Of Canvassing and Campaigning.

Well. What a week that was!

Allow me to elaborate: you may have been aware that I was running for the position of Equality and Diversity Officer in the Queen’s University Belfast Student Elections as part of the REUNION ticket of fellow committed activists seeking positive change for all students. Two weeks ago marked the commencement of canvassing and carrying out the campaign within the public sphere, aka engaging with the student electorate. Two weeks agoalso marked the three days of voting, and results night. And what a week it was.

Now, before I launch fully into this blog post, sharing my campaigning experiences, I will state that unfortunately I was unsuccessful in my candidacy. I lost by 372 votes in a tight contest which I am proud to have taken part in, and even more proud to have had such an opponent in the eventual victor. I know that the post will be in safe hands next year, for all that I will no longer be at QUB to see it happen.

Truly, I know not where to start in regaling my readers with my tales of campaigning and canvassing. Honestly, the days seamlessly blurred into one, or so it feels to me. I found myself running from one area of the QUB campus to another, delivering numerous lecture shout-outs and constantly being on my feet as I spoke to one student after another. I found myself running a social media campaign, posting on behalf of the ticket on both Twitter and Facebook. I found myself surrounded by the greatest, most dedicated and passionate team of canvassers any aspiring candidate could dream of, and I cannot thank them enough for their enthusiasm and assistance.

But first, let me start from the beginning of the election season at my university.

I found myself on Wednesday 24th February making my way to the SU Marketing team to be filmed for short promotional clips, which would be disseminated online via Youtube and also through Snapchat story. The university was undertaking this filming for all candidates, and it marked the first time that such assistance was provided to candidates in the SU elections. It was a wonderful experience, albeit it initially felt quite surreal to stand before a white screen and be filmed whilst discussing my main policies. You can access the video for the Equality and Diversity candidates here.

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Snapchat story time!
Thursday 25th February, exactly one week until Results Night, marked the official commencement of sorts of the 2016 elections. It is an infamous day in the university SU calender, known informally as ‘Poster Apocalypse’. This day essentially is the day when candidate posters shall hitherto paper the walls of the Student Union at my university. Certain walls and areas are more visible and as such more cherished. Thus it is not unusual to see candidates rally their troops in the early hours to camp out, guarding jealously the prime locations. The ticket I was running with had wonderful stalwarts who were sitting in the SU from eight in the morning until late afternoon; I found myself joining them in the afternoon and camped out myself. In addition, all candidates were required to attend an Equality and Diversity training session/general SU Election meeting that evening where we were informed as to election regulations and procedure in relation to campaigning and canvassing. Upon the conclusion of this meeting, we were provided our the campaign materials the SU kindly provides. Our names were randomly drawn, and one by one we were allowed to leave the room… And sprint to the nearest team canvasser and begin sticking our posters to walls, borders etc. I must confess that I never thought I would see the day when I would run down several flights of stairs, my arms filled with posters, and frantically tear and roll Blu-Tak as though my life depended on it. (It felt as though this was the case at the time.)

poster plastering
Poster Apocalypse!

The weekend of that week was packed with planning, researching and drawing up canvassing schedules for the following week. Not to mention team meetings, too. I suppose I realised at this point that it was going to be a long couple of days until Results Night, involving travelling between my home and Belfast repeatedly, many a taxi adventure and long nights of chats, and engaging online with potential voters. I did however reach another moment of realisation: that of being part of something bigger than myself, an inspiring idea. It was certainly something to see the election material around the SU, and to see my manifesto online on the SU website. It was the feeling of having achieved something; of drawing people’s attention to issues I feel passionately about and desire positive change in.

This feeling was heightened upon the commencement of election week itself. For on Monday 29th, it was Candidate Question Time! This was an event for all students to take to the stage, and to answer questions from the floor and submitted online. All candidates had a maximum of five minutes to speak; I used my allocated time to outline my motivation for running, including mentioning the parallels I feel are forming between the US higher education system and that in NI, namely increased tuition fees and reduced government assistance which is only to the detriment of students, both present and future. Then, it was on to answering questions, and here I must say that time was a flat circle; my opponent and I must surely have been on the stage for over forty minutes. The questions covered topics as diverse as how to address women’s reproductive rights, to representing disabled students to tackling ‘political influence’ in the SU, and finally to whether we would try to lobby to protect the Mandela Hall (a well-known venue within the SU which is allegedly facing destruction by the university.)

I never thought I would be taking to a stage, talking about issues affecting students, and promoting rights and respect for all students. But being able to talk about mental health awareness, consent workshops and LGBT* recognition and the importance of a self-identification for trans* and non-binary students was a remarkable feeling. I feel grateful to the SU for affording a passionate activist such as myself that opportunity to talk about all students at QUB, and to stress the need for an inclusive and respectful campus all students deserve. (It also marked the busiest my emails/social media accounts have ever been; with so many mentions and comments about myself being posted online!)

