To celebrate Pride Month, we interviewed Kieran Soutter, Computing Application Software Development student and Equality Champion for sexual orientation. He tells us more about his role and how he supports the LGBT+ community at RGU.
Can you tell us about your role as Equality Champion for sexual orientation at RGU?
I would describe my role as Equality Champion as being a liaison role between the LGBT+ community and the administration of the Student Union. As someone who is integrated into the community, I am able to speak on behalf of my peers during meetings. The scope of the role is not precisely defined so you can do as much or as little as you are ready to.
It’s a completely voluntary role and it’s a really good experience for working with people, I would say. Obviously, I’m working with the LGBT+ community, but I’m also trying to reach out to people from outside. This is probably around 80% of my work. I listen to the community and try to convey their vast array of voices through campaigning.
What are your duties as Equality Champion?
I attend meetings, work on projects and organise events.
Attending meetings and liaising
During the year, I had monthly meetings with the student president for Education and Welfare. From these meetings, I got acquainted with other people in the Student Union. As I was bringing up different topics, they would suggest that I attend meetings with a wide variety of people within the university. So the meetings really picked up as time went on and I identified more people that could support me in my projects.
The Union also hosts two meetings every semester which are open to everyone. During these meetings, the Union staff is joined by people from around the university who can raise any concerns they have. I attended most of these meetings to discuss ideas with the staff and see first-hand who seems to agree or disagree. It was also a good opportunity to push my ideas through not only to people who would directly benefit from them, but to the wider university community.
One of our biggest events this year was Transgender Day of Visibility on the 31st of March. It was especially important this year because of the Gender Recognition Reform (Scotland) Bill that is currently being discussed in the Scottish Parliament. So our big idea was that we would set up stalls on each of the main buildings on campus.
It was a pretty successful event. We printed off stickers for people to display their pronouns and show their support to the community. I know from speaking to people that one of the biggest issues for transgender individuals is people intentionally or unintentionally misgendering them, or calling them by their old name. Our mission was to get everyone, not only transgender people, to show their pronouns to make it more normal for everyone to display them. Everyone was super supportive! We really got a conversation going at RGU. We could see people picking the stickers up and talking about it as they were walking away.
It was really good from a project management perspective for me as a computing student because this is a big part of the discipline. Organising this event actually let me use the frameworks I learned in class and apply them in the real world. That was really eye opening because it showed me that these people and management skills that they teach you at RGU are really useful.
Working on small and big projects
When I first started my role, there was someone else working with me as Equality Champion for sexual orientation. Unfortunately, she resigned not too long after joining. As a result, I took on her big project of getting the anonymous reporting form (Report and Support) to be more visible. Because right now, staff know about it and where to find it, but a lot of students think it’s only for gender-based violence. But it’s actually there to report a wide variety of issues.
I have also been working on less structured projects. For example, I’m working with the Union at the moment to make the transition between Equality Champions a bit smoother and make sure there is more of a retention of ideas.
Supporting the LGBTQ+ Network
As the Equality Champion for sexual orientation, I’m not part of the LGBTQ+ Network executive, but I support them with what they want to accomplish. My first priority is to help them liaise with the Union, if they need funding for example. My other priority is to help them come up with ideas. Especially since, with COVID, there were no in-person events for two and a half years, so we had to start from a clean slate again.
What was your involvement in the organisation of RGU’s participation to Grampian Pride?
My involvement with Grampian Pride was basically just overseeing that the organisation was running smoothly. I had to make sure that the right people from the student network were getting involved and I assigned specific projects to each person. It was an interesting experience for me as I’m normally quite hands-on. I usually like to control everything, so letting other people take the reigns was a bit different.
I did have some ideas about the flags, and how much branding we would want on it. Obviously, we want current and future students to see that RGU is a welcoming place who supports the LGBT+ community. So the most important thing for me was not to overdo it with the branding as it would turn the attention away from the community. We managed to find a good balance with a big banner displaying the RGU logo and a small sentence that said “RGU is proud to support LGBT+ equality”.
Making sure that the event was well organised was really important for me. If everyone turned up with different banners and signs, it wouldn’t have looked good. It would have looked like it had been put together at the last minute and that wouldn’t have inspired confidence with the LGBT+ community. Finally, I also thought about the freebies that we could give to participants, such as flags for example.
Do you work with other Equality Champions or staff members outside the Union?
I do work with different people across the university. What was really useful this year was Emmanuel Akerele getting into his role as Equality, Diversity and Inclusion Adviser. It was really good to have someone like him that only deals with these kind of issues as the Union leaders have a lot of other things to tend to.
When I first started off as an Equality Champion, I did have a meeting with Duncan Cockburn, who is the staff Equality Champion for sexual orientation. This meeting was really beneficial because he has a lot of experience, and I think I would still be running around in circles today if I hadn’t met him. He told me more about the issues from the previous year and what could be changed during my term.
In February, I think that was when Fiona McKay was appointed into her role as Equality Champion for Gender Reassignment. She actually reached out to me, which was brilliant. We had an in-person meeting, which was really useful. We spoke, obviously, about transgender visibility from a staff perspective, and we shared some ideas. As she is the Course Leader for Journalism, it was great to get some of her expertise to figure out which ideas would work with the public and what would generate more conversations.
So, I did work with other Equality Champions, especially the staff ones. One of the good meetings we had was attended by all the different Equality Champions, some of the Union staff, university staff, and the Principal.
How did you decide to become an Equality Champion and would you encourage other students to do it?
In June last year, I received an email with the Student Bulletin where I saw the position being advertised. As I read more into it, I thought it might be an interesting thing to do. But I wasn’t expecting to get the role at all. I typed out my application on my phone in my parents’ garden and then didn’t hear anything for over a month. I thought this meant I didn’t get it, but it turned out that they were in the process of changing administrators. Eventually, I got an email inviting me to an interview. I did it and pretty much got the role on the spot.
What attracted me to the role was the fact that I already had experience working with people and hoped I could do a good job if I was appointed. However, I wasn’t really involved in campaigning for the LGBT+ community beforehand. Obviously, I had experienced issues, but I never went to Pride for example. I never did any kind of picketing or campaigning or anything like that. So this role was all very new to me.
I think my biggest takeaway from this would be, if you think the role is right, if you think you could do a decent job and learn something from it, just apply. It’s only a 300-word submission, which is nothing compared to our usual university assignments. Also, try to apply when you’re fairly new to student life, maybe in second year, so that you have more time to develop connections. I’m kind of sad that I got involved in my fourth year because I made all these great connections and met all these amazing people just as I finish university.