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Goldsmiths' Official Student Magazine

SU elections: An interview with Taylor McGraa

1 March 2018
Incumbent education officer Taylor McGraa talks about life on Merseyside, her experience as a student and how she plans to improve the university experience for all if elected for a second term.

1) How has growing up on Merseyside affected your politics?

I wasn’t actually very involved or interested in politics when I was growing up in Merseyside – I didn’t think that it was for me. I thought it was for ‘intelligent’ people and I didn’t class myself as one of those. Looking back, by ‘intelligent’, I probably meant people with money – people who knew big words and read big books.

This has affected my politics so much today in that I strive to make all of my arguments and all of my activism as accessible as I can. Inaccessibility comes in all forms but my experience is from class. Quite often when you are poor, you don’t have the time or space to think about criticising the world as it stands. This is nothing to do with intelligence or engagement. It’s because you are too busy surviving.

If you are going to make true change you need to use language, time and space in a way that is inclusive for everybody. Having attended quite a middle-class arts institution for so long, doing this is still a constant process of learning and unlearning for me – but it’s a priority of mine, and always will be.

 

2)Having spent three years studying Media & English here at Goldsmiths, what has been your happiest/proudest moment?

Talking strictly in terms of academia, it was getting a first in my degree. I really don’t believe that academic merit should define your happiness or value as a person, but it was just a really great ‘fuck you’ moment for me and my mum. When I was little I was told I wasn’t clever enough to get into grammar school. At grammar school, they doubted I would make it into Goldsmiths. Despite this, my Mum worked tirelessly to fill me with courage, passion and determination. I didn’t expect to get a first at all, but when I found out I rang her straight away and just cried for ages. I was so happy because it was like I could finally say thank you, and have something to show for everything she has given me.

 

3)You are running to be re-elected as the education officer. What makes you passionate about education?

It’s life changing – and I’m not talking about the money kind of way. It’s a fundamental part of being a person and connecting with the world. It allows you to build community, learn about communities outside of your own, and just generally explore what it means to be human. It allows growth, and when you can use it to reflect your own experience, see your experience articulated in a way you have never seen before, then that’s just incredible. (That’s also why campaigns around liberating education are so important – but that’s another essay.)

 

4)Has the role been as demanding as you first thought and what significant challenges have you had to overcome?

I always knew it was going to ask a lot of me, but could never really envisage how until I was on the job. It is more demanding of me working smarter, and creating balance than I first expected. Being a student officer, you are wearing so many different hats at once. People expect everything of you. They expect your full attention to their individual case at all times, whilst also striving for an answer that will fix problems for the masses. But why shouldn’t they? That’s what we are elected for. So in that sense, it’s about managing expectations, and that has been my biggest challenge to overcome. I used to want to be everything at once, please everybody and fix everything to the best of my ability. But I learned quickly that this doesn’t make you very good at the job. Unfortunately, I am human, so I have had to really learn to prioritise, like properly prioritise, to understand where my energy is best used,  as well as learning to be realistic and more pragmatic than before.

 

5)How do you plan to improve diversity and inclusivity at Goldsmiths?

There are lots to say on this but I’ll choose two things. This year I’ve worked on inclusivity of low-income students through research on how much students spend on their final year projects. We now have thirty recommendations that we will be taking to university committees, to hopefully develop less disparity across the experience of working-class students at Goldsmiths. Education governance moves slowly, so I’ll need another year to keep this work up. For next year, I am also promising to bring an LGBTQ+ inclusion incentive into the classroom and across campus, with a specific focus on trans students. It is so important that students feel comfortable and seen at Goldsmiths, so training on things like gender identity, gender expression, and pronouns is very important to have rolled out across the college, so we can be a much more inclusive campus.

 

6)The Tory MP for East Hampshire, Damian Hinds, has recently been appointed education secretary. If you could deliver him a message, what would it be?

I know you are Conservative, but please consider Labour’s proposed policy on a National Education Service. It’s great. I’d also like to see you lobby your Conservative peer, Sam Gyimah (new minister for universities), to seriously rethink the damaging effects of the teaching for excellence framework, which his predecessor Jo Johnson has pushed onto our institutions.

 

7)The current dispute between the UCU and UUK over pensions has generated a lot of political activism. How do you think this energy could be harnessed to hold the government to account on education policy more broadly?

I am so excited by the energy at the moment! It felt for a long time that the levels of student activism we saw in 2010 weren’t going to happen again, but here it is. The activity around strikes has already proven fruitful, so I think the energy could be harnessed in reminding people that the status quo doesn’t have to be the status quo. We can and will make the changes we want to see through being loud, being organised, and making brilliant arguments for the injustices we face. If re-elected this year, I also plan on using the experience I’ve had and the training I’ve received to host workshops, sessions and talks on fighting for an alternative education system, (or at least one better than the one we have now). By skill sharing and building a community around this, we can really begin to be more hopeful about our collective futures.

 

You can read Taylor’s full manifesto here: https://www.goldsmithssu.org/democra…/elections/manifesto/…/

Goldsmiths Students’ Union elections are open now but voting finishes at 4 p.m. Friday – so get a move on!: https://www.goldsmithssu.org/democracy/elections/

 

Words: Matt Mathers @MattEm90

Image: Roser Jorba Soler @sheisontheway

Taylor McGraa @taylormcgraa