Executive Officer profile: Mary Ojo
Mary Ojo is Vice President Education, one of the Executive Officers in the Students’ Union. She talks to us about her plans and campaigns, including Black History Month, which runs throughout October and features events, exhibitions and a student-led debate.
Can you tell us a bit about yourself and your role as VP Education?
My name is Mary Ojo and I’m Vice President Education in Queen Mary Students’ Union. Some of the things. My role is to facilitate campaigns and work on behalf of students with regard to any educational issues. My role is essentially to ensure that the academic experience is as good as possible for students. I’m working on lots of different things at the moment. We recently got 24-hour library opening hours during term time, so now I’m working on another campaign to ensure students know how to use the library and that they’re making the most out of the study spaces available to them. Another thing I’m working on is extending the opening hours throughout the summer, particularly for the benefit of postgraduate students, who tend to work on their dissertations during this time.
And what are your more long-term plans for the rest of the year?
I’m also organising a new series of exhibits in the Students’ Union, which will focus on different issues throughout the year, and we’re kicking off with Black History Month this month. We’ll also have exhibits relating to political issues, advances in technology and science, and research taking place at Queen Mary. It’ll be an opportunity for students and staff to come and learn more about what’s going on at the university and further afield, in a very visual way. For example, in November, we’ll be focusing on international students and their perspectives. The aim of the exhibits is to foster a culture of social cohesion, because I believe education and learning is a great way to break down barriers.
Another thing I’m working on is an online platform for students to give feedback about what’s going on with their course – things they have concerns about, but also things that are going well. I’m also leading a review of the Staff-Student Liaison Committees, which is part of the Course Rep reform programme I’m running. The hope is that we’ll be able to centralise SSLC information to make it more accessible, to make sure the committees are run properly, and to give academic staff the support they need to ensure they can run the committees effectively. And hopefully this will help improve the relationship between Course Reps and academic staff, as well as reassure students that their views are listened to and do have an influence on the way courses are run.
Can you tell us a bit more about Black History Month and what’s happening at Queen Mary?
This is actually the first Black History Month (BHM) campaign the Union is running. The idea is for the month to be a learning experience and very inclusive. There’s something for everyone and it’s an opportunity to raise your awareness, take part in cultural experiences and learn more about black Britons and their contributions to society. There’s a launch party, a movie night and a debate taking place on 19 October. Some of the topics in the debate will be quite controversial and sensitive, but I think it’s important to debate these issues at this time. It’s a student-led debate and there are some great people on the panel from various committees across the Union. I really want all students to get involved with everything that’s going on, and you can find all the information about it at www.qmsu.org/bhm. I’ll also be posting on different topics each week, so this week it’s about Stuart Hall [the sociologist and cultural theorist] and next week it will be a book report.
We’re also extending the campaign by running a joint event with the Mile End Institute in February where we will be focusing on black Britons and government policy. There are some really big names who we’re inviting to take part, including the MP Diane Abbott, the prominent historian David Olusoga who’s done a lot of documentaries on black British history, and the Guardian columnist Gary Younge. We really want to continue the debate and discussion, and for this month to be the catalyst for student activism and awareness.
What got you interested in being VP Education?
I was involved in a lot of student-led initiatives when I was a student. I was President of the African-Caribbean Society in 2015-16, I was a Course Rep and I was also involved in the PASS mentor scheme. When the elections came up, I thought this would be a good opportunity for me to help students have a great student experience, and I wanted to help them have the same great experiences I had.
I’m very pragmatic; I like to ask what can we do now, and what foundations can we lay down for the future, and that’s how I approach campaigns as well. So I’m planning events and campaigns for this year, but also trying to lay down foundations for the next VP Education.
What would your advice be for new students, or to returning students who aren’t currently very involved in the Union?
My advice would be to get involved! I’ve given a lot of welcome talks to students and one of the things I always say is: yes, your time is an issue. But you’ll never have enough time, so you might as well take this opportunity to see what you can balance and juggle. You come here for an academic experience, but you should also think about what will make you employable, what skills you want to develop and what person you want to end up being when you’ve finished your university experience. The Union has got so many opportunities to help you be the person you want to be, so I encourage students to join a society, write for a media outlet, volunteer, develop yourself and take advantage of all the resources you have here, because this is the perfect time to learn the skills you want to take beyond university.
Anything else you’d like to add?
Good luck for the academic year! It’s a tough ride, but it’s all worth it. And don’t suffer in silence. There is so much support available to you and that’s why the Exec team is here. Write me an email and stop me if you see me – I’m here for you. We’re all here for you, to signpost you to all the resources you needs and to help you have a great student experience.