Back in March, Amy Houghton spoke to Aisha Janki Akinola following her election to the Edinburgh University Student’s Association, discussing her social media campaign, the link between architecture and mental health, and her incoming #NoHateHere campaign...
Aisha exudes dazzling ambition. Months away from pausing her Architecture degree to take on the role as EUSA’s Vice President of Welfare*, she explains to me that such determination stems from natural curiosity. Additionally, a model, a YouTuber, and a founding member of the BlackEd movement, Aisha’s stunning list of credentials reject all boundaries.
I ask her where she finds such ambition: “I think, for me, I’ve got this- the word is curiosity. I watch a Youtube video, I think how do they even make this, how do they even edit a youtube video in the first place? And then next thing you know I’ve downloaded Adobe Premiere Pro and I’m playing around with it and trying to actually learn how that works. I think also my age plays a part in it because obviously as one is younger you have that clean slate. I don’t think my slate is as clean anymore, I’ve filled it up with a lot of things, but I think just having that curiosity and that willingness to take risks.”
When EUSA elections were announced in December, however, she was just recovering from “the most depressed phase of my university life”. Attributing much of her mental struggles to being stuck in small student accommodation for the duration of lockdown, she explains “I was keen on doing welfare, just because I study architecture, and architecture is a welfare issue. Mental health and architecture, they kind of go hand in hand.”
Aisha exudes dazzling ambition.
What was it, then, that won Aisha Janki the majority vote? She pauses for a moment before confessing to the amount of research that went on in the months prior- research that decided that her campaign would be social media led. “I was conscious of the fact that, first of all, not everyone was going to read the manifesto, right? That was why my social media presence had to be big, and I had to get as many people to share my candidacy and things like that.” However, her manifesto was, of course, still central to her campaign: “it was straight to the point, it was clear, it was relevant, and it was important.”
Moreover, her work with the BlackEd movement further opened her eyes to the students who were desperately asking for help but receiving nothing in return. Urgent change is needed, she insists, recalling the tragedy of a student taking her own life back in April 2020. “[The university] is an institution that has existed for over 400 years now and they’ve got a certain way of doing things, that method that they use tends to take time, and I don’t have time.” Through the screen, Aisha communicates an animated, deep frustration at the lack of tangible action taken so far, a feeling that is shared across the Edinburgh student population. She is aware that getting through to those at the top will be her most daunting challenge: “I don’t want a case whereby I will be frustrated, and drained- emotionally, mentally, spiritually and psychologically- all of the ‘ly’s’- because Professor Peter Mathieson didn’t understand the fact that the student support system needs to be fixed, like right now!” Yet, she remains resolutely determined and unfazed.
Under her forthcoming leadership, Aisha intends to initiate a #NoHateHere campaign that aims to eradicate all forms of racial harassment and hate crime on campus. She beams with infectious vibrancy as she tells me that she is most excited about ‘making sure we feel safe, we celebrate diversity, and everyone feels included regardless of their race, their colour, sexual orientation, gender, everything.’ She intends to send the message to incoming students that ‘you are welcome. You are very very welcome.’
She is most excited about ‘making sure we feel safe, we celebrate diversity, and everyone feels included regardless of their race, their colour, sexual orientation, gender, everything.’
As this interview was conducted in March, at the peak of the UK’s second lockdown, I asked Aisha what had been helping her through…
To Read? Invisible Women
To Eat? DrunkenNoodles (with prawns!) from Thai To Go
To Listen To? Stormzy
To Follow? @aisha_janki (of course!)
*Aisha has officially taken up the position since this interview took place.