News Editor Anna-Marie Fischer writes about the media day interview with an Ethical and Environmental Officer candidate

Written by Anna-Marie Fischer
Images by Korng Sok

On Thursday 16th, one candidate for the Ethical and Environmental Officer role accepted an invite from Burn FM to be interviewed by Jacob Dawson to talk about his campaign and manifesto. This is what he had to say.


Ismael Rodriguez Foronda 

The interview started with Jacob asking what key policies Ismael will be campaigning for during the election. Ismael stated he is focusing on three key issues. Firstly, he is looking to ensure the University is ‘reducing animal testing as much as possible’. Secondly, he will ‘support all of the ethical and environmental campaigns’ as he has ‘a background in both of them already’. Lastly, Ismael wants to see more measures introduced ‘such as the ones implemented into Green community’.

Jacob followed by asking what Ismael believes sets him apart from the other candidates running in the election, and if there is anything which makes him best suited for the role. Ismael stated that his campaigns are supported by the amount of activism that he has done over the last six months, which has been ‘intense and resulted in a lot of exposure’ in various environmental circles such as JustStopOil, Extinction Rebellion, and Animal Rebellion.

On to the question of animal testing, Jacob asked Ismael why he has chosen to focus on reducing animal testing on campus as much as possible, rather than advocating for an explicit all-out ban. Ismael responded that from the research he has done, he is aware that ‘for a lot of medicinal cases, a lot of the animal testing can be really ineffective’ and that there is a ‘low chance of something being plausible to work on humans if it has worked on an animal, like a mouse’. However, Ismael stated that he believes there may be ‘some room for error within that’. Ideally, he would like there to be no animal exploitation, but he ‘doesn’t think this will be something that the university will allow’. He criticised that ‘after the 1960s’ and the ‘animal testing boom’, the university ‘went underground’ and he would like to prevent that from happening again.

Ismael replied that all the roofs of buildings should be plastered with solar panels, as we are ‘seeing insane amounts of efficiency’ from such technologies

In relation to sustainability, Jacob asked if there is anything that Ismael can do to recreate the environmental measures that are in place in the Green Community, in the wider Vale and in the Selly Oak student accommodations. Ismael replied that all the roofs of buildings should be plastered with solar panels, as we are ‘seeing insane amounts of efficiency’ from such technologies. He elaborated that this movement ‘doesn’t just have to be led by the universities’, emphasising the impact of ‘societies and even smaller departments of the university’ pushing for things such as small-scale vertical wind turbines.

Jacob then mentioned that the University is ‘taking more of a harsh stance on fossil fuels’ and trying to reduce their usage. Jacob asked for Ismael’s position on this and whether he is planning to push to reduce more fossil fuels or try to eliminate them entirely. Ismael stated that he believes fossil fuel companies will be campaigning and trying to bring in money to the University in order to keep themselves alive, but he affirmed that ‘these are industries we need to make sure are dying and stay dying’.

The interview then moved onto the topic of the UCU strikes which are currently ongoing due to disputes over pay, pension, and working conditions. Jacob asked for Ismael’s position on the strikes and whether this is something he would like to see resolved from the point of view of the Guild of Students. Ismael fully supports the strikes and believes that the Guild should as well, saying ‘we need to take care of our professors and our lecturers as much as we can’. He also extended this to ‘people who aren’t necessarily either students or lecturers’ as he believes there aren’t currently enough measures in place to take care of researchers, for example.

Jacob then mentioned students pay between £27,000 to £36,000 for a three to four year undergraduate course, despite not knowing where this money goes to. Jacob followed this, saying that many would argue there should be greater transparency from the University and student control as to where this money goes to, as students question why they are paying £36,000 but their lecturers are still striking.

Jacob then asked if there is anything Ismael could do in the position of ethical officer to try and increase transparency in the University. Ismael replied saying he was unsure whether this came under his role or not, but echoed this sentiment and that he ‘fully believes in the transparency of money’ and will do something about it if he is able to. He continued that, after the latest statistics he read, UoB was making around half a billion in terms of profits – and queried ‘why aren’t we sharing this with the professors, the reason that the University is here in the first place’.

Ismael mentioned that he and other students are currently running the ‘plantbasedunis’ campaign which is active in 48 other universities

In terms of Ismael’s manifesto, Jacob asked if Ismael believes this is achievable in the time frame he will be in office. Ismael believes so but stated that he has been talking with Guild officers throughout the year, co-leading one of the environmental campaigns of the University, and understands ‘there is a lot of bureaucracy to virtually everything you do’. He continued that he is therefore looking to try out new ways that are less bureaucracy-based. Jacob added to this, explaining the Guild’s reputation among students with the slow process of bureaucracy and his experience in trying to start a society himself, saying that a lot of people would like to see a ‘more sleek Guild’ that ‘cuts out the red tape and gets on with the job’. Ismael agreed and is looking to go about things in an efficient matter.

Jacob then asked again if there is anything else which sets Ismael apart from the other candidates, and Ismael mentioned that he is vegan and has dedicated himself quite a lot towards the cause. Additionally, he added that he is currently working in the recycling sector and is exposed to the end-of-life phase of things from a legislative, physical and an engineering standpoint.

Jacob then stated that although there has been a rise in vegetarianism and veganism on campus, there is a lack of accessibility and it is often difficult to find vegan-friendly or allergy-friendly food on campus. Jacob asked Ismael if there is anything that Ismael could do to push the organisations that run the food on campus to include more vegan, vegetarian, and allergy-friendly options. Ismael mentioned that he and other students are currently running the ‘plantbasedunis’ campaign which is active in 48 other universities, and that they have already gotten the University of Sterling to go fully plant-based by 2025. Ismael believes ‘the University of Birmingham can definitely take massive strides towards that’ and continued that if UoB becomes the first Russell-Group university to go fully plant-based, ‘we will attract so many people who are environmentally minded and care about the planet’ and this will ‘revolutionise the University’.

Jacob rounded off the interview by asking if Ismael had any fun facts which he believes will make him a good addition to the Guild and will set him apart from his predecessor. Ismael said he will be ‘harsher’ as he is a ‘very direct person’ and ‘likes to get things done’. He mentioned the possibility of starting protests around the University if this is something students wanted and ‘if that is what will get things done’. Jacob replied to this saying he believes a lot of students will appreciate a more hard-line, stating we are in a time of crisis both with the climate crisis and rapid strike action. Ismael replied that the Guild supports direct action in their by-laws – emphasising that guild members and students should be proactive.