Published on May 12, 2014 | by Thomas Andrei0
‘My first day in the job I was told I was not on the panel because I was a woman’
Shelly Asquith was re-elected as President of UAL Students’ Union on March 1st. Since she’s going to be around for one more year, ALN thought it was the time to catch up and see what she’s been up to.When UAL students tell you about Shelly, or if you just Google her last name, you might fall for the rumour that she is related to British Prime Minister Herbert Henry Asquith who was leader of the Liberal party from 1908 to 1916.
Well she is not, at all. Shelly grew up in Essex, in according to her in ‘a working class family’.
Despite her parents not being massively into politics she still thinks her family background has ‘shaped her values’ more than she reflected on. She explains : ‘I’ve grown up knowing how hard it is to get council housing, support a family on benefits, go on strike… that’s certainly informed by politics.’
Shelly first got into politics when she faced the difficulties of life. When she was doing a Communication Criticism Curation at Central Saint Martins, she had to drop her studies after just a few weeks.
‘My student loan didn’t come through in time and I didn’t have any way of sustaining myself. Something clicked a bit. I’d been interested in politics but I’d never experienced the injustices of ‘the system’ in the same way until then, at least not so directly. So that’s when I started being more interested in issues relating to students and young people. I came back to Uni the next year and got involved in activism in London straight away.’
Ironically, since being SU President is a full time job, Shelly has had to drop her studies again. But this time around she is glad to do it : ‘I’ve had a great ten months and I genuinely think this is the best job ever. I’m really lucky to be working with such a great team.’
Three good reasons to choose to run another time. She added : ‘I said I’d build a more ‘active, campaigning’ Union and I think we’ve achieved a lot this year, which will be built on next year too. There were a lot of things we’ve won on, but lot is still in progress too. I thought I had the relevant experience to see the job through for another year.’
Everybody thought Shelly was going to be easily re-elected, nonetheless the campaign was still pretty exhausting : ‘It was exciting but there was a lot of pressure. I was covering fifteen different sites within a week, so I had not a lot of voice and muscles left by the end of it.’
At first Shelly was unsure whether she would win again but she admits she would have been surprised if she had not. To celebrate, even though one of her political role models, Frida Kahlo, who is inspiring, ‘as a communist, a woman, a feminist and an artist’, was probably more into tequila, Shelly just drank whisky and coke with her friends.
Shelly has still a lot to do as President of the Student’s Union. She thinks ‘the Executive Board needs to be more engaged with what is going on in the grassroots of the university; actively listening to what students have to say and responding to it’.
Being the face of the Student’s Union has also meant that Shelly has become quite a target on social media such as Twitter. She deals with this as best as she can but admits it can be quite difficult at times. ‘I get a lot of sexist abuse, not only just on Twitter, but all the time. I mean it’s difficult to do this job as a woman. I deal with abuse on Twitter easily because it makes me laugh but it’s more difficult when it’s at work.’
Even in official meetings Shelly has faced opposition, and she wrote about sexism for ALN last term. ‘My first day on the job I was told I was not on the panel because I was a woman. There is so many women studying at UAL but it’s not reflected in the way the university is ran. ‘
But after July 2015, the end of her final term, Shelly already has plans. She might enrol on a teaching training course, but she also has another dream. ‘I would like to have a deli. Shelly’s deli, one day ! Some of these things are more achievable than others!’