President of the Students’ Union Abraham Baldry and Welfare Officer Rianna Gargiulo have clashed over the future of the presidency.
Gargiulo, supported by some members of the executive team, has announced that she is leading a campaign to replace the role of president with an Equality and Diversity Officer. A campus-wide referendum on the issue will take place in early December, with results to be announced before term’s end. However, the current president Abe Baldry – now serving his second term in office – disagrees with the proposal. The Students’ Union officers put a similar proposal to students in the spring, but the proposal to rename the presidential role “Union Affairs Officer” narrowly failed, with 51 percent of the 599 students who took part voting to keep the presidency.
The Welfare Officer stressed that further reform is necessary, although in three of the six years before Baldry’s election the position of president was occupied by two women and a gender-queer person. “Until the Union has the funding to support the four part-time roles in all becoming full time, this appears to me to be the next best alternative at empowering and much needed changes,” Gargiulo told The Badger. “In addition, the emergence of groups such as I, Too, Am Sussex, pages such as ‘Sexism at Sussex’ and the engagement of students with the Union’s Access Sussex and Time to Change campaigns present a clear move towards identifying that Sussex is not the liberation haven that many people think it is, but is still rife with institutional racism, sexism, homophobia and ableism that we should be facilitating students affected by these issues to address.”
The National Union of Students (NUS) delivered a report to the Sussex Students’ Union in which the organisation referred to the role of president as “gendered”. When The Badger referred to the fact that Hilary Clinton is odds-on favourite to become the USA’s first female president, the Welfare Officer retorted: “I don’t think your Hilary Clinton comparison is at all relevant. “Firstly, this just isn’t the US Presidential election. Secondly, it is quite typical that one woman running for a role for the first time in its history with a chance of success will be seen to be a ‘victory’, in the same way Obama becoming the first black President was seen to ‘eradicate racism’ throughout America when clearly it doesn’t. Neither of these things challenge a bigger structural problem to do with race and gender that aren’t overcome by one or two individuals that buck the trend. I don’t think I see this one instance as a huge success in the way others might.”
President Abe Baldry disagrees with the views of both the NUS and his colleague: “There are a number of benefits to having a co-ordinating, figurehead role, and I believe that a students’ union with a president is more effective than one without one. “I am working with a Sussex academic who has worked with a number of Prime Ministers and party leaders to improve the gender balance of their cabinet. I hope that the results of this work will be reflected in the candidates in next year’s elections. “There is a difference of opinion in the officer team about this and, ultimately, students will decide the answer to this question.”