After a long afternoon of hustings, I was then to take to Queen’s Radio to be interviewed along with my opponent as part of the annual Student Leader Election coverage covered by the Queen’s Radio team. This was again such a surreal moment; I never thought I would be interviewed on radio whilst at university, being granted the chance to discuss issues I care deeply about. It was a memorable and indeed exciting experience which I enjoyed. You can access the radio interviews conducted with all candidates here. (Personally, I do rather like the comment within the summary of the interview: ‘Leah Rea was quick to quell any accusation that her place on the Reunion ticket is a form of tokenism’. That is a story for another blog post down the line.)

Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday: a succession of days which seamlessly blended into a whirlwind of canvassing, leaflet dropping and student engagement. From lecture shout-outs on Tuesday, to canvassing around the student residential area of Elms on Wednesday and then being based all day in the SU on Thursday, I was scarcely sitting down. Nor could I avoid seeing my face staring back at me, whether on posters, leaflets or t-shirts! But it was a great feeling to be part of a movement to put students first, to campaign for change and to ensure respect and equality for all.

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On the campaign trail.
Again, I have to reiterate how fantastic our team of canvassers were. They so kindly gave up their free time to come along and canvass for us, something which I am most appreciative of. Not to mention that we had a lot of chats and laugh along the way, which surely kept us all going over the three long days of campaigning. I believe I came away from that week with many new friends.

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Posters became our close companions for three days.
Before we knew it, it was Thursday evening, and thus canvassing and campaigning drew to a weary close. SU election policy is that results cannot be released until all election material has been gathered and disposed of, so cue a frantic dash around all university buildings to take down posters, and bundle up leaflets. I suppose it was quite the fitting conclusion: after commencing the campaign with a frantic sprint to affix material to the walls, it seemed only right to end with a similar frantic dash to take down aforementioned material.

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The clock struck five, and so all election material was duly collected.
In due course, we soon began to make our way towards the Mandela Hall (yes, the very place where I was asked whether I would oppose its alleged planned demise during Candidate Question Time; evidently my life operates in a cyclic manner) in preparation for Results Night. I had two fantastic friends at my side, and I thought that irrespective of the ultimate result, I had been able to speak about issues such as mental health awareness, and the need to reconsider consent on campus, and that was a success in my eyes.

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And here we go…
And so we waited.

Results night part two

(‘RON’ stands for ‘Reopen Nominations’, an election mechanism whereby should students prefer additional candidates to enter the political fray, or do not like the current offerings, they vote RON.)

As the unsuccessful candidate, I had to make my concession speech first, and so cue me skipping to the front and taking to yet another stage. I remember feeling very calm and relaxed; I think I was just grateful that a tiring campaign was officially at an end and pleased for my opponent. I simply reiterated my gratitude to the team for placing faith in me as a candidate, my appreciation for the kindness and support of the canvassers, and I urged any listening to be involved in student politics and activism. I also stated my happiness for the victor, knowing him to be truly sincere and zealous in his belief for equality. Truly, I lost to a wonderful fella and I could not have asked for a better opponent. And with that, I exited stage left (thankfully not pursued by a Shakespearian bear) and rejoined my friends. The rest, they say, is history.

And thus concludes my retelling of my 2016 campaign! I never would have expected to have undertaken such an experience; had you said to me in the summer of 2015 that this would be the case I would have laughed. But it was an enlightening experience, informing me about student politics, and educating me in people and trust. If anything, I think it has taught me that whilst there are those who will write you off, see your in their own terms and perspectives, life is about proving these people wrong. You must show that there is more to you than meets their eyes, and be proud of who you are and what you stand for.

Respect, Empowerment and Action: my campaign for QUBSU.

As I have written previously, I am standing to become the next Student Officer for Equality and Diversity at QUBSU. I believe in, and desire to see Respect, Empowerment and Action at my university. I am so excited to run with the dedicated team of fellow activists and campaigners with whom I share the same passion and interests as part of REUNION.

I know it is going to be a long couple of weeks of canvassing and campaigning. But I am nothing if not determined. I have issues to raise, and topics to raise awareness of. No matter the ultimate outcome of the campaign, I know that I will try my hardest and do my best, and ensure the issues I care deeply about are raised and acknowledged.

I thought to write this evening to share my manifesto with you all to keep you updated on the campaign. This comes after a week of juggling meetings and my internship with classes and campaigning, and in light of the canvassing and hustings this coming week. But seeing both my ticket and individual manifestos launch this week was a proud moment. I suppose it was a moment of realisation, knowing that my team are so passionate and determined to bring about positive change for all QUB students.

