I was a Residence Life Mentor in my final year of university. I heard about
the job through a number of friends who did the job and it sounded like a fun, sociable job to do in exchange for a decent reduction in my accommodation rent price. At the time I was living in a freezing, damp student house, and the thought of living in accommodation where I didn’t have to worry about heating bills was well worth giving up a few hours a week to talk to students.
Having successfully gotten the job, I had two days of training prior to the start of Freshers’ Week. Our first major task was to get involved with meeting our mentees as they moved in, as well as participating in a number of talks across the move-in weekend to advocate the usual – respect your fl at-mates, don’t get hammered and don’t go home with a stranger to have unprotected sex. This took up a lot of my time that weekend, alongside the three societies I was trying to run as well as the other paid job I had on campus
See, despite being billed as such, the Mentor role was never one of a paid job.
We were all under the impression that we were being ‘paid’ for our time spent on the job in the form of remuneration towards our accommodation rent. If you were a team leader, your pay level ‘increased’ to completely free rather than subsidised accommodation.
In fact, we were really voluntary workers (the definition of a voluntary worker being one not entitled to receive the National Minimum Wage), whose accommodation subsidiaries were used to effectively incentivise them into working their hours and more. Problems arose around extra events being held which we could get involved in, but it always ended up being the same mentors (including myself) who volunteered for these, meaning we did way more hours than we were being remunerated for through our rent reductions.
Because of the hours people did and the fact that no one wanted to lose their rent reduction, many people ended up faking their reports each week (myself included) when we didn’t have time or couldn’t be bothered to do our rounds. I know a mentor who managed to go an entire term without seeing their mentees – so much so that when they finally went round, the mentees asked who they were.
Absences this long weren’t that common but missing a few weeks at a time and faking your records certainly were – and this was no secret among the Mentors.
One thing that strikes me in hindsight is the absolute lack of any safeguarding or DBS-checking of Mentors. We were all told about the Data Protection Act and warned about confidentiality, but that was the end of it. There are a surprising number of under-18s living in halls (including children in the post-grad flats) for whom legally a DBS-check is required for anyone in a position of authority or trust, as we were. Not to mention that the work we were doing would class students as ‘vulnerable adults’ and also require a DBS-check. It was also fairly common knowledge among the teams that Mentors gossiped (a flat dealing drugs was far more exciting than dissertations) but we were never called out on it.
It wasn’t a bad ‘job’, but it was always very clear that 90% of the people were
there purely to receive money off every week from their rent. It was easy money and poorly managed, and this was sensed and reflected in the effort put in by the Mentors.
In response, the University said:
“It is a shame that the Mentor here did not raise any of the issues mentioned during their time in the role, as the Residence Life team would have been able to offer guidance and reassurance. The role description and details of expectations are clearly defined in the terms and conditions provided to applicants. In the most recent Student Living Questionnaire, 82% of students said that they had met their mentor. We are not aware of Mentors routinely working over five hours per week and encourage any Mentor who felt they were to discuss this with their Team Leader.”