Interview with Strathclyde’s VP Inclusion Yu-Chu

By Jhanvi Vipin (She/Her)

I recently interviewed Yu-Chu, also known as Kathy (she/they), the VP Inclusion at the University of Strathclyde, who’s on a mission for inclusivity, and she had lots to say about her goals for this year.

Tell me a brief introduction about yourself?

Hi, my name is Yu-Chu, sometimes I go by Kathy, but mostly Yu-chu now, because I’ve gone through a personal journey of self-identity. I go by Yu-chu now, because at first I wanted to fit into the Scottish community, and I thought if I have something that is easier to pronounce, I can fit in better, but that’s not a solution actually. For a long time, I was disconnected from my community, and I feel that in the end I still feel like I need that community to support me and understand where I come from. Now I’m more in my own skin and feel more comfortable to call me Yu-chu instead of Kathy.

You started a Diversity Leadership Programme, tell me about the program and its influence on BAME, LGBT+ and other communities?

The program is really to support people who don’t usually see themselves as leaders because the representation we have is still not there, so people don’t have the role models to be like “oh yeah I can actually be that person one day.” I think there are still so many gaps we can fill in to support people from different backgrounds. It’s not only for BAME or LGBT+ students, it’s also for care experienced students, it’s also for other socially disadvantaged backgrounds. That was why the program was developed – to have that support, to understand where the gap is, and to support them intro understanding that they can have the confidence and that leadership means so many different ways – that they need to dress in suits, they need to talk a certain way. They can lead as long as they can make changes. It was really a personal program to me because I wished when I first started, that I had that kind of support. It was really meaningful for personal reasons. I think they will have a space to discover how they define leadership. When you have that voice inside yourself, there’s so many different meanings for leadership. To change the narrative is to challenge the way they think leadership is, if they can work with other people from similar and find that community and relate to each other. I found that really helpful when doing my own kind of projects by having people to support me and I think this could help people with their confidence.

What have you planned for October since its Black History Month?

This year, we tried something different. We want to actually ask the community what they want from the month, and also make sure there’s a mixture of different events – talking about how Black students can be positioned in the modern world. To support employability, and understand how to navigate job applications, there’s also going to be events like panels from previous student representation, they will come in and talk about different things they face as officers in the Union. There is going to be alumni coming in to talk about their university and work experience, and a focus on Black women in professional roles. I think that will be an interesting and meaningful panel to go on, and I will also be speaking, hopefully encouraging other people. There are a mixture of different things Esther will focus on. There’s a lot of plans but I won’t claim anything that isn’t led by me. I really want to highlight that it’s the work of Esther, our Race Equity intern, and she’s amazing.

You were in London for your first conference about EDI (Equality, Diversity & Inclusion), tell me what that experience was like?

I was really excited but nervous, because it was my first conference in a formal setting. The speech was about a student perspective in EDI, in higher education. I was the only student who was speaking in the conference, so I felt a heavy responsibility to represent student’s voices. That’s kind of the way that I can share that experience with people who also worked in higher education in the field of EDI.

I talked a little about my experience when I started staying in Glasgow about my disconnection with my community, because I thought the only way to fit in was to bend my own identity. And it was hard for me because I wanted to start a new life, and establish it, but I found out the only way to do so, is to take who you are with you and be your authentic self. Which isn’t easy, but it’s doable because then you don’t have to hide any part of you, be yourself, and find the people who accept you. I talked about that, the different academic expectations back from home and here, the cultural differences. In an Asian community, you don’t want to lose face in front of that community and your parents. I find it quite different here, people focus on personal development and more so as a whole community. There’s also an understanding of potential conflicts between different communities and training on how to manage the conflicts as well. It was a really interesting conference for me because I get to be a bit vulnerable and I feel like the only way to make them realise the challenges people face in higher education is to be vulnerable to them, to actually make them listen about real issues.  Real people, real experiences.

I also talked a bit about my highlights, not just challenges, and how I find the course I take, how I developed from an introverted person to a public speaker. Saying to people “can you vote for me?” was a huge step for me. I also shared the experience of development from a student to see if a student is supported in their studies, how much they can grow, and the potential of each student, to make them feel invaluable. Because I think in inclusion and EDI, the work is really slow. You can only see a change in 10 or 20 years, every day you continue to push that work, but you don’t see the immediate progress. One way to keep it going is to encourage them to keep going and not give up, and make sure that the student sees and appreciates the effort.

I felt the conference went really well and I enjoyed it!

Are there any communities in specific that you feel at Strathclyde that are underrepresented?

We often put on events for bigger communities, but we don’t always put on events for smaller communities. That is something I want to make sure the Union can support. I want to make sure the smaller communities don’t feel like only the bigger communities are represented. The International Student Rep, Ishan, spoke to me saying he wants to see more events put on for international students. He thinks there’s a lot of other communities that could be better represented, for example, Greek students, who could have more events put up for them or Iranian students, especially with all the conflicts going on. It’s hard for them to hear all of that so far away from home, and I was trying to organise events for them. It was really challenging, because they have up and running societies, but I don’t think there’s a lot of engagement because of how small the society is. We couldn’t put on a fundraiser event, because there are so many barriers to cross. I really want to see people from countries that have smaller groups at Strathclyde be represented.

What are your other goals?

My other goal is continuing to make sure the university is catering for accessibility. As you know, we’re on a hill, and it’s not always accessible for wheelchair users, or other people that have mobility issues. Education can be more accessible as well, because I heard that people find it quite hard to come back to class, but they don’t know how to voice that. Back when we were online due to COVID, we used to get transcripts, but now it’s really hard to get transcripts or videos of the lectures. Some people are fine, but some people are struggling, and they don’t know where to take those concerns to. I want to make sure that they could come to me and talk to me about their experiences. Then I could take it to higher committees and the university will be aware of it, and we have evidence to support what we claim. Also, sometimes classes are so far away from each other as well, and you can’t access it or get any material. I don’t think that’s fair; I’ve asked if the university could do something about it. However, it’s only been me talking about it and not enough students for me to refer to. If there’s anyone who has issues like this, I want them to contact me, so we can talk about your experience a bit more and make the university think that this is worth exploring.

I’m also trying to see how to support students starting placements abroad, because I’m not sure if there is any policy or support for people who are studying or learning off campus. If they are in Spain doing their year abroad, how do they access support if they get misgendered or face racism? How do they face that challenge? I’m trying to find out how to support them.