Leah Rea – VP Equality and Diversity

~  Respect  ~  Empowerment ~  Action ~

Leah Manifesto 1

I believe equality is recognising we are all human, and entitled to the same access to education, opportunities and experience. It is realising we each should hold the same status, and rely upon the same rights and freedoms. It is respecting your fellow students, accepting everyone as your peer irrespective of background, nationality, culture or religion.

Diversity is understanding that alongside our shared status and rights, we must recognise each student is unique. We must recognise and celebrate differences of both group and individual nature. I am passionate about supporting and protecting diversity because by valuing individuals and groups we create a vibrant and enriching community of equals. By eliminating prejudice and stigma, we foster a climate where equality is the reality and mutual respect is intrinsic.

At QUB, we are fortunate to participate in a diverse society. We need to be able to respond appropriately and sensitively to this diversity, ensuring all students feel valued, motivated and treated fairly.

Our current VP Equality and Diversity Officer has worked hard to ensure this, and I would welcome the opportunity to take over and build upon his work.

For there is so much more to be done.

Barriers still exist. Stigma is still present.

In the face of additional cuts, and threats of tuition fee increases, it is more important than ever before for all students to unite in opposition to plans that would prevent many from continuing their education in the subjects they love, or being denied an opportunity to experience the student life.

It’s time for this to end.

In sum: I aim to ensure all students realise their importance and dignity. I want to empower all students to utilise their voices and realise their rights. And I will pursue this through active campaigns the development of an inclusive and respecting community, where we can learn alongside and from each other.

I will uphold equality and diversity through:

Respecttimes may be difficult for higher education, but cuts should not mean accepting inequality.

Better recognition and understanding of mental health issues, greater inclusivity for international students, greater support for students re-entering higher education, better signposting for students of faith, increased positive awareness for sexual consent, greater recognition of self-identification for trans* and non-binary students.

Empowerment students are not blank chequebooks. The adopted financial stance of the university should not deter students from having their say.

Creation of Inter-Group Forums to enable various student representative groups to come together and unite on shared issues, greater recognition of female student autonomy in relation to contraception and choice, visible platform for LGBT*QIA students, establishment of visible roles for international students for greater inclusivity in the student community and politics.

Action Words alone will not create the inclusive community QUB students desire. Campaigns will bring about positive change for all.

Raising awareness of pronoun importance, greater promotion of Human Rights Week, greater awareness for LGBT* Month, better recognition of positive consent, increased awareness and promotion of International Women’s Day, raising awareness of derogatory language and slurs.

About Me

I am a passionate Human Rights advocate, student activist and volunteer. I believe it is vital and necessary to speak up, help others and desire change. I firmly believe we all have a voice which deserves to be heard and respected.

Throughout my time at QUB I have been involved in fantastic societies, campaigns and volunteer work. I have discovered that it is through collective involvement with students of similar thoughts and aims that positive change can be achieved. I know one student alone cannot truly be representative of our diverse student body – I seek to be the facilitator, the medium through which students can be heard.

Upon returning to QUB this year after studying in America, I saw that the university was becoming more business-focused and money-orientated, much to the detriment of students. I also saw that the SU was seeking to oppose such rhetoric and practice by becoming a passionate hub of student activism. I thus joined other committed activists in Campaign SU in order to defend fundamental rights and freedoms of all students. I desire to run for office to ensure this platform of activism and empowerment continues, existing to serve students both present and future.

Experience 

QUB

‘Are Ye Well?’ mental health awareness training (2013)
Mind Your Mood CBT training (2014)
After-School Study Support tutor and mentor (Sandy Row Community Centre, 2013-2014)
First Year Law Buddy/workshop facilitator
Typhoon Haiyan Aid campaign volunteer
Young City Leader Communications Officer 2013-2014
International Buddy Scheme
Children in Crossfire committee member
InnovateHer participant 2015-2016
Inspiring Leaders Class of 2015
Campaign SU

USA via Study USA scholarship, 2014-2015

Coe College Human Rights Advocates committee member
Coe College Mental Health Awareness committee member
Alpha Omicron Pi: empowering women through leadership and philanthropy
‘Yes Means Yes’ campaign activist
International Club/Multi-Cultural Fusion member
Coe (LGBT) Alliance

Vote for Respect, Empowerment and Action for Equality and Diversity.
Vote REUNION #1 from the 1st – 3rd March via Queen’s Online.


 

You can find the REUNION ticket on Facebook, and also follow us on Twitter for campaign updates.

 

 

Democracy in action: it’s the UK Blog Awards 2016.

