Exeposé went along to the Vice President Welfare Debate this evening. If you didn’t manage to attend or catch the broadcast on XpressionFM, read our report below…
The second XpressionFM Election Week debate for Vice President Welfare candidates went on in the Alumni Auditorium this evening. The debate was masterfully chaired by Exeposé editor, Meg Drewett and with eight participants (Charlotte Cooper, Kate Hawkins, Charlie Mackay, Lydia Popiolek, Jaz Sansoye, Katherine Sladden, Spike van der Vliet-Firth and Disun Vera-Cruz (Dis)) is the largest to be held throughout the week.
The debate began by forcing the candidates to prioritise welfare issues, with them being asked, “What do you feel is the most pressing issue for students welfare and how do you intend to tackle?”
Charlie Cooper answered first, stating that she felt students’ failure to seek out help and find the “right kind of help” as most important. Kate Hawkins agreed, mentioning that the Wellbeing Centre usage is up but that quality should not be compromised. Charlie Mackay also agreed but introduced the idea of reducing the waiting time and pointed out that mental health affects not just the individual but everyone. Lydie felt the same as Mackay, bringing in the idea of personal tutors having basic training in mental health.
Jaz Sansoye brought up funding and the possibility of having unofficial groups to help tackle student mental health issues. Katherine Sladden similarly mentioned peer support, increased personal and more diverse support and, like Lydie, the possibility of using personal tutors. Spike returned to the question, saying that, “the Wellbeing backlog is most significant problem” and that “some groups being overlooked”. Dis pointed out that it’s “not just about throwing money at the problem, something needs to be done in the meantime with the services currently available”. He mentioned reaching out to students societies such as Voice or Mind Your Head.
Meg Drewett followed up her first question by pressing Katherine on what she had meant by personalised support.
Katherine reiterated her desire to increase the involvement of personal tutors in student wellbeing. However, Dis countered this by saying that Katherine should be considering more options and that personal tutors can change every year creating a lowered sense of confidentiality and trust. Charlie Mackay brought in the outcome of a previous investigation into the role of personal tutor saying that as academics, it is not their job nor speciality to provide pastoral care leading to an inconsistent experience.
Katherine explained that though she understood confidentiality may be an issue, but that this could be dealt with by making members of staff and academics into more familiar faces. Lydie disagreed saying consistency could be introduced and that student societies were valuable resources also. Kate agreed with Charlie Mackay and Katherine Sladden, mentioning that Chris Rootkin has done crash course with personal tutors recently. Jaz mentioned lecturers as a source of support while Spike encouraged the idea of peer to peer support.
Meg then addressed Jaz and Spike, asking, “Can you clarify if peer support is a fair substitute for wellbeing support?”
Spike clarified that he was not looking to substitute for anything and spoke of the need for increased Guild proactivity and that he would look for appropriate peer to peer opportunities.
The next question: “Wellbeing centre is clearly primary assistance – what is your main solution to its problems, how feasible is your solution?”
Dis answered with a student support programme, “students come together with same problems to help each other” while Katherine enthused on helping first year students from the moment they arrived, complemented by peer to peer support.
“If solution is greater awareness, won’t we just add to backlog even more? Surely to fix problems more than awareness is needed – what as a Sabb can you do to help?”
Katherine pointed out that the increased usage of the Wellbeing centre was a national issue, while Charlie Cooper brought it back to personal tutors. Lydie said she would strengthen all avenues and that particularly Voice had not reached its full potential. Charlie Mackay was emphatic that there was no real substitute for trained professionals and decreased waiting times.
Kate Hawkins pointed out that the underlying causes needed to be looked at, mentioning a Mental Health Awareness Week. Jaz said that student groups needed to be more publicised and that smaller peer support groups should be set up.
“Do you think that the diversity of the student body is represented within the Guild, and do you think Exeter has an issue with Equality and Diversity?”
