VP Wellbeing and Community End of Year Blog
When I became an officer last year this was the headline of my manifesto, where I detailed a small set of expectations for the year that can be reduced to: change the prizes on student housing, improving the university’s mental health services, promote transparency of the institutional structure and resources (both at a union and at university level), and to improve international students experience. Then this year happened. And what a year. Not only I had to learn how to be a student unionist in the Higher Education sector in the UK, but I had to learn how to actually achieve wins when defending students rights.
When entering discussions and negotiations between the union and the university, a lot of the dynamics that develop are the usual to institutional politics: too much bureaucracy, too many meetings, too many emails, agendas, minutes and missing actions. You can lose your objectives between the piles of reports and the run-abouts on campus to get to that meeting. You can forget about your intentions when trying to remember every senior management member’s name. You can burn out and demotivate when seeing prolonged discussions and endless catch-ups to get that small piece of information you needed. You can ask yourself daily about the purpose of your work.
But then, as everything else, you start to learn how to do the job. You learn that you have the right to have a say -even if you are not an expert- because your opinion matters and no one else in the room is going to state the obvious. You learn when to raise your voice, when to not let conversations slip, when to insist on your priorities, and how to make time for your own campaigns, that students are pushing you to develop.
Some of the things I have learned is to have continued communication with students in order to engage them in every decision I make. When I came into this role I knew I wanted to help organise a student movement that takes part and decides on the type of education they deserve. I don’t want to ‘consult’ students on their issues, I want to coordinate each campaign together.
Some of the things I have enjoyed the most are the several trainings that I have attended during my year as a sabb. Learning about the UK Higher Education context has given me perspective on some of the national issues, which don’t affect individual students at our university, but are a reflection of a model and approach to the education system.
Some of the things I would like to improve for my next year as a sabb is to keep in mind the relevant campaigns that I want to put forward. I would like to set more ambitious objectives for the year, and to remember to -please, please Clara- leave a written trace of everything I do!
I hope to continue working alongside some of you to make University a better and rewarding experience. I hope to continue to challenge the education model that reproduces hierarchies and paternalistic approaches, and to continue to fight for a free, accessible and critical education for all.
My achievements in 2019/2020
Decolonising UoY Campaign
- Launched a digital campaign to encourage students to #DecoloniseYourBookshelf.
- Started BAME Book Club run by students.
- Created the Postgraduate Diversifying York Group.
- Worked with the ILTA Project to recruit students interims.
- Organised several events alongside YUSU Academic Officer on decolonising research, good practice at departments in York, building an anti-racist student community and Decolonize UoY Student Forum.
- Produced GSA statement of support on BLM
- Supported and funded students on Anti-Racism Working Group events.
- Organised BLM awareness raising events like We have to talk about systemic change, on prison abolition and criminalisation of African Americans, onlines discussions on the Black Power Mixtape, etc.
- Produced Decolonise UoY Vision to lobby the University for an institutional-wide strategy and commitment.
- Lobbied the University to introduce anti-racist training on September inductions, alongside the GSA President, YUSU President and Wellbeing Officer.
- Lobbied to create a GSA BAME Network and introduce BAME part-time officers.
Improving Mental Health and Wellbeing Provision
- Gather student views through regular Wellbeing Forums.
- Coordinated training with the Student Health and Wellbeing office and the Open Door and Disabilities Team.
- Launched a Mental Health survey on students’ experiences of University services.
- Worked with the University on reviewing the Mental Health and Wellbeing Strategy
- Worked with the University to implement the new Student Wellbeing departmental support.
- Celebrated Mental Health university day with events like ‘Look after each other’ and ‘Look after yourself.
- Organised de-stress spaces during assessment period.
- Lobbied Unity Health to promote their Patients Participation Group.
- Coordinated activities and campaigns with York Time to Change Charity.
- Work with Health and Wellbeing Services to create a PGR Wellbeing training.
- Supported the UoY Student Mental Health and Psychological Well Being Cohort to monitor students mental health problems.
- Got the GSA to become part of the Student Minds SUs programme in order to have access to targeted training, networks and online resources from students’ mental health experts.
Sexual Violence and harassment:
- Lobby the University to develop a Student-staff Relationships Policy that regulates and attends to supervisor-supervisee relations.
- Worked with the University on the OfS consultation to students on Sexual Harassment and Misconduct in Higher Education.
- Lobbied the university to review and improve their Student misconduct policy and disciplinary procedures. (Regulation 7)
- Undertook a student consultation on the University approach to sexual harassment and misconduct. (Alongside YUSU Advice Service we will develop a report and a student’s vision statement).