I have some exciting news to share with you all today.

Today marks the beginning of the public vote for the UK Blog Awards 2016; a competition to determine the most engaging and interesting blog to be found in certain categories. It attracts a great variety of entries and highlights wonderful bloggers and their writing to the public.

I actually only discovered the existence of  this competition a few months ago, and never really thought my blog would be a worthy candidate amid such tough competition. However, I decided that I might as well throw myself into the deep end (nothing new here; my study abroad adventure in America taught me well) and enter my blog anyway. Why? Well, I suppose that my mindset is simply one of, ‘you never know until you try’. When I was writing my New Year’s Eve post pertaining to my review of my blog over the past few months, I realised that this blog has come to mean a lot to me, and I cherish the time I spend writing and publishing on it.It has proved useful and informative for other law students, which was my original aspiration upon creating it. However, on a personal note, it has also provided an outlet for my discussion of law and politics. I actively look forward to sitting down and typing up my thoughts on a chosen subject, discovering as I type how to weigh up competing arguments or understand differing viewpoints.

As I have mentioned previously, when I started this blog back in July of this year, I had imagined it to be of mostly small circulation, and more of a way for me to articulate and publish my thoughts on politics, legal developments etc. I did not imagine that many would actively click on the links to my posts, let alone read them. So you can imagine that I am really so very amazed and grateful that this blog has had over 700 visitors and over 1,200 views in only a couple of months. I cannot thank you enough, and I am very grateful that there are those who are willing to read my musings.

As part of the online application for entry submission to the UK Blog Award 2016, candidates were asked to answer the question, ‘why vote for me?’ You can read my answer in full on my entry page (the link of which I shall provide at the end of this post) but I essentially spoke of the confidence and enjoyment I have gained. I not only feel able to share my thoughts and views with others, I feel proud to do so. I therefore requested a vote for my blog in recognition of how empowering and useful a blog may be for students such as myself:

A vote for this blog would be a vote for recognising that students have voices, a desire to express their opinions and be active in their society. Writing this blog has given me confidence, and I would respectfully submit that should you vote for me, you are not only supporting students in their endeavours, – you are supporting us in developing confidence, self-discipline and self-belief.

So, if you have enjoyed browsing my blog, have found it interesting or informative: please do consider submitting a vote.

I entered my blog into two different categories: Lifestyle, and Education.
You can access my entry page and read more about my inspiration for writing here. Voting remains open until the 25th January, so please do feel free to check out my entry page, browse my blog posts and determine whether you wish to vote for me. Every vote will be truly appreciated, and I would be most grateful for you even to read about my blog on the entry page.

Please note the following information regarding the voting system:

  • You can submit your vote via the ‘Vote Now’ button at the bottom of my entry page.
  • It will ask for your name and email address. You will receive a confirmation email once your vote has been registered.
  • As my blog has been entered into two categories, you can opt to vote for both of these from the same page.
  • Alternatively, you can opt to vote for one category entry by selecting your preferred category.
  • You are able to vote via a mobile device or desktop once per day. Therefore, you may vote using the same email address more than once, but only on separate days.
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Vote now!

Thank you so much for your consideration of my blog, and entry into the UK Blog Awards 2016. I do hope you will wish myself and the other candidates good luck.

Sexism Strikes Again.

As many of friends will exasperatedly testify, I am a devotee of The Smiths. I know many people dismiss Morrissey’s lyrics as ‘depressing’, but in doing so they miss the sharp wit, caustic cynicism and biting satire to be found in his writing. I tend to remark upon how relevant his lyrics continue to be, and this can be confirmed through the tale I shall share with you today.

This tale involves a man, LinkedIn, a message and a liberal dashing of sexism. It is a case of not only a bigmouth, but sexism striking again on social media, with myself being the recipient.

As a frequent social media user, I know well how the granting of an online platform and promise of relative anonymity can inspire some to hurt, and offend. Social media can be a powerful tool for empowerment, education and activism; it can also be a means to boost confidence and facilitate socialisation.

As someone who believes strongly in freedom of expression, I believe that this is something which is impliedly extended to the internet. I often say that I respect everyone’s opinion and their right to articulate and express their thoughts. I often follow this statement with a sigh, and ‘but how I wish people didn’t abuse this to deliberately hurt others for fun.’ But it is at this point I must state that what constitutes ‘offence’ differs from one to another. Moreover, sometimes offence is not always intentional, and may in fact be caused accidentally. This may be the case when it comes to my tale. But as a woman, I wonder how else I was supposed to react in all fairness.

