It’s now been six months since the Officer Trustees took up office, so Felix got in touch with them to see how things have been going. We take a look at Fintan O’Connor, the Deputy President (Welfare), whose job is to “tackle the root causes of what makes life at Imperial difficult.” Mental health, finances, physical health, and academic pressures all fall under his remit.
Continue work in frontline mental health training – WAITING ON COLLEGE
Mental health has been a long-running issue at Imperial. The 2015 Mentality survey revealed that only 15% of those surveyed had never suffered from a mental health condition or experienced mental stress. One recommendation from the report was that the training personal tutors receive should be reviewed. More than two years later, and the topic of mental health training is still on the table: in the Union’s response to the National Student Survey results, which highlighted concerns over academic support, they made the recommendation that appropriate mental health first aid training is provided to student-facing staff – something they are continuing to lobby the College on.
Improve the development of College services, ensuring the welfare services are supported – IN PROGRESS
In 2016, Felix revealed that the number of students seeking counselling services had soared by 38% over three years, despite only a 5% increase in students. It has attracted criticism in recent years over long wait-times and lack of room to expand. This year the DPW has been working with the College on a Wellbeing Strategy, which aims to “bring together the wellbeing work…hold College to account on improving the wellbeing support and culture at Imperial…[and] secure funding for wellbeing at Imperial”, covering all aspects of wellbeing.
Develop the Welfare Roadmap and ensure that students know how to get help in and out of Imperial – GOAL SHIFTED
Last year’s DPW, Emily Jane-Cramphorn, ran on a platform that included the promise to deliver “better signposting and access to available support” – a pledge that morphed into her idea of a ‘Welfare Roadmap’, which would function as a way of signposting the support services on offer. O’Connor initially promised to continue working towards this aim, but the Union has since shifted to focus on the Wellbeing Representation Network (WBRN), which they say will have a similar function, highlighting the areas of support available to students. WBRN participants, however, have shared with Felix their concerns that more funding and support is required from College to mental health services.
Continue the Under Pressure campaign – COMPLETED
The Under Pressure campaign, which runs each year, aims to “give students strategies for coping during periods of heightened stress.” This year the campaign ran at the beginning of December, during which time Union staff spoke to over 400 students about how they can cope with stress, and distributed information about dealing with course stresses.
Support the new role of Mental Health Liberation Officer (LO), and provide better support and training to other LOs – IN PROGRESS
Last year, Union Council approved the creation of the Mental Health LO, who would join the other seven other LOs, and who would “work with the DPW in supporting mental health campaigns”, as well as representing students with mental health issues within the Union. Over the summer, the Union commissioned a report into the current work of the LOs within the Union, and since then they have been developing an action plan – one major change has been the removal of the Campaigns Officer from the list of LOs. This year the Union has also been facilitating meetings between LOs and College faculty, as well as providing training sessions and a £300 budget.
Ariana Sadr-Hashemi, the Union’s Mental Health Liberation Officer, told Felix that while “Union support has been lacking…as it was non-existent all years previous that’s understandable. I hope that the union continues its work in bettering liberation provisions” She also told Felix: “it would be nice to hear about how the data is being used for lobbying for MH services, since I haven’t been informed or involved in any of it”
Establish active bystander training – IN PROGRESS
Active bystander training, which aims to “challenge poor behaviours”, was promised by O’Connor during last year’s campaign. So far, it has been delivered to hall seniors and bar staff, and other wellbeing reps have taken part in the training, alongside other interested students, who are doing it as part of their Imperial Plus training.
Develop support systems available for sexual violence and sexual consent training – WAITING ON COLLEGE
Last year the Union, working with the College, secured funding from the Higher Education Funding Council for England’s (HEFCE) ‘Catalyst Fund’, which was funding projects addressing sexual harassment on campus. This funding was supposed to be used in the training of Sexual Violence Liaison Officers (SVLOs), who would form part of the Union and College’s new systems for disclosure of sexual violence. The topic of sexual violence in higher education has been more prominent in the media over the last couple of months, as the #MeToo movement raises awareness of sexual harassment and assault. Cambridge University has launched an anonymous reporting system, while the Union’s handling of an investigation into a sexual assault last year left the victim “more distressed” than the assault itself. As of November, O’Connor reported that the support policies “continue to develop”, and that the “new staff roles of SVLOs to launch in the coming weeks”. The SVLOs are currently waiting to be deployed.
Provide adequate support for students taking an interruption of studies – WAITING ON COLLEGE
Over the course of your time at Imperial, it’s likely that you’ll meet at least one person who has taken an interruption of studies (IoS) – or perhaps you have. In many cases, students will meet the same challenges when it comes to returning to their degree. Last term, O’Connor reported that he was meeting with senior members of College staff to discuss how to better support such students, and getting involved with the rewriting of College policy, which he described as “inadequate”.
Social Media Game
Since coming into the role, Fintan has tweeted 73 times.
Good at: being earnest; saying thank you
Room for improvement: gif choice