Speaking with LUU’s Activities Officer, Lauren Huxley, Susy Goldstone discusses the Union’s programme for making inclusive societies a reality.
Inclusivity. Accessibility. We all like to think that we implement these words within our societies, but do LUU societies actually go far enough in ensuring that everyone, regardless of their individual needs, is included?
LUU Activities Officer, Lauren, believes that we could all be doing more. Her new campaign, ‘Tell Me More’, is designed to get people talking about inclusivity and what we could all be doing to improve.
But why is inclusivity so important?
Lauren said: “It’s important, firstly, because it’s one of our core values at LUU. Secondly, I think everyone should have the same opportunities. It’s not fair that we advertise all of these brilliant clubs and societies – all 340 of them – but then somebody might come and face a barrier to taking part in them. Some people get to have a brilliant experience at university because of our societies – I’ve been here for so long because of societies and because I’ve loved it so much. There’s no chance I would have done a Master’s degree if I didn’t love everything I did at the Union so much! But I know, and I’ve seen, that not everybody gets to have the same amount of fun, and we all need fun in order to do a degree, because it’s really difficult!”
With this in mind, Lauren is now promoting her Tell Me More campaign in order to help committees reach out to those who may have otherwise felt that societies wouldn’t have anything for them. First, it’s about opening up conversations between the committees and the Liberation Coordinators.
She told me: “I had an idea ages ago when I was Dance Rep – why don’t we as Reps or committee members ever meet the Liberation Coordinators? It wasn’t until I went to a forum that I knew they existed and I thought that was such a shame because they’ve got a wealth of knowledge and experience that can help inform people, and I thought it was a massive shame that there was nothing that introduced those people to each other.”
Therefore, Tell Me More’s first event on Monday 22nd October was about doing just that – introducing society committees to their Liberation Coordinators and encouraging that initial conversation.
At the event, everyone sat in a circle in the Riley Smith, well-stocked with teas, coffees, and excellent brownies. After a few introductory activities (introducing ourselves, setting some ground rules), Lauren gave us all post-it notes and asked us to write our answer to the question, ‘What does accessibility mean?’ before sticking all the post-its on a large sheet of paper in the middle.
One by one, Lauren read out the post-it notes and encouraged us to discuss what we thought about it. It was an incredibly informative activity for the committee members, as it covered topics such as: the language used in branding and how it can be misinterpreted, making sure that we don’t assume anything about people, and talking to the people you want to make the event accessible for so that they can tell you how to best cater for them.
Committee members Indeera (Treasurer of Leeds Amateur Medics Musical and Performance Society and Academic Rep) and Sarah (President of Irish Dancing Society) told me their reasons for attending the event.
Indeera: “As Academic Rep, I represent eighty societies, so accessibility is incredibly important so that people can attend these societies. Academic societies enable people to gain knowledge and resources about their course from each other. Therefore, I want everyone to be able to be involved.”
Sarah: “Irish Dancing is a growing society and attracting international students especially, but we don’t really have many people with visible disabilities. I was interested to learn about how other societies included more people and how we can make little changes to do that as well.”
When I spoke to Lauren after the event, she told me that she was pleased that it had had such a positive turn-out:
“I think it was fifteen people that came in the end.et’s say that’s about eight societies we’ve covered– that’s going to make a difference to a lot of people.
Fingers crossed they go and tell some more people and spread the word. But I think there were some really nice conversations that came out of it, especially conversations that people had just never thought about before, which is absolutely fine. It’s fine that people don’t always know all the answers.”
Indeera and Sarah told me that they had definitely learned a lot from the event, and that they’re looking forward to getting more societies involved.
Indeera: “I’ve learned about the importance of the Liberation Coordinators and getting the right advice from them, as every situation is different. One of them mentioned today that their job is there for a reason because committees aren’t expected to know all the answers to these questions as long as we’re open to learn. It was really good to have an open discussion and I think it is a topic that needs discussing with other people and to have an open space to share ideas. I’m looking forward to more events with even more societies.”
Sarah: “I agree with Indeera. If there’s another similar event in the future, I’ll bring along more of the Irish Dancing committee as well as some other societies. Importantly, I’ve learned about the Accessibility Fund. It’s nice to know that help is there and that we can just speak to Lauren about accessing the funding that can enable more people to attend trips, classes, and competitions. It’s also encouraged me to reach out to shyer people who might be struggling and making sure that I check everyone is OK.”
The society committees who attended the event seemed extremely positive about the initiative and, fortunately for them, Lauren’s campaign has only just started.
She explained: “I want to set up a hashtag, #TellMeMore, where myself and lots of other people can answer societies’ questions on either Facebook or people come to us and we share our answers. I think it’s all about shouting about it more, because there are some societies who are doing brilliant things! But if they don’t shout about it then we don’t know what people are doing to solve these problems. So, I want to encourage that more and hopefully hold more events that are similar to the one we’ve just had so that we can encourage conversations and set up and facilitate a space for that.”
The main point that Lauren made, both at the event and in her interview with me, was that committees should always ask LUU if there’s something accessibility-related (or otherwise) that they aren’t sure on.
She concluded: “Always come and speak to LUU if you don’t know about something. I think that people sometimes come to us once it’s too late – in any circumstances, this isn’t just with accessibility. I see people coming to me once a problem’s happened, but let’s be proactive and try to foresee things like this and come to us so we can help before things start to go wrong.”
Keep an eye out for more #TellMeMore events and updates, and remember you can always speak either to Lauren in the Exec Office, the Liberation Coordinators, or any of the Student Activities team in the Activities Office.
In the words of the event’s tagline: No judgements. No daft questions.