Like many students, soon-to-be graduates and aspiring professionals, I have an account on LinkedIn. Yes, my CV, work experience, details of my student organisation participation, volunteering, and all those other titbits which help fill out application forms may be found on this website, which is is informally referred to as the ‘professional Facebook’. (Thankfully, it does not care about relationship statuses, nor does it send frequent reminders about ‘memories’ and encouragement to post at certain times of the day. I’m looking at you, Facebook.)

Networking is provided for on LinkedIn via a messaging service, and the option to ‘connect’ with others. Whilst I have yet to be headhunted for my dream Constitutional legal advisory position via the messaging service -hint hint -I do receive the odd message about seminars and training, or invitations to connect. It was one such message in late October which I shall now discuss.

My university email informed me that I had a new message in my LinkedIn inbox. Could this be my equivalent to a ‘tap on the shoulder’, I wondered, half jokingly. (Spoiler alert: it was not). I went to my inbox, and was rather surprised, shocked and more than a little exasperated to receive this:

LinkedIn message

Ah, where do I even start. Perhaps with another paraphrasing of The Smiths: now I know how Charlotte Proudman felt.

The Curious Incident of the Sexist Message in the Inbox first emerged with Ms Proudman in September of this year. Ms Proudman, a barrister, received an email on LinkedIn from one Alexander Carter-Silk, a senior partner at a London firm. In this email, he commented on her profile photograph, saying:

“I appreciate that this is probably horrendously politically incorrect but that is a stunning picture. You definitely win the prize for the best LinkedIn picture I have ever seen.”

Suffice to say, Ms Proudman was not impressed. She replied by informing Mr Carter-Silk she found his message offensive, adding that she was using LinkedIn for professional purposes, not to be approached about her physical appearance ‘or to be objectified by sexist men’. Mr Carter-Silk later commented that he was referring to the professional quality of the photograph and ‘presentation’ of her account.

Ms Proudman took to Twitter to share her experience and to enquire whether other women had similar stories. Soon after, various newspapers carried the story, and it was deemed to be ‘controversial’, in the sense that it was centred around modern-day Feminism. And as we know, mention Feminism and suddenly there is a furore as people argue about how feminists apparently hate all men, and how we must remember that ‘not all men’ act the same. In Ms Proudman’s case, newspapers tried to argue that she should have expected this/been flattered/realise she was being hypocritical, because there is apparently evidence she commented on the physical appearance of male professionals. Simply read the Daily Mail’s take to see what I mean.

What the Daily Mail fail to grasp however, is that this was never a case of double standards. Ms Proudman made comments regarding the physical appearance of men on their personal Facebook pages. She knows, and is friends, with these men. Who has never posted a positive message to compliment a friend’s appearance on Facebook? There is, however, a difference between posting such messages on Facebook, and to a personal friend at that, compared to messaging a professional on LinkedIn.

Which brings me to my tale.

This man messaged me, after seeing my account and my profile photograph. I do not know him. I am not a connection of his; in actual fact I subsequently blocked him. Yet he thought it was acceptable to message me in the way he did. My reaction? From being perplexed and a little amused, I soon switched to frustration – and a touch of anger, too.

Just look at his use of language, ‘hi gorgeous, how are you beautiful?’ Am I supposed to be thrilled to read such a salutation? This lavish praise of my physical appearance is both ridiculous, and grossly inappropriate. Like Ms Proudman, I am on LinkedIn for professional reasons, and professional reasons only. I do not wish to know what you think of my personal appearance. I would far rather you discussed my CV, my work experience and career aspirations with me.

And how am I, a young female student, supposed to react when I am asked whether I am married, or single? And that I will only be told more about my messenger when I reply? Excuse me if you think I am being dramatic, but these sentences sounded faintly sinister. I felt uncomfortable, and I hated that a message could have such an effect on me.

Is this a sexist message? In my opinion, yes. I highly doubt a man would receive such a message. Women are subjected to such messages, and then women are told that we must deserve it, because we opted to use that photograph for our profile pictures, or we posed in such a way. Surely it must be our fault that men feel obligated to message us about our appearances. When we ignore the messages, we receive more. When we do not reply, sometimes the messages become angry. We are accused of being selfish and bitchy for our lack of replies, for ‘leading men on’. Apparently we must consider men and their feelings when we select profile pictures – Heaven forbid women do anything for themselves.

Evidently the fella in my tale is a serial spammer, who must believe that such a message works when connecting with women. No doubt he has emailed the same words to other women on LinkedIn. I have received similar messages on Facebook, mostly from people who I am not friends with, and I just ignore them.

