Edward Crawley is running in the 2020 SU elections for the role of Welfare and Wellbeing officer. Impact‘s News Editor Lauren McGaun caught up with him to ask why he thinks he would be suited to the position.
What do you think makes you a good candidate for the role?
Because I get it. I’ve gone through a lot these past two years; I’ve seen what needs changing and how to change it. I’ve already used some of my experience to improve processes at the university, and I would love the opportunity to dedicate a year to that.
My campaign is all about getting the basics of Welfare right. This means that I am dedicated to making services, such as counselling, much more accessible to students. This will be done through making remote counselling a permanent option for students, advertising accessibility options and making services more transparent in their operations.
I will also increase communication: between full-time and part-time officers; between officers and students; and between the university and the Students’ Union. Having already done work with the university, I know that they are keen to work with the SU more. Finally, Part-Time Officers are crucial to making sure that we are all represented.
Why did you want to run for the role of Welfare and Wellbeing Officer, and what is the main student mental health issue that you hope to tackle?
My motivation is an unfortunate one. This answer discusses some sensitive topics, so I would encourage anyone uncomfortable to skip this answer.
My University experience has been hard. My friends and I have gone through mental health difficulties and bereavement whilst at Uni. The death of our friend to suicide was the toughest thing we have ever had to deal with.
The university did not handle the death well. The communication was poor, there did not seem to be a structure in place to handle bereavement, and the situation was made more stressful than it needed to be. Now, however, the university is much improved, and I was a part of that, as I reached out to the university and discussed strengths and weaknesses. I have subsequently helped create guides and talked about policy to the Head of Student Welfare.
Mental Health as an area is huge, and there is none more important than the other. However, I have most experience with anxiety, depression and bereavement, and I am keen to work on processes surrounding dealing with bereavement.
“Part-Time Officers are crucial to making sure that we are all represented”
How would you ensure that the university is able to continue providing student mental health support when a lot of services are now having to operate remotely due to coronavirus?
There is a lot of potential to learn from this awful situation. The swift transition to services being delivered online has been impressive. I have had a remote counselling session myself, and it was really important to get that support. There are many reasons why a student may not be able to attend in-person counselling session so we should keep remote services as an option for students post-COVID-19.
However, having everything being remote is a real disadvantage. Welcome Week is a really important time – it is often where students will first engage with welfare. If not everyone is back on campus, then we have to keep reaching out through digital means. This will require cooperation with the university; only a joint effort can engage the necessary amount of students. This will involve the creation of joint guides and safe digital spaces to create a greater sense of community.
How will you ensure that mental health services for students are advertised well so that students can easily access them?
This is also related to my previous answer. One of my main campaign points is fostering a closer relationship with the university. There are forms of support available across the university and the Students’ Union, but they are often badly signposted. A collaboration with the University would make it much easier to do this. I have held preliminary discussions about getting this joint document created with the university already, and they are really keen to work on this. I think that this could be a really important document, so even if I do not get in, I would hope that the eventual Welfare and Wellbeing Officer pursues this.
I have also spoke to the current Welfare and Wellbeing Officer, Myles Smith-Thompson. This paragraph also discusses some sensitive topics. He has helped create a long-term plan to reduce suicide risk, and it will be the job of the next Welfare Officer to pursue this. We have to make this a really prominent feature of our work.
“We have to work with the University to make sure Lecturers are prepared to accommodate students in a longer lockdown period”
How are you planning on supporting students working from home during lockdown, and especially those with pre-existing health conditions who may have a longer isolation period?
Lockdown is a really difficult time for everyone. As someone with a mental health condition, I have found it really difficult. But I know that there are people far worse off than me.
This will require communication across the Officers. Often the most important thing for wellbeing is joining a club or society, so I would work closely with the Sports and Activities officers to promote the Students’ Union as a way to get a sense of community whilst still in lockdown. There also has to be greater understanding in regards to working, which will require working with the Education Officer. We have to work with the University to make sure Lecturers are prepared to accommodate students in a longer lockdown period.
But, of course, COVID-19 affects everyone differently. The Welfare and Wellbeing Officer will have to talk with the Liberation Officer, Post-Graduate Officer and Community Officer, as well as every Part-Time Officer, to make sure that every community is supported.
Your manifesto points out your commitment to not making big spending promises. How will you ensure a high standard of student mental health services on a limited budget?
This was a really difficult thing to discuss. Unfortunately, COVID-19 has had and will have a huge impact of the university’s and the Union’s finances. There will be cost-cutting across both, and there will be pressure to cut back on Welfare.
It is my role to maintain spending at its current level, and then to make it go further. Previous Equal Opportunities and Welfare Officers have fought for extra funding, so that counselling is in a much better position than it was. However, it can still be improved as a service. For example, there is the potential for mental health workshops online. We have also learned that we can provide remote counselling as an option.
As someone who has had to make use of the counselling system myself, to hear that there will likely be no more money to expand it further is really disheartening. However, we can still make a huge difference with what we have. We have to review our current systems, make them clearer, more transparent, and more accessible.
“Part of my promise would be to increase inclusion and transparency”
How would you ensure that disabled students are supported through Disabled Student Allowance Mentoring without them feeling alienated/different from other students?
The Disabled Student Allowance (DSA) mentoring was difficult to find out information on. It is an option at Nottingham Trent University, using internal mentors. The University does offer a similar scheme but using external mentors.
Essentially, my job will be to work with the Disabled Students’ Officer, the University staff and as many students as I can talk to work out whether this scheme is working. Specific DSA mentoring is already a thing at the University of Nottingham, which I did not know when I wrote the manifesto, because it is just really hard to find.
If it is working for students, then there has to be far better promotion of it. It should not cost the University much at all, as it is funded by the Government. Part of my promise would be to increase inclusion and transparency. If it is not working, however, then I would have to work out why – one reason could be that students are feeling alienated. But there has to be a much more thorough investigation of disability services before I can know.
Voting in the 2020 SU Elections closes at 3pm on Monday 11th May.
The link to vote for the 2020 Student Union candidates is here.
Featured image courtesy of Nina Sasha.
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