These are the candidates running to be your next VP Welfare:
- Amy Merchant
- Charlotte Senior
Why did you decide to run/re-run in these elections?
Amy said that she has been actively engaged in many different communities in Lancaster which have given a lot to her, and she wants to give more back to them. She feels like she’s had a great year in office [Amy is the incumbent VP Welfare] but feels like she can further the work that she’s done and pass more policies.
Charlotte said that she is a massive people person, and also wants to give back to Lancaster because she thinks it’s such a fabulous place. She’s always been interested in the Students’ Union but has never really known much about it and feels that’s the same for a lot of students, so she really wants to increase awareness of the resources and opportunities that the SU provides.
What makes you stand out as a candidate and what experience do you have which will benefit you for this role?
Charlotte said that what makes her stand out is that she can bring some new perspectives and new ideas to the role. In terms of experience, she’s been Club Captain for Cartmel netball, so she knows how to organise people and get stuff done. She’s also been an academic rep for her course and so has had a lot of experience communicating with the university and talking to departments.
Amy said that what makes her stand out is her passion for the communities in Lancaster. She has been VP Welfare for the past year, meaning that she is familiar with university structures. She’s also been President of County, which requires networking, organisation skills, communication and leadership. She’s also been the Social and Events Officer for the LGBTQ+ forum, helping to put on events both in and outside of Lancaster.
What is your number one priority if elected/re-elected?
Amy said that her top priority would be to make mental health training compulsory for all university student-facing staff. The training is currently optional and the uptake is around 46%. Amy thinks that all student-facing staff should know where to signpost, what services are available and where to send students because if these staff don’t know how to handle students seeking support then more problems will arise and a small issue that a student may have could grow into something much worse if they don’t get access to the right support straight away.
Charlotte said that mental health should always be a priority, especially at the moment, but specifically she wants to work on improving the counselling and mental health service. She thinks that there needs to be increased communication with past users of the service and that more BAME counsellors need to be employed. She also wants to start an opt-in monthly call service so that off-campus students or students who are struggling but don’t feel they can reach out would be called monthly by their JCR, just to reach out to these students and give them a helping hand.
In light of the government’s roadmap, what will be the biggest issue for students in regards to welfare when you take up your role at the end of summer term?
Charlotte said that upon taking up her role, re-connecting with people will be important but it will also be important to acknowledge that some people will have lost loved ones or their jobs during the pandemic. Therefore, she wants to create a support group for people who’ve had a particularly hard time, as even though it won’t solve everyone’s problems it would help these people to not feel alone and to know that others have experienced the same thing as them.
Amy said that everyone is a bit wary of the roadmap and there’s a lot of anxiety around coming out of this way of life and moving back into a normal lifestyle. She thinks that the mental health service will be really important in supporting students as they find their feet again. She also wants to ensure that communities are able re-connect and reach out, but that opportunities are still there for those who might be worried about socialising again.
If we are back to a sense of normal life in September, what welfare issues will you have to address that perhaps aren’t as prevalent in the pandemic?
Amy said that although the pandemic brought new issues to light, it also highlighted issues that existed previously and made them more apparent. She used the example of when she was running for VP Welfare pre-pandemic last year, when one of the main points in her manifesto was focussed on alleviating the housing situation where students, especially first years, get pressured into signing housing contracts in the first few weeks of first term. She said that this campaign became extra important in the pandemic because she didn’t want students to get pressured into signing with people they didn’t know or to rush into something for fear of losing a house.
Charlotte said that, as socialising will have increased in this situation, it would be important to help people who have anxiety around big crowds, and that as people would be seeing each other again, it would be important for the entire student community to be aware of different mental health issues and what to look out for in a friend or course mate. However, she also said that a lot of the mental health issues that are coming up in the pandemic would still come up after the pandemic so it’s important to ensure that the mental health and counselling services are properly up to scratch and that the Students’ Union has all the resources and information available to point students who are struggling in the right direction.
What are your opinions on the current mental health services at Lancaster University and in the Students’ Union, what are the positives and what are the negatives, and for the negatives how do you plan to resolve them?