I ignore them, even when I am criticised and maligned for not replying. I ignore them, even when I am sent message after message in quick succession. I even ignored them during one particular incident, when a man apparently in America asked for, and then demanded, topless photographs. (That was another faintly sinister occasion; consequently when I went to report him, it transpired that his account had already been taken down.) I ignore them, but that does not mean I am content with them. I will never be content about being subject to sexism. My being a woman does not afford men the right to degrade me, and render me to a subject comprising only a face and a body.

Simply put, it is a regrettable fact that women are subject to receiving unwanted messages regarding their appearance on social media, and as such we just have to deal with it. But oh, how I thought I would be safe from this on LinkedIn, an apparent professional platform.

25 Days of Christmas: Treat Deprivation Style.

Hello all,

I am one who adores her coffee, I admit it. I am quintessentially a caffeine connoisseur and as a typical law student, consider it part of a staple diet. I also have a soft spot for dark chocolate: Cadbury Bournville bars are a delightful treat in the dark midst of article reading and coursework typing. I think it says a lot that in one of my posts for Coe Review (the student paper at my host American college) I opened with the following reference to my dark chocolate temptations:

Monday morning – I am once again at my desk and my fingers are tap dancing away over my keyboard as I look longingly at the hidden desk drawer which contains the ‘emergency’ supplies of snacks. Well, the name suggests aforementioned snacks are hardly ever touched, but frankly it feels as though every day has been rightfully deemed an emergency. Forgive me, Father, for I have sinned – it has been one hour since my last nibble of dark chocolate.

Thus we can determine I have my vices and little motivational treats. Yet, we can also determine from my various experiences at university – and whilst in America -that I feel passionately about volunteering. I feel strongly about charity work, and about giving to those less fortunate than myself.

So, should it come to a case of having to choose to between helping others or helping myself, well – there really is no choice. If I have to make a sacrifice for the good of those less fortunate than myself, then I will gladly sign up for it.

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A farewell to arms: caffeine and dark chocolate!

As I have mentioned previously, I am the Secretary and a committee member of the student QUB branch of the charity Children in Crossfire. I have been working with other students at my university since the end of August to build upon the work of the society last year; it is only in its second year today. We have been trying to create a foundation which subsequent committees can build upon, whilst engaging with the student body and raising awareness of the charity and its work to students.  It has been an industrious few months, but we plan to keep at it. And how better to do just that during the Christmas season, than challenge ourselves and fundraise?

Christmas is a time of festive fun and presents for most, but for some it is a time of hardship and suffering. Children in Crossfire’s Advent Appeal 2015 is here, seeking to help those in need in developing countries this festive season. The QUB Committee decided to get involved in our own way. Realising that many do not even have clean water, ample food supplies or shelter, we decided we would give up treats and delights we take for granted this Christmas countdown. We hope to raise money for this great cause, and awareness of poverty prevalence in the process.

This Tuesday 1st December marks the countdown to Christmas -that’s 25 days! It also marks the commencement of our fundraising campaign. The QUB Children in Crossfire Committee will undergo 25 days of treat deprivation to raise awareness of poverty, hunger and drought which many will face this Christmas. We’re fortunate to have excess food and so on to give up in the first place, and want to do something to help others less fortunate than us.

So, please do wish us well and offer us support! You can visit our Just Giving page, read our story and follow our progress here. Donations are greatly appreciated (as are well-wishes re the looming caffeine withdrawal on a personal note).

My only hardship over the next few weeks will be tackling research and coursework projects sans coffee and dark chocolate. Please spare a thought, as I will do, for people whose hardships are far greater and more severe.

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The Last Cup before Christmas. 25 days until we meet again.

Inspiring Leaders programme 2015.

Hello all,

You may remember from a recent post that near the end of October, I was informed that I was successful in applying for a place on the Inspiring Leaders programme organised by my university’s Volunteering department. I was so excited to receive the official confirmation email that evening coming home from university, because it was a programme which I dearly wanted to get on and learn from. I felt compelled to apply to this unique and rewarding interactive programme as I enjoy participating on campus life, working with others to secure a common goal and giving back to the community. Volunteering and leading have been highlights of my time at Queen’s, and I believe that to volunteer is to serve the community.

A little reminder about the programme: the Inspiring Leaders programme has been developed by Queen’s SU, and is supported by the William J. Clinton Leadership Institute and Careers, Employability and Skills department. The programme seeks to support current student volunteers in positions of leadership and aims to support the selected participants by increasing their understanding of themselves as a leader, to strengthen leadership skills, to enhance their personal development and increase their ability to lead others. Furthermore, the programme aims to demonstrate to the participants how to translate their volunteering and leadership experiences into employability skills and understand how these skills assist in the workplace upon their graduate entry.

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I attended the one day intensive training course on the 14th November, and had a marvellous time. Having just submitted my journal entries (which are a requirement to do in order to pass the programme) I wanted to share the day with you with this post.

