It’s not all about you. Or is it?

Amber Snary is Education Officer at The SU Bath

How do you separate yourself from your role?

As I write this, we are in our last “normal week” before we begin handover bright and early 9am Monday.

Half of us are staying, half are going, and working out what needs to be told, what needs to be modelled, and what simply needs to be independently learned is a gargantuan task.

The question that has been floating around in my brain is in a job where you are set up to be seen as this pinnacle of the student experience, is it possible to separate the personal from the political?

If you are a sabb, when you’re making a case or advancing an argument you know that experience and anecdotes work like an absolute charm. How can anyone look you right in the eye and tell you that your experience isn’t real, or valid?

Back that up with some beefy stats and you are onto a winner. Not only do you have this actual, tangible story of how students are affected by x, y, or z, but you have the backing of “this isn’t just me”. It’s how the personal becomes the political.

She said talk about things

In our own team, this has worked wonders. Jimena (President) and Hanna (Community) used their experience of rocking up to university as an international student and all the confusion that comes alongside it in order to run an early arrivals scheme.

In this, international students get to come early, meet other international students, and get into the nitty-gritty of all the stuff that I didn’t even think about for a second – how do you register with a GP? How do you vote? How do you get this or that kind of identification? Where can you get food that tastes like home?

Believe it or not, Lincolnshire plum bread is a mythical thing in Bath, but ordering online doesn’t come with import tax.

It’s also a time-honoured tradition – those who have come before us have used their identities to do some amazing work. When I first became an academic rep way back in first year, we were under the guidance of Ruqia, and her rousing push at the end of training is the same energy I try to deliver to reps now.

This same energy and passion is so amazingly evident in her work for Black students. There’s Blake – the community officer just last year who has been shortlisted as Student Role Model of the year at the Queer Student Awards and has been an absolute kingpin in our gender expression fund.

Outside of sabbs, we see our amazing, vocal students standing up for what is right — something I will get all soppy about if you give me even a few minutes.

But if it leads to so much good, why would we even hesitate in recommending it? It is exhausting.

I like coffee you like tea

While it is true that having these identities and experiences is something that give you an edge – experiential knowledge is something that is earned, not taught after all – it also means that you are exposing so much of yourself for something you have no clue in the payoff for.

It also means that you are subject to social, mental, and emotional labour that you may not be ready for. When you disclose something, who knows how far your story is going to be spread?

How often it will be attributed to you directly? How many people who you have never met, or are yet to met, will know about this one, succinct, vulnerable aspect of you before anything else?

Almost ironically self-referring as an example – let’s use cost of living. I was a Bath Bursary student — being from a household that supported multiple adults on less than my maintenance loan (maximum, naturally).

Finding out the bursary was being cut in a way that would provide students with less financial freedom and flexibility was devastating.

Having my bursary in pure monetary terms allowed me to get a deposit down on a house at the end of first year with ease, meant I could cope with the hit of overlapping rent contracts between placement and final year without having to live and work in a house that (partially) won me “Most Resilient Placement Student of the Year”, meant I could build a financial security net that would have otherwise simply not been a reality.

It was also the more normal bits – it meant I could take part in normal activities with my household, walk down the hill home as a choice rather than a money saving tactic, and grab horrifically sugary snacks from our campus supermarket during long long study sessions.

Add in the element of being a disabled student and it meant I never had to underdose to afford medication, could afford to get ready meals or take-away when unable to cook, could afford medical aids.

It hits right? It is a great anecdote – it is rousing, it gives you something tangible and real, it makes you realise about the ~intersectionality~ of it all. Pair that with over 250 students accessing our SU pantry in just one week, the coverage from our student media, and a fleshed out campaign from our Left Union, complete with petition and dedicated web page, and what do you have? A super strong case – and an insight into my life forever proliferated on the internet.

People say what do you do all day, I don’t know

It’s not like this is new though – it’s not just your ideas and skills you’re offering in an election, it’s your personality, identity and way of approaching things is what you are offering in an election advertising as a sabb. It gets you elected, it gets people on your side and gets splashed across all the SU social media. It is an integral part of your work, and leaves you vulnerable in a way you can never quite predict. Feel conflicted? Me too.

Yet, if there is anything I can garner from looking to others – my current team who have my whole heart, the former Education Officers I revere for thriving and making lives and careers on what they are passionate about, our students who show up and speak out – it is that if there is anything you can draw from getting personal, it is insight, and strength.

So, for “when do I separate myself from my work”, I definitely still don’t have an answer.

On the one hand, I will tell them that they should stick to their work hours, set their boundaries to make sure they don’t have incredibly heavy content hit their social media or WhatsApp as they are trying to sleep, and make sure they don’t become a hermit as they live on campus now.

On the other hand, taking the experiences of students to explain why things are the way they are and why some things will or won’t work is what makes “representation” so powerful – and we’re bound to start with the experiences we ourselves have had – not to make things better for ourselves, but those that come after us.

So maybe the anecdote thing is something you have to learn, or just deal with. I will, most likely, continue to overshare and overstep and everything in between in a hundred and one situations. Maybe I’ve done it in this article, and I most definitely have in university meetings. But for those we serve, it’s almost certainly worth it.

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