Nominations for Imperial College Union’s Autumn Elections opened last week. Over 400 roles are open to students, including positions on the new Wellbeing Representation Network (WBRN).

The nominations, which opened on 30th September will remain open until the end of next week, closing on 12th October. Other positions include roles on the Academic Representation Network (ARN) – a body of students responsible for feeding back educational issues to their department – Ordinary Council Members, Constituent Union roles, and the Gender Equality Liberation Officer. This is the first year that the WBRN is being run. The scheme is “unique among British universities”, and modelled on the existing ARN. The Union’s definition of ‘wellbeing’ covers five key areas where support is available to students: ‘Health’, ‘Financial Concerns’, ‘Relationships’, ‘Equality and Diversity’, and ‘Personal Safety’.

The WBRN consists of 85 student volunteers, from across all departments: there will be one ‘Departmental Wellbeing Representative’ for each UG department, and one ‘Year Wellbeing Representative’ for each year of a course. Each representative within the Network will have to complete a mandatory induction delivered by the Union. Some representatives will also receive Mental Health First Aid training, which will not be mandatory; additional training will be made available throughout the year, focusing on various aspects of wellbeing.

“The Wellbeing Rep Network consists of 85 student volunteers, from across all departments”

The framework has been arranged under a CASPER framework: reps are responsible for “Campaigning, Awareness raising, Signposting, Promoting positive conversations, Early intervention, and Representation”. Representatives will collect students’ views on wellbeing-related issues and refer students to available areas of support, although they “will never act as a support network”.
Representatives will also regularly meet to discuss issues raised by students. They will be invited to sit on the Union’s Community and Welfare Board, and Departmental Reps will meet with faculty members in termly Student Staff Committees.

There will be crossover between current Welfare Officers of some departmental societies – such as Bioengineering Society’s Welfare Officer, who was elected in March – and the new Network. Deputy President (Welfare) Fintan O’Connor told Felix that any such Welfare Officers would be incorporated into the WBRN, should they so wish.

O’Connor, said the WBRN was created as part of the Union’s strategic aims for 2017-20: “To improve our capacity to support students through the academic, emotional and social challenges of studying in the high-performing, pressurised and fast-paced environment of Imperial.”

O’Connor added that the Network would “facilitate better communication between staff and students”, as well as “give us a deeper understanding of the issues students face.” He told Felix that his ambition is that the Network, which he will head, “will provide us with the evidence base to support a broader wellbeing strategy.”

“Some students raised potential issues with the amount that student volunteers were already doing”

Damian Coveney, the CGCU Welfare Officer, welcomed the introduction of the WBRN, saying that “introducing more volunteers dedicated to all facets of wellbeing…can only be a positive change around campus. Since Wellbeing Reps will be obliged to report issues they have been presented with by their peers, it has the potential to find out what truly affects students.” He went on to say that CGCU would be using the WBRN to gather data on wellbeing in their Faculty to determine differences between year groups.

However, some student representatives have concerns about the WBRN: Michael Edwards, RCSU President, said that while the network has “a significant potential to make a lot of change”, the Union needs to “realise that one of the costs will be the well-being of the students that take up these roles in the trial years.”

Abhijay Sood, RCSU Academic Affairs Officer, raised issues with how the WBRN had been developed: “If the Union really gave a damn about democracy, they’d have consulted properly with students; there wasn’t so much as a vote at Council on this…if the Union ever does anything this big again, we need to make sure they tell us ahead of time.”

Other students raised potential issues with the amount that student volunteers and the Union are already doing: “I am concerned that the Union has too much work to do already, and this will only worsen things”, said one student representative. Another student told Felix: “The Union has a lot of problems – not having enough roles isn’t one of them.”

O’Connor told Felix: “We have spoken at length to a small number of students who had legitimate concerns about the safety of Wellbeing Reps, and we are grateful for their views, which have helped improve it. Their concerns were often ones that we had already identified ourselves, and we have put the safety of our members at the heart of our planning for this Network.”

Nominations close next Thursday. Voting will be open for five days, from 16-20th October. Interested applicants can register here.