Charlotte said that it’s important that the service broadcasts itself better to students, but also that the Students’ Union also has better resources available for people to use. She has had first-hand experience of using the mental health and counselling services and she thinks that there’s not enough contact afterwards, so she would want to make sure that they check-in on past users of the service. She also said that it’s important to expand the service because more people need to use the service due to COVID and that representation amongst the counsellors also needs to be increased.
Amy said that some of the positives are that the well-being team works hard despite being under a lot of pressure and are great at communicating with the VP Welfare and Students’ Union President. She believes that a negative is the lack of communication between the service and students. She also said that the service isn’t culturally competent as there are not enough counsellors from ethnic minority or LGBTQ+ backgrounds. There’s a proposal that she’s working on at the moment to extend the service hours and to look at who is being brought into the service. She also wants the Students’ Union to promote counselling and mental health services more.
How will you ensure that your work as VP Welfare will be inclusive for every student at this university?
Amy said that as VP Welfare, you get invited to a lot of committees with high-up decision-makers. She said that whilst she doesn’t represent every student, she had and if elected will still have, the power to bring in these students and give them the opportunity to speak to these decision-makers. She believes that if you bring in the right people and empower them, they’re probably going to be more likely to run for something in the future, and that way diversity amongst the Students’ Union can be increased. Furthermore, something that she couldn’t do this year due to COVID was an inclusivity in sports campaign. She was part of the virtual Rainbow Laces Day and if she is re-elected and Roses can come back, she wants to do a campaign raising awareness around some of the barriers that people might face within sports.
Charlotte said that everyone should feel represented, whether that’s by the university or the Students’ Union and that there needs to be more representation, especially for ethnic minority communities. She also thinks there should be more education, which is why she wants to work a lot with the LCO’s to create a compulsory lecture to be given in all departments at the beginning of the year which would include a history on all types of discrimination and prejudice, how to stand up to these things and how to be aware that they do still exist and need to be tackled. She also wants to lobby the university more to ensure that they’re following the Race Equality Charter and implementing change.
We then moved onto some individual questions:
In your manifesto, you say that this year the Students’ Union has expanded its EDI training for JCR’s and that you will work on providing this training sustainably so that it covers all liberation groups. Could you elaborate on how you plan to do this?
Amy said that this year, the Lancaster University Theatre Group exec came to the Students’ Union and said that the training wasn’t enough, so the VP Union Development Atree organised for the antisemitism training received by FTO’s to be brought to all JCR officers. Following on from this, Amy would like to work with LCO’s on creating their own content, using the example of microaggressions. She also wants to ensure that Welfare Sports Officers have the same training since sports teams are like ready-made communities and these Officers need to be ready to tackle the toxic cultures that often arise within sports communities.
You also state that you plan to prevent students from reaching crisis by removing the barriers to make sure that students get support. Could you tell us what these barriers are and how you plan to remove them?
Amy said that she found out that student referrals to the counselling and mental health service had dropped, which doesn’t make sense to her in the midst of a global pandemic, and it made her concerned. So, one barrier is that information is not communicated in a student-friendly style. For example, the Advice page on the website doesn’t explain all the amazing work that the advice service does. She thinks that the Students’ Union should look at how they’re communicating information to students and why there isn’t a landing page that points to different local charities such as Renaissance. She also thinks that there’s a lack of faith in some of the services, so it’s necessary to look at what the SU is doing to communicate and lobbying the university to act on student feedback.
In your manifesto, you say that you are passionate about ending discrimination. Do you think it is possible to not only reduce but to completely end discrimination in Lancaster University, and how do you plan to do this?
Charlotte said that for her to say that she can end all discrimination ever would not only be offensive but also stupid. However, she added that she is passionate about educating people around differences and educating those who don’t face discrimination about the discrimination that other people face. She said that this is important because if you’re not aware of the discrimination faced by others then you can’t understand, empathise or fight for equality. She also wants more discrimination and prejudice training for all society execs.
You also mention setting up support groups for people who’ve lost loved ones due to COVID-19 or during the pandemic. Could you give us some more detail on what that might look like?
Charlotte said that she wants to set up groups that can hopefully meet in-person, and she wants to bring in people who are trained in grief counselling. The groups would be small so as not to overwhelm people who are grieving and because it’s people’s personal information. The intention would be to make sure that people don’t feel alone and can maybe even learn to take the first few steps towards overcoming their grief.