Profile: Alexa Webster

This week, we had the amazing opportunity to sit down with the lovely Alexa, our FXU President of Community and Welfare, and we had a chat about intersectional feminism, diversity and representation on campus!

To start off with, what made you decide to study in Cornwall?

I came partly for the facilities; I studied Photography, and Falmouth has one of the top courses in Europe, so it made complete sense to come here. But also, I really liked the feel of the place. My mum’s American and this place reminded me so much of California, when I’ve gone over there to visit my family. When I walked in here, it just felt like home.

Can you tell us a bit about your role as FXU President Community and Welfare? What does welfare mean to you?

My role has three specific areas; Community, Welfare and Wellbeing, and Equality and Diversity. These were all things that not only affected me as a student, but also growing up – they’re everything that I’m interested in and passionate about. I felt that running for this role was such an important thing for me to do. It wasn’t really a career move; it was a soul move. I didn’t know which way the election was gonna go, but I just thought, “You’ll regret it if you don’t go for it, and if you get it, you’ll enjoy every minute of it.” And I absolutely have! It’s been the best decision I’ve ever made, and I’m so glad to have had it for the past 19 months.

Can you tell us a bit about any specific projects you’ve worked on that you’re particularly proud of?

I think, for me, the biggest thing I’ve done is Tell Me, which is our third party reporting service for hate crimes. I wanted to think of something that could help all students, no matter what happens after I’ve left and at those times when services are closed and people need to reach out for support. It just means that if something goes wrong, or if something bad does happen, students know that there’s this one point of contact that they can reach out to and know that they can get help. Cornwall didn’t have a hate crime reporting service for everyone before Tell Me, and so it’s really important that we have this one point of contact now, that’s available to everyone, regardless of the incident or of who they are.

What more can we do on campus to improve welfare for female identifying students?

I think we really need to keep fighting for our trans women. As a group, they’re so under represented on campus, be it in our lecturers, staff members, and even our course content - this campus is very cisgendered. It’s about more than just having ungendered bathrooms; it’s about having safe spaces where trans women can stand up and be themselves, and have their voices heard.

As a woman in a leading role, have you found that you’ve come up against any challenges or obstacles based on your gender?

Yes and no. I’ve found that as a woman, and also as a disabled, queer women, I always have to look presentable, especially in higher institutional meetings, just to be treated in the same way as men. I especially feel that I have to look presentable because I’m disabled; a lot of the time if you haven’t got makeup and nice clothes on, you’re seen as not being able to care for yourself. But in my role as FXU President Community and Welfare, it’s not as much of a problem as it might be elsewhere. Both Falmouth University and the University of Exeter are very forward thinking and have very positive, progressive attitudes towards gender. And it’s being in the position now where I can feed into these groups, looking at everything problematic I experienced as a student and helping to figure out how can we improve it so nobody else goes through it.

It was Don’t DisAbility Week this week; can you talk to us a bit about intersectional feminism, and how important it is to bring this into practice?

Hell yeah I can talk about intersectional feminism! It’s the only feminism we should be talking about. There’s loads of things we can do to promote intersectionality. I try to give my megaphone and my platform to the people who should be on it, like our amazing Liberation Chair. We need to give women from liberation groups the chance and opportunity to be heard, and say to them, “I can’t speak for you, but let me hear you and support you.”

It’s also about looking back at our history, and knowing where we’ve gone wrong. For example, at the Women’s Marches, there were women dressed as Suffragettes, but it’s important to recognise that the Suffragette Movement, and the history that’s been written about them, excluded a lot of women of colour. You can be a feminist, and you can also be racist or transphobic.

We need to think “How do I separate the issues, and how do I mesh them back together?” Feminism is about more than vaginas, and being able to wear a short skirt and not get harassed; it’s about listening to other women, raising them up, and making their voices heard. Above all, to be a good ally you need to listen and understand before you do anything.

The FXU Elections are here – do you have any advice for anyone running in the elections? How did you prepare when you were in their position two years ago?

The best thing you can do is be organised; plan out your outfits, do your laundry, know when you’re gonna eat. But also, make sure you remember that there is a life outside of uni, outside of the FXU, and outside of the elections. As long as you have love and passion in your life, you’ll be ok. Remain true to yourself, love yourself, and then, no matter what happens, you’re gonna have an amazing career.

How important is diversity when it comes to the elections?

The FXU hasn’t always been the most diverse. I’ve looked back as far as I can at our leadership, and as far as I can tell, everyone has been white, able-bodied and cisgender, and that was something that Amanda and I noticed within our first few months. It was something we wanted to change, but we also recognised that we weren’t always the people to do this. We’ve met with as many students as we can, and we’ve encouraged and supported any and all students to break barriers and go into leadership roles. This year is the most diverse group of people we’ve ever had running in the elections, and while we’re not as diverse as we could be, we’re getting one step closer. It’s been an absolute honour to support the people of colour and trans people on campus to encourage them to go for leadership roles.

Representation is important; I’ve done a lot for disabled students just in being elected. Before me, we’d never had any elected officers in wheelchairs, and now we have two running. That’s the power of having a diverse group of people running for leadership positions. I’m queer and disabled and a woman, and people who are like me can look up and go “Oh my god, that’s me.” We need people who are brave and strong who can say, “I can be the first.” That’s what I did, and that’s what other people need to do.

And just to wrap up, what’s been your favourite part about being our FXU President Community and Welfare for the past two years?

Everything! I have this theory that even when something bad happens, you can find three positives from it. I can wake up every morning and go “Today I’m going to help someone, and help them to make a difference.” It can be big or small, anything from helping someone in an abusive relationship, or just cheering on our students in society events. And it’s honestly such a blessing; there are so few jobs where you know that you’re going to help someone every day.

This profile was organised with the help of our Women’s Student Officer, Mackinlay Ingham.