The day was the perfect mix of seminars, workshops and interactive sessions. This meant that not only were we taught about leadership, the different styles of leadership and to to be a leader, we had ample opportunities to put our knowledge and understanding into practical application. I particularly enjoyed being placed into teams based on the tables we had been assigned to sit in for the day. There was a lovely display of friendship and camaraderie around the whole room for the day, as everyone genuinely wished to be there, and to learn with their peers.

The day-long course was broken down into four main topics of teaching:

  1. Leadership, What it is and Why it matters,
  2. How I become a Leader,
  3. Leading Teams, and
  4. Leading Others

We had a wonderful opportunity to learn about leadership through holding individual  interviews with local leaders in Belfast, from a student activist to a Director, from a Belfast City Councillor and youth worker to a Development Officer with Fighting Words Belfast.

My team was asked to interview the leaders on the topic of what makes a successful/unsuccessful leader, before presenting back to the rest of the group. I really enjoyed hearing their answers, all of which emphasised the need for a leader to be authentic, a life-long learner and resilient. Everyone interviewed reiterated how a successful leader motivates and engages with their team, is professional, leads by example and is genuine. Unsuccessful leaders were those who dictate, who manipulate and coerce their teams. I particularly appreciated the messages of the importance of honesty and openness with your team, as these are values I hold dear. Words from the student activist also resonated: that a successful leader is inclusive and upholds equality and reconciliation of different sides.

The day comprised of workshops and seminars, which required us to work within our table teams, but also work with others. We had to present to our peers, work in teams to provide information such as our experiences working as leaders or being lead by leaders, and what we have come to expect from leaders. These were very informative and interesting sessions, and I thought it was invaluable to hear the experiences of my peers.

There was a session centred on determining our own leadership styles – mine is apparently people-focused, in that I like to ensure all feel comfortable, respected and confident to express their opinions. There was also an exercise ran in conjunction with the QUB Red Cross society, whereby we had to respond to an emergency health crisis ‘on the ground’. Not only was this a fun and stimulating exercise, it was a good character and team building exercise, too.

There was an exercise focusing on motivation: we were asked to consider what motivated us, and could we determine four personal values. I recently came across my four selected personal values as I was researching miscarriages of justices cases, and I am still pleased with my choices.

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I enjoyed the session on leading others, as it reinforced that anyone has the potential to be a leader, it is not an exclusive position to be occupied by an elite. Moreover, I feel that leadership starts from within, in that it helps you understand yourself, and I was pleased to see that this was mentioned during this session.

So, I had a wonderful day meeting new people, learning alongside my peers and feeling inspired and motivated to make a difference. What is next? Well, I have completed my journal entries, and logged all my volunteer hours to date this semester for submission. A requirement to pass the programme is to have recorded a minimum of 50 hours; as I am working across three volunteering postions, from activism to charity and student society work, I have managed to record 95.5 hours. (I am definitely hoping to hit 100 before the semester concludes.)

Should you now ask me my views on the programme, and why learning to be an effective leader matters, I would answer that essentially, leadership itself matters.

Leaders are an important element in the group dynamic. Leadership matters as leaders act as a ‘rallying-point’ for innovation and ideas generation within a team structure. This is such because leaders know and understand their team as a collective in terms of potential, and know the team members individually in terms of their specific abilities and skills. The job of a leader therefore is to ensure the unique skills of each member are harnessed for the team, and that the team members can thus realise their potential and develop. Consequentially, team members will want to work, and will want to succeed. Leaders therefore inspire and encourage the team so that work is completed and challenges are overcome.

What I have discovered through personal experience but what was also reiterated during the day-course was the importance of leadership in challenging both the leaders as well as the team members. Leaders will take risks and therefore ensure innovation in the quest to find the best solution or answer to a given problem. Such risk taking allows for ideas to flourish, and as such organisations can grow.

Leadership matters, as an inspiring leader can make others come together to achieve a collective aim. Leadership is important in creating team relations and developing trust.

I am involved in student organisations, student activism and volunteering on campus and consequentially I often find myself taking on a leadership role within team structures. This is because there are occasions when I feel that a designated leader is required to generate discussion, ensure communication and organisation and thus ensure that progress is achieved.

To me, leadership is about service. It is about helping others realise their potential. This belief is something which I act upon, thus I contribute by assuming responsibilities myself but also involving all within the group.

I know that through my volunteering experiences and my own experiences of being a leader, I would not ask others to do something I would not do myself. I feel that it is important as a leader to emphasise that everything undertaken is a team-effort, and for the benefit of all in the team – not for the benefit of the leader. A leader is not one who benefits from the work of the team, but actively works themselves and for the team, and I feel that this is something I can contribute to leadership.

