TCS talks to incoming CUSU president Daisy Eyre

Image credit: Amelia Oakley

Despite a schedule in the days leading up to her taking office which can only be described as absolutely jam-packed, Daisy Eyre took the time this morning to speak to TCS.  We discuss the issues at the forefront of her agenda in the year ahead, which she explains in her characteristically buoyant voice. As the interview progresses, I quickly notice that Eyre speaks patiently and at length about each and every one of the issues, taking seemingly great care to spell out exactly what she means by a particular view she has, and why she has it.

When I ask about the recently-published Big Cambridge Survey report, which revealed that only 36% of undergraduates find that the university is a “healthy and positive place to study”, she says, “That, to me, is such a sad statistic”. 

On numerous occasions, she ties each of the issues we discuss to her personal experiences as a student in the university. In this case, she tells me about her friends’ experiences during the awfulness of exam term, a source of genuine empathy which prompts her towards a goal — “If I can finish my term in office having done anything towards making Cambridge a slightly less pressurising place, then that is what I would like to do.”

The two most prominent schemes on Eyre’s welfare agenda are, firstly, getting better training for supervisors, and secondly, starting a network for intermitting students. 

At present, supervisors get only one hour of training. “I think it’s important for supervisors to gain a level of flexibility, where they can understand that students may have a personal crisis,” Eyre tells me. This, she believes, is a step in the direction of helping students to realise that “their degree does not have to be the centre of their life at all times.”

Drawing on the network for intermitting students which was founded a year ago in Oxford, Eyre tells me that she has reached out to the student who started the scheme, and asked about how she went about doing so. 

In Eyre’s view, “the idea of intermitting is very scary to a lot of students”, a phenomenon which is compounded by the fact that “what is necessary for students is clarity before intermission, rather than after having made that decision”, for which there are no measures in place to provide students with the information they need. 

She adds, “I think that having the support of people who have been through that process or of people who are going through that process at the same time, would be a real step in that direction.”

Evidently, student welfare and mental health is an issue which Eyre is passionate about, and forms one of the three priorities of her campaign - access, mental health and workload. 

She is equally concerned with the problem of access as it currently stands in the university, with the experiences of BME students being at the forefront of her agenda. The issue was made particularly pertinent in the Big Cambridge Survey report, which revealed that 23 percent of BME students said that their social background “had a negative impact on their Cambridge experience”, compared to 17 percent of white students.

“That statistic says something, I think, about the University of Cambridge, which is [that] from the level of academia down to the level of everyday interaction, it’s a very white university. 

“It’s a very white university, the reading lists are very white, and furthermore, down to the level of social interaction there is not enough diversity of certain ethnic groups.”

She believes that the first step to finding a long-term, stable solution is listening to students in the groups concerned, in order to find out the roots of their concerns. She adds that she is deeply impressed by the photograph of the #BlackMenofCambridge posted on Facebook by the African-Caribbean society earlier this term, commenting that “I was absolutely blown away by the photo they created.”

The influence of her time as firstly, welfare officer in the Jesus College Student Union (JCSU), and, secondly,  JCR president, on her concerns, is evident. As one of the JCSU welfare officers, for example, she succeeded in putting in place a college councillor, which, she tells me excitedly, “has been revolutionary.” 

Having just completed her three-year degree in Sociology, she tells me, “I’ve loved Cambridge. Third-year Sociology is the most amazing degree you could do. I’ve absolutely loved it.” 

Yet she is quick to add that her time in the university has not been without its hardships, with the stress of the workload being a constant source of stress, alleviated by a range of factors which have made her experience in the university the joy it has been, such as her “amazing bunch of friends”. Plus, she adds, “I absolutely love Jesus College, which is why I threw myself into the JCSU for two years.”

Eyre graduates on June 29th, just three days before she takes office as CUSU president on July 3rd, succeeding Amatey Doku, who is, coincidentally, her college father. When asked about how she feels about the year ahead of her, she describes herself as experiencing “warring emotions”. 

On the one hand, she is nervous about the massive task she is about to take on. “CUSU itself also has systemic issues. It’s under-funded,” she explains. 

On the other hand, she is excited about continuing the experiences she had when campaigning, which she enjoyed immensely. “For me, the highlight will be continuing to interact with students. I really enjoyed the campaign, and going around the different colleges and meeting people, and I’m just quite excited that I get to do that for another year.”

Above and beyond that, Eyre speaks of the capacity for change her new role will bring her with reverence. “CUSU is effectively the voice of the students to the university. […] That’s why I wanted to run for CUSU president, because they actually have the ability to talk to the university, and make changes.”

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