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Union News

Interview: Union President Candidate, Omar Mahmood Lagares

Where are you originally from?
Mum’s from Spain, Dad’s from Pakistan, I was born in England and I grew up in Maidenhead.

What originally drew you to the University of Portsmouth?
Originally it was the employability factor. The fact that we have Purple Door and we have placement years as an option for the majority of the courses. Obviously going into the world of work after a degree, the biggest fallback for a lot of graduates is the fact that we don’t have work experience. Obviously a lot of roles, even at entry level, require you to have some level of experience.

What is your favourite thing about the city of Portsmouth?
It’s so rich in art. There’s such a huge arts community in Portsmouth. For instance, Trash Arts in Room 82. I’m actually the host of open mic events, Open Ya Mouth, for Trash Arts on Albert Road. Once a month there’s such a collective of people and the level of diversity there, let me tell you, we have poets, musicians, comedians. We even had a guy who premiered his 3D music video one time. The variety of art in Portsmouth is inspiring.

Who is your idol and why?
Ooh that’s a difficult one. I quite like Shami Chakrabarti, she’s a human rights advocate and was a lawyer, now a politician, on the side of human rights law. It’s more so for the fact that she made it through countless barriers especially because she progressed through all the stigmas that she had to face and now she’s a highly respected person in the field of human rights.

What is your dream job and why?
Ooh don’t ask me this. I’m a third year and you’re asking me about my dream job haha? I think my dream job would probably be something activist-related. Something about campaigning, and campaigning for positive change, whether that be political or otherwise. The thing is with me is that I’ve had such a variety of different experiences. I survived three brain haemorrhages as a kid so I’ve had a lot of brain surgery throughout my life and I’ve had to think quite a lot where do I want to be in five years? Who do I want to be in five years? That’s why at the moment I’m thinking quite a lot what do I want to be? I’m just opening as many doors as possible and seeing what happens.

If you won the lottery, what’s the first thing that you would buy?
I’m a millennial so owning a home is a distant dream, so a house.

What was the primary reason for you running in the student elections?
Because throughout my time at university I’ve seen a lot of different issues that aren’t being represented and it’s something that the activist in me wants to solve. I see a problem, I want to solve it. One big problem is that I think the students don’t find the union’s services as accessible as they should be. A lot of students really don’t know about what the union can do for them. This is something that I think really needs to be boosted for the student experience.

If you could change one thing that would instantly improve everyday life for students at the university, what would it be and why?
I would look at ways that we can mobilise students to represent the high costs of student life. From first year to third year there are a lot of businesses that are charging us a lot of money for things that do not require high levels of funds. For example, laundry in halls. it’s extortionate – £5 to top up your card, £3 a wash, £1 to dry. In a building where you pay upwards of £150 a week, that’s a lot of money that goes into that. I feel that students really need to be represented on that issue. We need to as a positive force, start a cohesive campaign within the student body to tackle these issues and see what can be done.

Sum up your manifesto in roughly 10-15 seconds
Represent. Break the circuit. Make Portsmouth safe again.

As President you’ll need to chair various meetings, but one of the most important ones is the union’s board of trustees. What experience can you bring to this and how will you strive to ensure that the board is transparent to students?
Well that’s one thing I’m going to be working on with my manifesto in fact. Basically with my manifesto I want to develop an app that makes the union more transparent and accessible to students. Also, I’d be doing updates throughout the year on how the union is doing and what we are doing for students, making students aware of how their money is being spent. Because that is also a big concern of the students as well. A lot of students don’t really look into what’s being done with their money and to be fair a lot of the time it’s not really accessible. In terms of chairing meetings, I’m good when it comes to public speaking and discussing complex issues and getting down to the crux of the matter.

Do you consider university students to be stakeholders or consumers and why?
I think the moment you consider university students to be consumers that is a huge problem. When  they’re purely customers then it becomes purely a capitalist market. It is important that we view students as the stakeholders of these institutions because without the students the university wouldn’t be able to exist. Students are putting in £9,250 a year. With that sum, students should be able to control their university experience or at least have a say in what changes are made.

How do you intend to promote the union to our less engaged students?
As I previously said i’m developing an app. This app is currently in production as we speak. My housemate is currently in a meeting about developing this app as part of his course. This app will be by the students, for the students. It will put the university and the union in the palm of their hand. We’re looking at putting the student cards on this app in a similar way to Google Pay. But in terms of engagement what I’m going to do with this app is take events, reports, democratic processes, everything the union has to offer, and put it in one place.

What are your views on the current state of the higher education sector?
You’re asking a third year their views on the current state of the higher education sector haha? To be fair, I haven’t been a part of the higher education sector that hasn’t been in this state. Not much has changed in the last three years except for the fact that tuition fees have gone up £250. The funding issue is a big problem but at the same time I can’t see that changing any time soon so it’s important that we actually give the students what they are paying for. They should be having their views heard and represented by the union.

As President, you will be put into a lot unique and difficult situations and at times, you will not be able to talk to anyone about these issues. So how resilient are you to intense stress?
Because of my condition, I have faced a lot of hurdles. Over last summer I spent 33 days in hospital during my A2 exams so as you can imagine that put a massive hurdle in my way. I thought this is a hurdle, you do what you have to do to get past it. Getting stressed out about things, especially when you’re in a position where you need to progress, it’s important to keep a level head.

It could be argued that students have a negative reputation within the community and that the city council often use them and the university as a scapegoat. As President, what would you do to combat this?
So as part of Trash Arts, I’ve actually had a huge role in integrating students into the arts community in Portsmouth. Since I’ve started presenting Trash Arts, so many more students have started showing up to the event and it’s been a very friendly, very cohesive environment. I think it’s important that we engage students in these kind of events. We need to create that rapport and obviously the biggest issue I find is the lack of understanding of the two parties. We all have very different experiences. When you’re in that shell, in that echo chamber as it were, that is all that you see. It’s important that we start to introduce ways that create a cohesive cooperation between students and the community in a nurturing environment.

What are you going to do to make the union a more inclusive environment?
One issue I’ve been seeing a lot at the moment is this freedom of speech. Freedom of speech is important but that does not mean that we give one individual a platform and say that’s freedom of speech. If we’re going to give a platform to anyone it’s going to be to a panel of people with opposing views so they can debate each other and interact. So instead of being an indoctrinating event, we have an event that encompasses the various views. The audience are there to see those views and basically make up their own mind. In terms of inclusion, if we’re going to host certain speakers, we should be sensitive as to when we host them. Obviously there’s been the big uproar with Peter Hitchens and I think that was a very poor decision to have him booked in on that particular week because it was insensitive to the marginalised demographic of this university. It’s important that all students feel that their identity is celebrated.

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