‘We are people too’, laughs Chuchu Nwagu, admitting that students expect the ‘sabb’ team to respond immediately to messages and emails – even in the early hours. Acknowledging a widespread lack of understanding among students and professionals about the true nature of a sabbatical role, the next Roehampton Students’ Union President wants improved awareness of what the role entails, and the pressures that the unique full-time job brings.
Raised in Tottenham, North London, by Nigerian parents, Chuchu grew up ‘distracted’ and unsure of his future. With a king for a grandfather and a ‘brainy’ sister, Chuchu has always had a lot to live up to. Torn between acting or a police career, higher education never crossed his mind, despite his parents’ success in the sector. After losing confidence at a theatre school, university beckoned, and ‘as a person of faith, theology grabbed me’, he explains, alluding to his Church of England roots. However, just one year passed before he dropped out of his undergraduate course at Heythrop College, deciding that a full-time job in theatre was right for him, going on to network and create his own theatre company for a further year. Unfulfilled by the challenge, and wishing to stimulate his mind on both an academic and a religious level, Chuchu returned to higher education to complete his Theology and Religious Studies degree, after discovering the University of Roehampton on a bus journey.
Joining Roehampton in his second year was ‘challenging, as I was shy, scared and older than most other students’, but despite taking a while to get involved in university life, the support from Chuchu’s ‘amazing’ Newman flatmates encouraged him to run for Digby President in the RSU elections after just six months at Roehampton: ‘I thought that things needed to change, and that I could offer something different’. He did not win. However, coming second gave him a chance to get his name heard and provided inspiration to become more involved in college life: flat repping, engaging with students lacking a platform and preparing his bid for an RSU sabbatical role. Rising from the ashes of his failed college presidency campaign, Chuchu found success in the elections for Vice President of Welfare and Community, combatting heavy competition from some big names. ‘I had never cried so much in all my life, it was really humbling as I never had anyone trust in me growing up’.
Over the past year, Chuchu has striven to prove to the students that ‘their votes were not wasted’, producing campaigns such as Don’t Rent Yet and the Elephant in the Room, alongside prioritising issues including sexual harassment, graduation fees and challenges facing international students.
On the subject of his own mental health struggles, Chuchu reveals that he doubted his own ability just prior to Freshers’ Week in September 2017, ‘I didn’t know if I could do this and went to speak to Matt [Wall, RSU CEO] about doing what I thought the honourable thing was: quitting’. He credits Jack and Jo, current RSU President and Vice President of Education, respectively, with helping him through this tough time, and enabling him to continue with his role. On top of the hardhitting topics he has focused on this year, Chuchu’s main goal has been to regularly touch base with the students, and be open to their comments: ‘I want people to shape me, I like criticism – but I like praise too! Students don’t realise that a sabb job is so tough, and that we can’t please everyone, we’re not invincible’.
When asked about his decision to run for RSU President, Chuchu describes a dream. ‘I dreamt I won two elections, it was really vivid, but I was also told that I had to sort out welfare first’. Assurance from the dream spurred him on but he admits there was ‘so much pressure’. Having won the position, he is keen to lay out his plans for the year ahead, referencing implementation of numerous changes next year, after the conclusion of the RSU Governance Review. A focus on race and citizenship issues remain a priority, carrying over from his welfare role, and Chuchu cites mental health first aid training as another initiative he is keen to roll out across the university, which relies on approval from the Student Senate. Improving the provision of campus social spaces, and ensuring that the students are consulted at every level, regardless of the project, also remain essential.
Supporting his new colleagues, VP Community and Welfare George Walker and VP Education Liam Parsons, is an aspect of his role that holds significant importance to him, particularly including ensuring he casts ‘no shadow’ over the former, due to the handover of the role from Chuchu to George. Recognising the lack of a female sabbatical officer (this will be the first year that an all-male team has been elected to lead the RSU), Chuchu jokes that he does not know how they will cope, as Jo’s presence has kept him and Jack ‘in line’ this year, allowing him to learn valuable skills such as time management.
Alongside his work at Roehampton, Chuchu has a busy year ahead due to his election to the National Union of Students National Executive Council, and his prominent position alongside Shakira Martin, NUS President, leading on an imminent national knife and gun crime campaign. While clearly caring for the students at Roehampton, it is plain to see that Chuchu maintains a sense of the bigger picture, and endeavours to ultimately improve the higher education experience for everyone, particularly those at a disadvantage and suffering in the attainment gap.
In the coming academic year, Chuchu explains that he wants to work hard as part of a collective and community, prove to his naysayers that he is the best man for the job and show that the student body voted wisely. Joining together to tackle issues and improve the Roehampton experience is what Chuchu is all about, and with ‘One Voice, One Union, One Roehampton’, he is confident that he has got what it takes.