Improving accessibility, tackling elitism, and improving mental health facilities are among the priorities for Edinburgh University Student Association’s newly-elected Vice President Welfare Oona Miller.
In an exclusive interview with The Student, Oona discussed her plans for the remainder of her term, the relationship between VP Welfare and the university, and getting students involved.
First on her agenda is improving the accessibility of the university, to which she said: “the physical access of the university is poor to say the least. “It’s very much a legacy, not just of the university’s ancient status but the ancient status of the city of Edinburgh.
“I don’t think we’ve sufficiently prioritised the issue in the past, and therefore it’s not so surprising that not much progress has been made.”
Oona aims to make improvement by enabling the university to consult with students during the building planning stage, partly through digital solutions such as AccessAble. She added: “At the moment this university doesn’t have a disability policy, which is quite out of step with the norm in higher education.”
Also on her agenda is tackling elitism in the university, increasing the transparency of the reporting system, and improving support for BME students, a concept she calls a ‘compassionate university’.
She said: “There’s a lot of scope for talking more about kindness in the higher education community, and I think that’s quite a radical thing to talk about.
“If the baseline for every conversation a staff or student member has is kindness we would be in a much better place.”
New initiatives do not mean abandoning old plans. “It’s also about continuing my predecessor’s fantastic work on sexual violence and really drive that agenda forward and forwarding the conversation about sexual health for students.”
“There’s a huge amount that comes under this banner of a compassionate university but I really want that to be a guiding principle for all of my work.”
On the subject of mental health, Oona said: “One of the exciting things that’s happening this year at Edinburgh is that, due to the Counselling and Disability Service’s move into the new Wellbeing and Health Centre, which will be opening in February next year, there will be an increase in capacity for both, so we are going to see investment in those services.
“We don’t yet know if that’s going to be enough, we don’t know if more supply is going to reveal a further demand that we knew was here.
“We’re going to be launching a mental health campaign, which grew from a student council motion last semester.
“It’s a testament both to the fact students really drive the change here, not just sabbatical officers, but also the conversation about men’s mental health has not come as far in Edinburgh as it needs to.
“We know men as a community and transmasculine people suffer very particularly with the way that they interact with their mental health and wellbeing and that a lot of that is related to a lot of social stigmas and a lot of ideas that abound about what it is to be a man or manly.
“Another thing that we’re doing through Mental Health and Wellbeing week is looking to put some of our most mobilised students in contact with political decisionmakers, because if you look at the reality across the country and multiple different health services, this is not just limited to one institution or higher education.”
On cooperating with the university, she said: “We have a really good relationship with the university.
“It’s not just about Peter Mathieson, our contact with university colleagues and service leaders cascades through the entire organisation, and that’s something we’re really proud of, to have built this kind of relationship.”
Oona’s term as VP Welfare ends in May.
Image Credit: Andrew Perry