The news of eighteen-year-old University of Worcester student Thomas Jones’ troubling disappearance sent shock waves that demand we recount our own experiences as University of Edinburgh first years. This event sheds light on an issue that each university student has inevitably formed an opinion on, regarding the efficacy of the university’s efforts to support and care for the physical and mental wellbeing of its students.
It’s ironic that the transition into higher education commences with a series of exhilarating experiences condensed into a period commonly known as Freshers’ Week. In the midst of this immense apprehension and excitement, many are known to thrust themselves directly into alcohol fuelled arenas, armed with a somewhat survivalist enthusiasm to make new connections, fast. Any adjusting fresher is prone to getting wildly caught up in this wave without first attuning themselves in the way that is often necessary.
There are others who enter the madness of Freshers’ Week and, on the contrary, come out feeling very much overwhelmed by the unfamiliar flurry of halls, budgets, campus navigation and making friends. In the presence of such a huge student body it is easy to get lost in a crowd of people and retreat into a realm of loneliness and isolation.
Regardless of the course of action you identify with, there lies the understanding that this period of transition and unfamiliarity breeds a desperation for stability and acceptance, leaving freshers highly susceptible to forming unhealthy dependencies. This negativity can impact on the academic and personal wellbeing of students moving forward at university, and can occasionally have effects which are long-lasting and damaging.
The university has gone to great lengths to ensure a smoother simpler process of transition for students of all backgrounds. These efforts include dotting the campus, university and Students’ Association websites with student specific guides and navigational tools. The Advice Place is an all-encompassing information and service hub, and personal tutors offer academic counsel.
However, these resources are laid out and offered in an incredibly impersonal and regulated way. Various societies for people of different backgrounds and interests provide a good place for students to fully integrate and ease into university life. However, not everyone is equipped with the confidence and charisma necessary for getting involved in societal events, or to muster enough initiative to utilise and reach resources and safe spaces when needed. There needs to be a solid and continual source of encouragement and personal engagement with the student for comprehensively successful integration.
Perhaps creating a role thats purpose is equivalent to that of the personal tutor’s academic role, but is heavily geared towards more social and integrative aspects of university life, and whose presence would be very much felt by students would be a step in the right direction. This role should involve actively conducting follow ups with the student and communicating genuine concern for social, mental and emotional wellbeing. This could greatly enable and ease the process of transition, with the student receiving the necessary help and assistance to address and overcome their quandaries.
Nothing is ever worth compromising physical and mental wellbeing for. As a university, we embrace differences and take great pride in our diverse student demographic. Together with that comes the challenge of respecting and openly addressing a diversity of needs. Therefore, it is imperative that we strive to comprehensively implement and pursue inclusivity to its very ends.
Image: Ivan Lai