I can’t believe I have now spent two months in Office! Every day I feel more and more grateful for the role and the students who elected me.
While I have had a difficult month in terms of my own physical health, I have not let that get in the way of working on solving different concerns students have been raising over the course of August.
My main aim over the last month has been identifying how SUSU can support students as they return to in-person, pre-pandemic teaching and learning. As most students have been out of the traditional classroom for two years, there will be a period in which students will be transitioning back to a ‘new normal’ and it is my goal to make this as smooth as possible.
After asking students what their main concerns were, it seemed exams and safety were on the student’s priority list. We know that students want to be back in the classroom and after the University announced that all teaching and learning will be returning to campus, we must make sure that students still feel safe on campus, as well as not hindering their progress as they complete their degree.
After raising the concern about returning to in-person exams at an Education Committee meeting, I had a separate meeting with Sonia Cottrell, SUSU’s Director of Student Voice, and Claire Atkins, UoS’s Academic Registrar. This is where I raised the student concern that moving to in-person exams, especially for those going into their final year, could cause a disruption, might increase student anxiety levels and introduced the idea that online exams might be more beneficial in some cases for some courses. This was greeted with positivity and Claire has taken away my suggestions, feedback I received directly from students, and would still like to open the conversation to other students.
Another concern that was raised by students was what next year could look like, especially for clinically extremely vulnerable students. I met with Alex Neill, the Vice-President of Education at UoS during our regular catchups and discussed how studies would look for students who are clinically extremely vulnerable and weren’t prepared, or felt safe, to come back to study on campus. Alex reassured me that the University were doing everything they could to ensure safety on campus, but both staff and students wanted to return to in-person lectures and seminars which means that some things may not be possible, e.g., social distancing in particular teaching rooms or labs. If a student is massively concerned about their health and safety while studying on campus, the University have said that while they will support these students as much as possible, returning to a pre-pandemic teaching style means the student may need to consider suspending, deferring or withdrawing.
Many students have raised the subject of ‘liberating (or decolonizing) the curriculum’ which I am aware Avila (former VP Education and Democracy) worked on during her time in office last year. From looking into the different avenues over the last couple of months, it seems that liberating the curriculum already exists in the shape of working groups in different areas of the University and within SUSU. While some societies (for example, the Education Society) have been working on campaigning for a decolonized curriculum, the University also have a couple of different working groups, such as the ‘Race Equality Charter’ working group and the Centre of Higher Excellence Practise working group, ‘Education for All’. I have liaised with all three existing groups and worked to link them together. While liberating the curriculum is not one of my big five, it is something I will be providing student feedback on, and I am happy for students to email me concerns so I can raise these in the relevant meetings.
Results day meant that we had an increase in students looking for new friends or flat mates, especially on our Discord server. It has been fun getting to know the new students, helping them settle in, and getting them to know me and understand my role at the University. I have also been accepting new students into our SU Freshers Facebook group which has been useful in allowing me to connect with new students, and therefore boost my presence during their time at university.
We have secured the dates for the Autumn Elections, and I have personally started to advertise the open roles we have to new and current students. One of my aims this year is to improve participation in representation roles for first years as it is important that they feel involved with SUSU from the beginning. A sense of belonging is incredibly important, especially now as most students have experienced a couple of years out of traditional education and may be finding it extra difficult to leave home, make friends and look after their wellbeing. We are particularly interested in finding students to fill roles that have been empty for the last few years, and the Sabb team will be helping our Marketing department to create marketing materials to advertise the roles, as well as the importance of putting yourself out there, campaigning and voting.
Before I started, another student rightly raised the issue of You Make Change submissions taking a while to be accepted and responded to. The Sabbatical Officer team, the Representation team and the Director of Student Voice meet weekly on a Friday morning to discuss open and new You Make Change submissions and provide updates. This is something I will be continuing to ensure takes priority as we move into September and things get busier, and new submissions come through. This month I have been able to close a You Make Change submission on encouraging university staff and students to use Ecosia and Ecosia will also be included in the Sustainability stall at Freshers Fair, and I have been working hard to push for Digital IDs to be made available which has now been included in the University’s digital strategy and I will be meeting with the Head of iSolutions to discuss this further.
Regarding my Sabb Plans, I am hoping they will be available for students to view shortly. Due to being unwell, I have had to push back my meeting to finalise them, but as they are very close to being done, I am hoping they will be readily available soon.
I am hoping to create a SUSU FAQ which can support new students with learning about SUSU and what we can do – if there are any questions you think should be included, let me know.
The Sabbatical Officer team and I met with Kieron Broadhead, Executive Director of Student Experience, where we discussed some exciting, new upcoming projects which we can’t share just yet. I also spoke to Kieron about wellbeing support for students and Kieron suggested less is spent on counsellors and more on preventative methods and areas in which students can go if they are feeling overwhelmed, this is something Savanna is now looking into.
I was also toured around campus and SUSU this month which was very exciting as I had limited opportunities to while studying. Although I need to go around again to familiarize myself with the layout of the campus, I can say that knowing areas exist will be helpful in my role – e.g., all the gardens!
We met with the Sabbatical Officer team from Solent University and discussed each of our plans and how we can help each other. It was useful to see how different we were doing things despite being in the same city. Matt, Ben, Savanna and I also attended the Reading SU’s Southern Union’s Conference with Kate (Representation Manager), Jim (SUSU CEO) and Sonia which was incredibly beneficial to network with other Sabbatical Officer teams in the South and receive training from different organisations, including WonkHE and NUS. We have since virtually met with some of these Unions again and are planning on various partnerships.
The Sabbatical Officer team and other teams in SUSU have also been working on plans for those affected by the situation in Afghanistan, more Graduation 2022 planning, and creating a positive atmosphere surrounding elections.
Lots done this month but there’s still more to go. If you have any questions about the blog post, my plans, or any other queries and concerns, please don’t hesitate to get in touch.