On the evening of Monday 4th March, the candidates running for the position of Equal Opportunities and Welfare Officer participated in a hustings. The candidates included third year English student Cat Coakley-Burns, third year Psychology student JR, and third year Sociology student Myles Smith.
The speeches began with Cat, who started off by highlighting her main manifesto points. She expressed a desire to improve communication and collaboration between the different student welfare groups. She added that by coming together, they would have “wider reaching, and more impactful campaigns.”
More sexual health screenings are another thing Cat wishes to prioritise, due to the recent cuts that have been made by Cripps Health Centre. Cat wants to make them free and accessible on campus. Finally, Cat would like to improve the welfare training that is given to societies across the University. Ideally, she would like to make it so that “at least one committee member from every society is welfare trained.”
JR was the next to take the stage. One of the first parts of his manifesto focused on Equal Opportunities. He feels that within the role, it isn’t something that is given enough focus – this is something he wants to change. JR wishes to put policies in place that will benefit BME, LGBT+ and Disabled students, and break down the barrier that often prevents minority students from gaining access to welfare. He feels that, in 2019, though we have come a long way, “there is still a lot we can do to achieve equality for everyone.”
“JR wants to end the lack of transparency surrounding student suicides”
JR also wishes to look at “what is going on outside of University Park Campus.” This, he adds, does not just include the Sutton Bonington, Jubilee and Derby campuses, but also the self-catered halls residing off campus. Boasting thousands of students, halls like Broadgate Park and Raleigh Park should, JR says, offer the same standards of welfare services as those that are offered on campus. JR wants to end the lack of transparency surrounding student suicides, and to focus instead on both being open about the issue, and developing strategies to prevent it from happening.
Myles Smith took a different approach with his speech. He stated that he spoke, “not on behalf of myself, but on behalf of those who couldn’t be here tonight who wanted to make their voices heard.” His speech began with the stories from students’ experiences with the mental health services at the University of Nottingham.
He began with the experience of a 19 year old Asian student, who has been stuck on the University counselling waiting list for two months, and has been forced to resort to private services. Having to resort to support from her peers, and receiving none from the University, she had to make the decision to leave Nottingham. He added, “We have eight counsellors for 34,000 students. It does not take a genius to know that this isn’t enough.”
“Cat emphasised the importance of “bringing campaigns to a wider audience”
When asked how he would expand upon existing campaigns and measures put in place for issues like exam stress, mental health and sexual health, JR expressed it was necessary to “build upon what is already in place”, but that some campaigns would need to be adjusted and changed. He called for the Welfare Network to become both “a force for change and a force for sustainability.”
In contrast, Cat emphasised the importance of “bringing campaigns to a wider audience”, and suggested implementing a social media platform through which these ideas could be brought up and discussed.
Students also asked the candidates what work they would do to ensure there would be equal opportunities for working-class students. In response to this, Cat highlighted the importance of working with the “part-time officers who support the different minority groups.” This, she added, would give officers further insight into the issues working-class students face.
JR identified himself as a working student, and stated that there needs to be more awareness that some students do not come to University with the same “means” as others, and should be given special consideration and allowances where necessary, particularly if they have a part-time job.
“Myles stated, “I have tried to reach out to as many facets of the student body as I possibly can”
In the past, Equal Opportunities and Welfare has commonly been mistaken for a personal “counselling service”, rather than a signposting service. Myles highlighted that though this distinction is important, “if our services can’t meet the demands of the people we are signposting, there’s no point to it.” He added that initial work would need to be done in order to refine the services that are currently in place before signposting can happen.
When asked who he had reached out to at the university, Myles stated, “I have tried to reach out to as many facets of the student body as I possibly can. My manifesto wasn’t formed from my thoughts or my ideas, but from what others are going through.” He added that listening to the voices of students is what an officer is meant to do, before the relevant decisions and improvements can be made.
Featured image courtesy of Ella Taylor.
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