- Help students to organise a street performance on the International Day against Violence against Women and other student-led events for Sexual Abuse and Sexual Violence Awareness Week.
Student Support Fund
- Lobbied the university for transparency of the fund, which resulted in the creation of an annual report with the relevant figures to be submitted from now on to the Student Live Committee and others.
- Worked to update the students financial support website so every fund is accessible and clear to students.
- Campaigned for a new guidance and application form to be created, resulting in the streamlining of the process (from 96 questions to 33!).
- The campaign resulted in the increased capacity of the financial team from 2 administrators and 2 officers to 4 administrators and 10 officers, reducing the processing time for applications from 4 weeks to 1 week!
- Campaigned to offer all students a no-penalty early release clause from their tenancy contracts, lobbied for a rent freeze to those students who are self-isolating in their halls, and to look at circumstances of students that need to overstay in their contracts.
- Lobbied the accommodation team for clear communications to students in halls of issues regarding staffing, repairs, cleaning, inspections and viewings.
- Improved the accommodation website with information regarding housing for families, average prices at York in the private sector and recommended areas to live in.
- Worked closely with York Council and private accommodation providers to ensure quality and services to students.
Students with care responsibilities
- Lobbied the university to create a ‘Support students with care responsibilities committee’
- Demanded targeted communications from departments and looked at best practice at other institutions in order to produce some information which will support students with caring responsibilities to consider the support they may need.
- Worked with the university to improve the EC Process for students with children/ caring responsibilities.
Started to review the guidance for supervisors Taught Student Supervisor Resource
Students with Disabilities
- Hosted regular forums with students ‘Disability Experience Feedback’
- Demanded to update and review the Student Support Plans for postgraduate students.
- Lobbied for targeted and improved communications from the Disabilities Team.
- Lobbied to create a GSA Disabilities Network and introduce Disabilities part-time officers
Transparency in the union:
- Produced termly reports for the first term sabb update, second term sabb update, and third term sabb update.
- Introduced sabbatical officers weekly video-reports on social media.
- Introduced regular sabbatical updates and students’ inquiries on the newsletter.
- Worked into developing a new and online accessible GSA Advice Service feedback form.
- Lobbied into having the GSA Council agenda and minutes on the website.
- Increased GSA presence on campus with events and library drop-ins, and later on the year with coffees online and regular sabbs catch ups.
- Increased communications with student media, as I was interviewed by YSTV on students wellbeing.
- Contributed to the GSA Strategy organising a union away day.
- Presented new policies to the GSA Council in order to stablish our union position, i.e: Policy in support of Student
- Sex Workers, and our Drugs Harm Reduction Policy
- Reviewed the provision of GSA Networks.
Industrial Action support:
- Produced both Council Report on support of the Strikes in November and in February
- Coordinated meetings with UCU
- Helped students to organise teach-outs such as Reimagining feminism, NoMoreFeminicides Action, Feminist experiences in Latin-America etc.
- Organised Feminist picket-lines reflecting on the gender and race pay gap
- Handled tea and coffee in the picket lines
- Organised study spaces and wellbeing spaces for students
Students Support during COVID-19:
- Keep Home and Carry On Campaign
- Created students #QuarantineCommunity hangouts group in order to provide a sense of community and belonging in our students.
- Organised a month of wellbeing activities under the KHCO campaign including Fitness online, online bingo’s, karaoke online, and cooking with Clara.
- Introduced sabbatical officers FaQ in order to accommodate students issues.
- Coordinated FaQs with University Senior Management and services achieving interviews with the Academic Registrar, with the Dean of YGRS (hosting two ‘Question times’) and with the PVC for Learning and Teaching.
- Lobbied the Disabilities Team to communicate with each student with an SSP and review the reasonable adjustments.
- Promoted PGR Wellbeing and flagging up to senior management that they need to do better on postgraduate wellbeing in general!
- Distributed targeted resources for students part of the LGBTQ+ community during lockdown.
- Worked with the University on the self-isolation guidance, face-covering policy and other regulations related to COVID-19 and the safety students on campus.
- Helped the University shape their student communications during the pandemic
- Organised GSA LGBTQ+ History Month calendar of events.
- Funded students events on religious and festivities celebrations and antiracism.
- Helped organising the volunteering provision at the GSA and the Sports sessions.
- Organise a ‘register to vote’ Give a ShXt event in order to encourage students to participate in the general UK elections.
- Worked with the University Health, Safety and Welfare Committee to prohibit supplying cigarettes and vapes on campus stores.
- Hosted regular Coffees online for distance learners in order to gather their needs and experiences.