The candidates talked about the lack of current diversity within the Guild. Ideas suggested include talks and workshops from Lydia, socials from Jaz and a Diversity Committee from Dis. Katherine and Charlie bemoaned the lack of diversity within the Guild and positions within the Guild while Spike brought in the fact that all minority groups need to have more exposure.
“Is filling minority rep positions enough to challenge issues of integration?”
The candidates all express a wish to increase integration. Charlie Mackay said that domestic students do not attend diversity events even though the events should be celebrated. Katherine works with INTO students and would like to introduce a buddy system. Dis stated that the problem was students weren’t willing to engage in integration and that the Guild should play a role in this. Dis went on to mention a specific instance where Floella Benjamin was featured on a flyer and was met with less interest than white speakers had had.
Meg followed up Dis’ point on the diversity of speakers stating that, “Quite a big statement to say students less interested in black speakers.”
Dis responds by explaining “I would have the same prejudice if it was 15 Chinese students coming towards me with a poster of a Chinese event.” Spike says international students should be supported and increase the communication with the Guild.
The debate then opened up to questions from the floor. First, Amelia asked, “Views on Blurred Lines/Page 3 campaigns?”
Dis supported the banning of the song while Lydie, Charlie Cooper and Charlie Mackay said regardless of their personal views, it was good to have a healthy debate. Charlie Cooper and Charlie Mackay also brought up potential censorship issues with Mackay mentioning the possibility of Campaigns Hub. Spike brought up the issue of lad cultures and condemned misogyny in society. Jaz agreed saying that she would like to “stamp out Lad Culture.”
Chris Rootkin, the incumbent Vice President for Welfare asked, “What do you think are the issues on campus around sustainability and how would you address them?”
Katherine praised the Green Unit and talked about the possibility of working with the NUS, while Charlie Cooper gave a series of ways to make campus greener and bemoaned the lack of “green energy across the university”. Spike brought up heat lost by open lecture doors and Charlie Mackay went further, boldly stating that she wanted to have the university carbon neutral by 2030.
Both Lydie and Kate echoed Katherine’s praise of the Green Unit and Kate talked about further initiatives, even mentioning potential wellbeing links. Dis suggested switching computers off and, alongside Lydie, mentioned encouraging students to change their behaviour to adhere to possibilities. Jaz mentioned the waste of having 24 hour lights in on-campus living.
A question from twitter was next. Natalie Anderson asked, “Should you not be targeting the reasons students need help from welfare services, not the services themselves?”
Charlie, Kate, Katherine and Dis mentioned the difficulty of pinning down causes and the range of causes that may impact on a student’s mental health. Spike mentioned that some problems turn into bigger problems so all need to be taken seriously. Lydie cited causes from the NUS survey and said that strengthening services would be the first step. Jaz agreed with the others saying, “Prevention is better than the cure”. Charlie Cooper brought up the need to “de-stigmatize” Mental Health and that this could potentially happen through SSLC pastoral links being boosted. Katherine also suggests a ‘Stress Less Week’ to get students thinking and more thought going into financial stress.
The final question of the evening came from Exeposé editor, Jon Jenner “Exeter has 10th lowest intake of state school students, do any of you have policies for tackling that, as they should be ensuring society is rep at uni?”
All candidates talked about the need for outreach and the need to make students of lower economic status feel included, with Jaz saying that she had personally felt alienated on-campus. Lydie spoke directly about housing issues which Kate agreed with, talking about the increased price of campus halls. Spike suggested more advice over payday loans while Charlie Mackay echoed Lydie and Kate saying, “Housing should be cheaper in Exeter”.
Charlie also brought up the fact that the university offers lower grade boundaries to students from disadvantaged backgrounds and that the image of Exeter should be changed. Charlie Cooper agreed, and mentioned the using local outreach and financial advice to do so. Dis praised previous points on accommodation, integration and financial help. Finally, Katherine suggested more information on budgeting and supported previous points on accommodation.
Olivia Luder, Online Editor and Dave Reynolds, Online Comment Editor