Dr Leyla Hussein OBE is no stranger to adversity, but a stranger to complacency. Her life story can tell you that, the very purpose she has dedicated her life to speaks volumes in itself. Having felt the weight of the systemic inequalities encroaching on a Black Muslim woman, she refuses to let that be the narrative within which she, or anyone else for that matter, live their life. Leyla works tirelessly and passionately to protect human rights across the globe. Throughout her work as a consultant, writer, social entrepreneur, lecturer, and activist, Leyla has learned the value of uplifting the ideas and visualisations of the youth. As a mother to an 18-year-old daughter, youth concerns are very important to Leyla, as they inevitably affect everyone. Her unwavering hope in the student community to innovate, create and instigate great changes are what gives her the drive to be involved in the University of St. Andrews. According to her, the many worries that students hold whether it be regarding diversity and inclusion or affordable accommodation, is not only recognisable but fixable. The key to address the anxieties that students face is policy implementation and Leyla identifies this in her manifesto, split into three categories: Access, Action and Accountability.
Leyla is committed to widening access in St. Andrews, transforming it into a more diverse and accessible community. To cultivate this society, Leyla’s proposed policies include more consultations with students and staff of colour as well as the integration of more diverse academic literature. The lack thereof was evident in this year’s attempt at a Racial Equality matriculation module. It illustrated the missing piece of a more equal recognition and participation of the BAME community. Leyla is more than ready to initiate the ‘uncomfortable conversations’ that others may shy away from. Having faced racial discrimination herself, she is well aware of the uniqueness of each experience and the possible outcomes on mental health it can create. In essence, implementing pathways for people of colour to become involved in the restructuring of the system, through voicing their concerns in a safe space, is a meaningful way to create change and achieve racial equality. At the same time, diversity cannot be achieved in all of its glory if not accompanied by the recognition of varying socioeconomic backgrounds and affordable accommodation. Hence, Leyla supports and advocates for the increase of scholarships, bursaries, and loans especially to those students whose families and support systems face financial difficulty. Further, Leyla states that future developments for affordable accommodation should centre around student-led initiatives carried out in close relationship with the University.
Trained as a psychotherapist, Leyla is able to effectively understand and attend to the needs of students in terms of mental health. As a consultant and counsellor, Leyla is aware of the intricacy of such matters and is keen on expanding the services that the university has to offer. Leyla will advocate for an increase in funding for this expansion, in order to widen accessibility. Additionally, the hiring of more trained and specialised professionals to meet fluctuating needs will be pivotal. Leyla aims to address complaints as efficiently as possible such as shortening waiting times for appointments, especially during Covid-19. She is keen on collecting more qualitative information on how students are managing their mental wellbeing as well as ensuring timely and proper access to help. Furthermore, Leyla is unyielding on the inclusivity and proper representation of students with disabilities as well as LGBTQIA+ rights and expression, each with their own detailed policies in The Manifesto. The former entails more frequent consultation with students and staff with disabilities in order to identify and provide suitable accommodations that support various learning styles. The latter explains the urgency for the necessary measures to eliminate harmful language and a further need to introduce more queer academia within reading lists.
In terms of action, Leyla contends that in order to achieve the aforementioned and much more, stress must lie on creating transparency between the university and its students. This is created through open and active communication between both parties and in the role of Rector she will be able to do this strategically by voicing matters that are most pressing to students. Being vocal on matters of importance is vital to progress, and with 18 years of experience as an international social activist, this role comes very naturally to her. Her policies include the empowerment of students and support of student social movements as well as opportunities to work alongside her in campaigns and other endeavours relating to social activism. Furthermore, the action points in The Manifesto detail polices for the creation of a more sustainable St. Andrews, as she stresses importance on the power of governance and the use of intersectional environmentalism to follow through on these goals.
Last but not least, Leyla emphasizes the need for accountability and this can be seen through her detailed plan on tackling sexual and gender-based violence. A survivor of FGM and other forms of sexual assault herself, Leyla campaigns fiercely on protecting girls from all types of physical and mental harm. Following this, she established non-profits, worked as a sexual health advisor and continued to actively advocate for change. Leyla’s policies for ensuring the same change in St. Andrews entail acknowledging the complexity and uniqueness of each situation and misconduct report. Along with full access to information, the need for accessible support mechanisms is vital to addressing circumstances correctly. Her steadfast professionalism and experience in so many of the areas that students are currently struggling with, highlights her qualifications for the role.
Leyla even goes as far as to describe her plans for Covid-19 and the appropriate measures to ensure a healthy and safe environment. The effects of Covid-19 have rendered mental health and financial issues for many. Hence, Leyla is prepared to tackle this head-on with full support and resources in order to rectify both financial hardship and the mental health issues associated with this crisis.
As a mission statement, Leyla’s promise to the University of St. Andrews is to show up and follow through. Her refreshing energy paired with the dedication to follow suit in her endeavours simply accentuates her strength, capability and vision for greatness for the University of St. Andrews.
Written by Jannah Babar.
Disclaimer: This article is one of three written by the campaigns for the candidates of the Rector’s Election 2020. All candidates were offered the opportunity to write for The Record and speak directly to students. No editing of the article has been undertaken by The Record, and we do not take any official position as an editorial team in relation to the election.