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Disabilities Officer Georgia Corbett talks harsh truths, small victories, and community

Written by News, On Campus

Georgia Corbett discusses, with Lucy Adams, the details of her ten years’ worth of fighting for a better world. During this time, she has walked 800km to fundraise for Alzheimers UK, protested for abortion and equal marriage rights in her home country of Northern Ireland as a high school student, worked with The Angelou Centre and Citizens UK to shape legislation which defines misogyny as a hate crime, founded a national network of welfare reps within universities, and much more.

L: You’ve been an activist for while. Tell me how you took on that role and the journey you’ve been on since then.

G: I was brought into a legacy of strong women. My grandmother works often in Africa, Sudan primarily, stuff like providing menstrual products, helping to build schools and advocating to end children being enlisted as soldiers. Growing up in Northern Ireland in general could be oppressive; if I expressed an opinion I was opinionated, if I spoke I was loud – anything I did was critiqued in a sexist way. Yet I had this granny in my ear saying: don’t let the bastards grind you down.

My campaigning began with my granny within the church. Later, whilst at school, I found LGBT groups where we pushed back against discrimination issues together. Watching same-sex marriage pass in Parliament and then get vetoed over and over was devastating. Fighting and knowing that it may never come through. I got to a point where I was like: I’m sick of this and I feel like I can’t do anything. And then I came to Uni.

I really wanted to do something. I saw the privileges that LGBT people have here that we don’t back home and I wanted to bring attention to that and to more nuanced issues within the community and sexual violence. By the next year I was on the committee, [of It Happens Here] as well as the Disability and Neurodiversity committee.

L: Talk to me about other projects that you’ve worked on.

G: I ran a “subtitle motion” for SU videos to prevent inaccessibility for so many people. That took a really long time and was hard; ReCap still doesn’t have subtitles which is a huge disability issue. I did the Misogyny and Islamophobia Hate Crime Conference last summer, feeding the law that named misogyny as a hate crime. It’s small scale stuff too, like I’ve ran support groups working with survivors for the last two years, every other Wednesday. I sought out training for my whole committee to make sure they were covered and qualified. I reached out to people and I ended up going to sexual misconduct conferences, talking about student services with national providers. I started working with charities and now I work as an independent more; I get invited, as me, with expenses paid to come and talk about things. Sometimes I’m like: are you sure?

I run a national network of students who do what I do, and sabs, and officers.

L: What’s it called?

G: Not on my Campus UK. It’s been several years of building connections at every university possible. We’re trying to build representation across the board, so I get to amplify other voices above my own which I think is so important.

L: You’re a founder! Definitively, that’s making change – creating a system. What does this network do?

G: It’s the only group that exists where students feed information upwards, as opposed to the other way round, about sexual misconduct. We want to represent student voices and communicate how they’re feeling. We’re making charters to go into SU’s that can hold universities to account more directly, instead of the University creating a charter by which to check themselves.

L: What have you gained from this?

G: It’s been amazing to be able to uplift other people’s voices. What I’ve learned in this sector is that people try to figure out, or sometimes try to tell you, what you need. So it’s knowing that your voice about what you need is just as valuable as everyone else’s. Support services cannot act without the information from people who need support.

L: Has working with others so often made you feel more hopeful?

G: I went through a stage where I turned away from doing this kind of work and then came back to it because my life is so much worse when I’m not doing it. I think that we have a natural disposition towards social responsibility. The more we turn away from each other we’re denying our community aspect – we want to take care of each other.

L: That’s something that needs to be heard right now!

G: Yes! It always makes me think about Peter Singer’s concept of ethical proximity – the idea that if a child’s drowning in front of you you’ll run and save them but if they’re on another continent starving you won’t make the same effort.

L: This sounds counterintuitive but can you talk about – I’m wary of the word “failure” – incidents where you haven’t got through or been listened to?

G: Definitely. I do wish more people knew, going in, that it can feel hopeless and frustrating because they get disillusioned quickly. You need to learn to celebrate the small victories. The little changes matter – a lot – on a bigger scale. Do you know how many times I’ve run a talk or a film night and no one turned up? It happens. But you have to hang on for that third one when people really engage. You’ve got to reassess how you quantify achievement. Even helping one person is an achievement.

L: What tools do you have to employ to make change day-to-day?

G: These roles in particular have to be filled by people who want to look beyond their own experience. We’ve had conversations asking: “do we vote as our ourselves or our roles?” and in my perspective it has to be our roles. The people who elected me as Disabilities Officer expect me to represent the needs of disabled students in every decision I make even if it’s against my opinion. Even if there are other issues at play. Disability and environmental issues often clash but because I’m Disability Officer I act with disability interests in mind. It’s also about picking your battles. If you try and do everything you’ll drive yourself mad. You have to organise yourself, and pull yourself back.

L: Which issues have you decided to champion, and which are you auxiliary to?

G: I’ve focused on the handling of sexual violence and misconduct, the mental health provisions, and disability access. I support other activists’ pursuits but I have to restrain myself – in my mind you should not advocate for something you don’t have time to educate yourself on.

Last modified: 28th March 2020

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