As the debate continues on whether it’s too early to bring out Christmas decorations yet, I have compiled an update on all the things that have been happening in my role as President Welfare & Inclusivity in the last couple of months. It’s quite lengthy, so you may want to grab a cuppa (or a chai latte!) for this one.
**Trigger Warning: Drink Spiking & Personal Safety**
First things first, personal safety and drink spiking has been a top priority. Students are understandably very concerned for their own safety and wellbeing on nights out or walking alone in the dark. This is in response to what we’ve seen on social media with national incidents of spiking, local incidents of harassment as well as national news stories of women and non-binary people getting sexually harrassed when walking in the streets. Students want to know what their Students’ Union, their University and the local police are doing in response to current fears, and want to know if these threats are being taken seriously and that proactive changes happen as a result of this. My answer to that is yes absolutely - cultural change doesn’t happen overnight but what’s stopping us from starting this change on our doorstep, here in Cornwall?
Back in October, the Presidents and I signed and approved Falmouth University and University of Exeter Cornwall’s joint statement in response to recent fears of needle spiking in Cornwall to help clarify and reassure students of what the Police were saying and we shared solidarity with Cornwall Night In. Although there were no local cases of needle spiking, there was still a concern amongst students that this could still happen locally so I take any feedback on this extremely seriously, and proactive action is far more powerful than just listening and sharing solidarity alone. Please know that there is a reporting tool where you can report anything, even if it’s to notify that an incident has occured to help build a wider picture.
Due to the ongoing fear and safety concerns, I wanted to make sure that the SU’s response to this was firstly reassurative. This means making sure that students are in the loop with real time information of what’s happening in the community and working closely with the Universities on this. We have also put safety kits with resources such as silicone drink toppers, foil StopToppers, drink spiking test strips and leaflets whilst making the SU a safe space for any student to come in and collect these and speak to us to share any concerns or ask any questions. We had a pop-up on Penryn Campus alongside FX Plus Security who were promoting the Safe Zone app, and another on Falmouth Campus on 24th November. We've handed out all our pre-prepared safety kits however we'd love to know if there is more demand, so please sign up here to help us know if you'd be interested in more safety kits being made available.
Following on from these pop ups and the Big Rep Meeting, we are currently assessing different training opportunities such as self defense taster sessions for all students and potentially something on the grounds of gender based violence. The second part of the SU’s response needed to be proactive, and some of this helps to move discussions away from the victim blaming aspect around personal safety. Excitingly, SaferStreets Falmouth is doing a lot of work around personal safety within the community, which includes getting £5000 of funding from Cornwall Council towards student-led initiatives! This is amazing and super proactive, so now we are looking for any students who are passionate about this project to contact us if you or your friends want to be a part of a student-led campaign, decide where to allocate the money and sit in a group which is an amazing experience for your CV.
There is a link to the form to sign up here: https://forms.gle/o7akvR52dC5aCxVn7
Mental health transparency is one of my manifesto priorities, and I currently sit in a lot of meetings for both Universities and FX Plus which discuss support for students, and I share feedback in these spaces as well. However, I’ve strongly urged these institutions to communicate these conversations out to students so that there is more transparency on the efforts surrounding mental health. One of the exciting projects that is happening this year is that FX Plus, with the support of the SU and both Universities, are setting up a wellbeing opinion panel. This is a paid opportunity for students to share their experiences in a supported safe space so that FXPlus can collect detailed feedback. This is part of my priority to help make progress on this are work in a more linear direction, to help break a repeated cycle of broader feedback on mental health support and not much coming out of this.
Apply now to be part of the wellbeing opinion panel (closes on 8th December). Feel free to share with friends!
Diversity of representation is another one of my manifesto priorities, which dedicates time towards supporting our Part-Time Officers which sit on Council and Liberation Committee, so that students can self represent themselves and the communities they stand for, in University meetings. This term has been hectic, and the Presidents and I attend many University meetings. In the new year we will be dedicating more time to meet with PTO'S and student representatives to get your voices heard.
Working with student communities is another manifesto priority, especially trying to help students feel included and tackle loneliness as we move away from the pandemic (whilst still juggling with hybrid learning!). This does fall closely with diversifying representation, because networking events or forums lead by a President or Part-Time Officers will sometimes have a community focus, with International students for example. Do keep an eye out for posters on campus soon with the friendly faces of our Part-Time Officers and Liberation Committee members who are volunteering to represent students in their communities at committees, councils and University meetings. On the topic of forums - thank you so much to those of you who attend the Presidents’ first Progress & Inclusion Forum which took place on Tuesday 16th November! It was super insightful to hear your thoughts and ideas on our manifesto priorities, so we will do more of these in the new year!
Well done if you reached the end of this update, honestly please go and award yourself with something nice like a cuppa, fresh air, stretch your legs, a break away from screens, plants, you know…. Anything! This has been such a weird year and you’ve done amazing to get this far in the term. Honestly as a graduate myself, you’ll look back on these moments and think ‘wow, I can’t believe I actually did that?’
*pssst*, Odie the therapy dog is in the SU on Thursdays so do swing by and say hi!
- Charlotte Agnew, President Welfare & Inclusivity