Thursday 30 June 2016
Matt Mahmoudi has been extremely busy during his time at Queen Mary, from creating a magazine to get students more involved with politics, to organising and speaking at our TEDxQMUL events. Kajal Kumar, Student Communications Intern, caught up with him before his graduation this month.
What subject do you study at QMUL?
I’m a final-year Politics with Business Management student.
What inspired you to start the student magazine Politics made Public?
This is actually one of those iconic stories that I’ve come to treasure as a defining moment of my time here at Queen Mary. I think my friends and I were always very aware that politics is perceived as this separate aspect of public life; a double-edged sword, which some people have the opportunity and interest to engage with, whilst others are either disinterested, or feel as though they are somewhat alienated by the jargon and therefore powerless and subject to it.
There was a public lecture with Daniel Stedman Jones on 22 October 2013, on ‘The Influence of Transatlantic Neoliberal Politics’, where I happened to run into a fellow politics student I had met earlier that month, Jasper Tautorus. Together we sat through the standard chronological format of a university-style lecture, which frankly, just falling short of putting us to sleep, also left us deeply dissatisfied with the way in which politics is communicated. Towards the end of the lecture, we agreed that there was absolutely no way that this could translate to information that a regular voter with no exposure to politics from an academic point of view could act on. In other words, it was not at all surprising that politics had come to be viewed as this separate and highly esoteric monstrosity. Through spreading the idea of creating an educational magazine, which effectively cleared out political jargon and broke down political affairs into unbiased and approachable pieces, we gathered a group of some ten or so students from a variety of disciplines, and a week later Politics Made Public was born.
The recent feature of Miranda Black (QMSU Vice President Welfare) within Politics made Public was a very creative idea for Mental Health Week – can you tell us more about it?
Absolutely. Politics Made Public is first and foremost a platform for voices from all walks of life, but especially people and voices that are often unheard, as these are often marginalized, trivialized or have in some other way been ‘put off’ by the political realities of today. When Adam Mitchell approached me with the idea of replacing our previous attempts at delivering video content with ‘SmallTalks – an interactive way to give voice to people and the issues they care about the most, and believe more people should care about too – I couldn’t have imagined that it would have done as well as it did.
Brought to us by students with interests in issues such as raising awareness about the refugee crisis and the importance of voting, to feminism, equality and LGBT+ rights, Miranda’s video came as a result of her own personal engagement, devotion and passion for the subject of mental health. Nevertheless, these features, including Miranda’s creative take on educating the public on mental health, are features that we feel would be in the interest of the public to gain a greater understanding of, particularly as mental health especially is stigmatized, belittled or afforded too little time, effort and consideration. I think we have a responsibility, as ‘The Public Life Magazine’ (our tagline), to empower individuals to champion the issues they feel are being drowned out amidst political uncertainty. As a platform, however, we are only as great as the sum of our contributors who spend their time voluntarily, not just breaking the news, but sharing often very sensitive stories, which were in one way or another subject to injustice.
Do you have a favourite project or feature that you’ve done for Politics made Public (PMP)?
Besides SmallTalks, which easily makes it to the top of my list of things we’ve done for PMP, we ran a campaign period on the 2015 General Election, where we published articles every day on the elections. I think the sheer number of contributors we got involved in that, not only from QMUL, but with contributors showing interest from a range of different universities, as well as the interest, support and promotion we received from partners such as Milkround, the News Academy and BiteTheBallot, made it really exciting to work on that. I was humbled to have had the opportunity to not only launch our fourth issue at the News UK headquarters (the Newsbuilding) with an introduction by Ian Dunt (editor in chief at politics.co.uk), but also for PMP to have the chance to cover the election night from their offices and even catch the opportunity to interview Tristram Hunt.
We heard you were also a speaker at TedxQMUL. Can you tell us a bit about your speech and topic?
My speech was titled, simply, ‘How we solve the refugee crisis’. I wanted to address a frustration that I found myself developing, after volunteering at the refugee camp in Calais back in January; how can a single person, or even a group of people, make a difference to the 6-7,000 human beings currently stuck in a special kind of limbo? Narrative has a much greater influence on the situation than we’re aware, so I wrote a speech around what you, as a person sitting here in the UK, could do to help change the situation. Despite the constant debate on whether certain ‘categories’ of people should be referred to as migrants or refugees, my speech in a nutshell addressed the fear, that by referring to displaced peoples as either of the aforementioned terms, we are contributing to the perpetuation of their alienation, and preventing fellow human beings from the opportunity to express their identity.
How did speaking at TedxQMUL feel?
Amazing! The part that comes after the speech is perhaps the most gratifying and goosebump-inducing moment you can experience, when audience members confirm that your speech resonated with them, and tell you about how they feel about the topic.
With that said, I want to emphasize that I have never in my life heard so many unique and powerful stories, all in one day at TEDxQMUL, from so many different people of all ages. Massive kudos to everyone who participated on the day, and touched the hearts of the audience, including mine.
Do you plan on speaking at TedxQMUL again next year?
We will see. I do love public speaking, and I have more ideas to share, but I also think I have had my chance at TEDxQMUL, initially hosting it last year and then speaking this year. I would definitely enjoy coming back to be inspired by the new generation of speakers though!
You have also been playing the piano at the QMSU Education awards for three years – what keeps you motivated to stay involved with QMSU?
Indeed, a few times I’ve been lucky enough to play on a beautiful Steinway & Sons Grand Piano at Drapers’ Hall. To answer your question though, I think anybody who’s involved with student life on campus will inadvertently find themself involved with the SU. As an organizing hub for the crucial aspects of student life and activities, whether it’s societies, student media or sports, it’s hard not to get ‘sucked in’, so to speak. I rowed, got involved with more societies than I can count (especially in my first year), and student media; I suppose I wasn’t motivated to stay involved with the SU, as much as the activities provided by the SU helped me stay motivated towards my goals.
You are very involved with university life – is it sometimes challenging to manage academic work alongside your roles?
It’s challenging most of the time. But it’s not just the academic work that’s challenging, it’s the things I get involved with as well. I don’t think there’s anything wrong with neither academic nor extracurricular work being challenging, as long as you can learn something new by doing them – and most importantly – as long your belief and gratification gained from it outweighs the challenge. The cliché answer is that time management and organization is key, but really, it’s about finding that one way of managing your time that works for you.
You seem to have a lot of great hobbies (piano, politics) but if you had to pick one, what would it be?
I really enjoy rowing, as it’s one of those activities where I can properly zone out. Part of balancing my life involves doing an activity that has little, if any, relevance to my work or other extra-curricular activities. I get this partly from playing the piano, but rowing has given me a physical escape, as well as a lot of mental surplus to pursue my other interests.
Are you excited about graduating? Any special plans for life after QMUL?
I am, very much so! In the past three years I've enjoyed being able to do less of the talking, and more of the listening, so to speak, by providing a platform for others through PMP. My focus has in other words been on trying to give our contributors more creative avenues, and less on publishing stuff of my own. Nevertheless, I’d like to one day become a more vocal activist myself, specifically in the protection and advocacy of human rights, and am embarking on this journey by joining the MPhil programme in Development Studies at Cambridge in October. This will also allow me to continue my work as a research assistant on a digital human rights project based there, of which I’ve been a part for the past year.