Subwardens in seven Imperial halls have published an open letter in Felix criticising the College’s restrictions placed on halls saying that they are responsible for “the number of mental health issues among students … shooting up” and the lack of support for wardening teams.
The group of subwardens that have asked to remain anonymous in order to avoid retribution have told Felix that they felt that the College had dumped the problem of keeping first year students safe and then abandoned them. The decision to speak out in Felix was motivated by the failure of repeated efforts to highlight issues and the failure of the College to respond or provide satisfactory solutions.
Morale among the wardening teams is said to be low with wardens feeling “tired and frustrated” after a number of gaffes and abrupt policy changes by the College have created substantially more work for wardening teams with news being passed on to students via social media before it was given to wardens and their teams.
While wardens would normally have a pastoral and welfare focused role, it has been reported that despite promises to the contrary, the role of enforcing COVID rule compliance had been handed to wardens. According to the authors of the letter, this has led to some students running away from wardens and feeling unable to approach them with requests for support. This is in addition to their previous role of “providing welfare support, handling difficult cases from supporting suicidal students to lobbying for improvements in network infrastructure to running events where possible to build a community within halls” which has only become harder without the trust of first year students.
This role of rule enforcer was further complicated by the failure of the College to provide, until December, a discipline framework to use in dealing with incidents of non-compliance with restrictions leading to different levels of enforcement and punishment between halls.
The letter also mentions how wardens were expected to continue doing rounds of halls even when hall security were made exempt from rounds due to safety concerns. Authors of the letter also mentioned to Felix that, while security members have now taken over discipline in halls, they were simply compiling lists of rule breakers and handing them onto wardens.
The understaffing of the Contract Tracing Hub (CCT) has also been a significant source of concern for subwardens, according to the letter published in Felix today. Understaffing of the Hub meant the subwarden authors lacked confidence it the CCT’s ability to respond to infections.
The subwardens have stressed, however, that they support the continued presence of restrictions to prevent the spread of COVID, though have asked for assistance from the College to be more constructive and not to take the form of platitudes.
The College has responded to requests for comment by saying “Wardens and sub-wardens play a crucial role in supporting our students in halls, and we understand that the pandemic has made this especially challenging. We have worked closely with the wardens when developing policies and procedures in halls in response to COVID-19. We are incredibly grateful for their hard work in trying to make the experience for students as good as it can be as we respond to changing national restrictions, often at short notice.
“Our Student Services team have regular group and individual meetings with the wardens, and we encourage any sub-wardens with concerns to speak to their warden or the Student Services team directly.”