncertain terms. I was a bit bemused, what was his point? “[The post] is a completely disgusting, vacuous lie. I’m a normal student, I’m apolitical, I’m simply standing because I want to see change and I respect the other candidates, I respect their positions – they seem very sensible to me…and I don’t wish to be vindictive myself and that’s it.”
Final question, then, why should students vote for you and not the other candidates? “I’ve experienced the majority of student culture, that’s what I believe…I see things that I would like to change and I think, I think I’d be able to give that change justice.”
Voting is open until 5pm on Thursday and available through DUO and the DSU’s “Meet your candidates” page online: https://www.durhamsu.com/election-candidates.