I like to hear from everyone involved in the group, to know and understand their thoughts and opinions. I feel that as a leader, it should a process of democracy and not autocracy. Therefore a strength of mine is to ensure everyone has their voice heard, and feels that their voice is respected.

I do not wish to be a leader for the purposes of a title and careerism. I do not wish to be a leader so that I can sit behind a desk, and tell others what to do and how to do it whilst I do not contribute to the task completion. I want to be a leader, so that I can challenge and encourage, and help others grow. It is thanks to the Inspiring Leaders programme that I feel I may be able to go out, and do just that.

Watch this space.

It’s a graduation from the (Study) USA!

(Dear reader: I apologise wholeheartedly for utilising that musical pun, and moreover for the unintentional consequence of its being stuck in your head.)

Miley Cyrus I most certainly am not, but I did indeed have a party (of the combined academic, voluntary, adventurous and internship variety) in the USA as a successful recipient of a ‘Study USA’ scholarship. As you may know from other blog posts, I was a Business major at the wonderful Coe College in Cedar Rapids, IA for the academic year 2014/2015, and I had a truly marvellous time.

This week saw the official conclusion of the scholarship programme for my cohort of peers and myself, as we underwent a graduation ceremony in the beautiful Barnett Room of the Belfast Harbour Commissioner’s Office. It was lovely to see all the other students and hear about their experiences, and we could all empathise with the deflated feeling we all experienced upon our return home to Northern Ireland in the summer.

And so it was that on Thursday 29th October, it was essentially the end of an era as I walked up to receive my certificate from members of the British Council.

A certificate confirms it: I have graduated!
A certificate confirms it: I have graduated!

It is rather funny that this little piece of paper signifies so much: my successful survival in a country I had never before been to, my ability to adapt to a new college, new country and new educational system – let alone a new course of study. Yet it also symbolises the friends I made there, the brilliant people I met, my exposure to Greek Life and the US legal system via my internship. It reminds me that I was constantly challenged, endured tough spells, but ultimately conquered fears and overcame tribulations to succeed. So many memories and adventures are summarised by that glossy page, and in holding it I hold on to those memories, feelings and thoughts.

I will be honest and say that whilst it was a lovely ceremony and a thoroughly enjoyable occasion, it was bittersweet. Bittersweet in the harsh realisation that this is a chapter of life which has concluded. I am proud of myself and all my peers for successfully completing the programme, for challenging ourselves and enjoying the many opportunities and experiences afforded to us. But the year is over, and time marches on. I have amazing memories, but I do miss my friends and that next second home in Coe campus. I suppose I just fear that I will never meet those people again, or ever see Coe and Iowa generally again. Studying abroad is an amazing experience which I will always recommend, but I suppose I was not prepared for the influx of feelings upon my return – you adapt so readily to your new environment that it becomes home. Thus to return home is a shock to the system.

Perhaps it is also fear of the unknown, in the sense that as a final year law student, I do not necessarily know what I will be doing this time next year. When I was living in America, I knew that I had another year to dwell on the future; as November appears on the horizon I realise that time is racing by and the future, resplendent in hopes, vague promises and whispers of opportunities lies ahead. I am someone who likes to plan, to be organised and have a schedule. Not knowing what I will be doing next year yet or how my future will turn out does rather concern me.

But there is a strange twinge of joy in that observation: the future is indeed opaque, but so vast and promising. It is what I make of it, just like my study abroad experience. Thus instead of fearing it, I should – and will – consider it a new and exciting challenge to overcome. America taught me the importance of being independent, overcoming obstacles and seeing things through to the end. It would be a waste not to apply this knowledge and experience to my future. As I would frequently remind myself in the middle of bustling US airports as I carried heavy bags and my travel documents, you are the one in charge of yourself, and only you can see this through: no one else will live this for you. (I also repeated this as I had to lug a huge suitcase up flights of stairs and across platforms travelling from Gatwick to King’s Cross in London during one memorable summer of work experience. I was exhausted, it was an unbearably warm afternoon in a huge crowd, and not a single soul offered to help me either carry my bags or hold open doors. I had to get myself to my hotel; no one else was going to. And that I did – complete with a joyful attack on the hotel bed.)

With my Study USA certificate in hand, I remember that I can adapt, I can overcome, and moreover I enjoy the challenge. It is tangible evidence of my ambition and drive, of my will to succeed. And whilst the graduation ceremony marked the conclusion of my study abroad chapter, it also in fact marked the commencement of a new chapter of my life. I fully intend that it will be as adventurous, exciting and interesting as the previous one.


If you want to find out more about my year abroad and my American adventures, why not check out my website