Content warning: sexual violence
After you were elected as VP Welfare, you said that you wanted to make the process of reporting sexual harassment easier. How have you achieved this?
My biggest focus this year has been working on university policies for supporting sexual violence or harassment survivors. I think a specific policy on sexual violence, with a specific reporting procedure, is needed. I am hoping there will be a strategy group to take it forward. We’re also trying to make sure that students, as well as experts from external organisations, can feed into policy changes.
The ‘No One Asks For It’ Campaign has been running for nearly two years now. Kathryn Pearson (Women’s Officer) and I have been consulting students on what they would want out of a new university campaign and are working on one for this September. Finally, I’ve been working on education. This year, the university introduced training for staff members on how to respond to disclosures of sexual violence, which is incredibly important, as how a university staff member responds can have a huge impact on students.
How have the Students’ Association been helping to educate students on mental health?
One of the biggest things we’ve done was Mental Health and Wellbeing Week. I have also been talking to the university about ideas for mental health peer support, which students have asked a lot about in the past. The Students’ Association runs peer support already and these groups are fantastic, but there currently aren’t any specifically for mental health. There is the potential for a pilot scheme.
You have also talked about encouraging the university to take up mental health training for personal tutors. How are you able to put pressure on the university to progress this?
Two or three years ago now the university promised to give all personal tutors and other front-line staff mental health training. For various reasons, it has taken longer to deliver than we expected. So, this year we ran a campaign where students could write a letter to their Head of School or Personal Tutor. I have also been raising it in meetings and while the university is working to deliver this more quickly, this is still a slower process than we would have wanted.
You have commented on the rise in demand for, and pressure on, counselling services for students. Have you succeeded in pushing for more funding from the university?
The granting of funding for the refurbishment of 7 Bristo Square into a Wellbeing Centre was a big win for us. Myself, Patrick Kilduff (President), Ollie Glick (VP Community) and Chloë Marvin (Disabled Students’ Officer), all lobbied for that in our different parts of the university. The Centre will house Counselling and Disability Services and, crucially, increase their number of rooms. Space is their biggest constraint, so this will allow the service to expand, and ultimately bring down waiting times.
Which of your original goals did you find most difficult to implement?
Progress on a Sexual Violence and Harassment Policy is very slow, as many things in the university are. There are lots of practical things that we would want right now. These include introducing a specific policy outlining unacceptable behaviour, a specific reporting form and designated, supportive points of contact for reporting sexual violence or harassment. These things are in the pipeline, but the pace of progress is frustrating.
Why is it that the university makes progress slow?
This is a big university, with lots of competing priorities. The general university bureaucracy contributes to [the slow progress], but it isn’t insurmountable. If we had dedicated staff members to work on individual issues, we would be able to get through some of this stuff much quicker. I also think that the university could be more ambitious. That’s our job, to keep pushing forward.
What goals do you hope to see continued by the VP Welfare elect?
I really hope that the work on a sexual violence policy and training is a priority. Even if the university is on board in principle, [this role] is about making sure they deliver, because these issues are affecting students’ lives right now.
Secondly, the university is doing some work now to improve special circumstances and extension policies. Whoever takes on the Welfare and Student Representative roles will be able to shape that.
Image: Esther Dominy