Wessex Scene has interviewed Miriam Barker, who is running for the position of VP Welfare in the 2018 Union Spring Election.
Why have you decided to run for the role of VP Welfare?
As someone who has experience with mental health and general stress, I want to be able to help people not to have the same problems I had, by getting help and support, especially through the services we already have. They have such a potential and we don’t use them enough, or people don’t know about them. For instance, no-one seems to know about the Nightline even though we try and promote it.
What experience do you have that would make you an excellent fit for the role?
Since starting university, I have been mother hun to a fair few of my friends going through similar things. I have also done work with younger students. I volunteered with charities. I also teach sign language for which I am on committee but I’ve also been teaching for the past three years. I help other people learn how to help themselves and be kinder towards others. I am really for making a community sense stronger.
What are the main problems you identify with the current role of VP Welfare and how would you fix that?
Sam, the current VP Welfare, did a great job. There is a reason there are so many people running for this position; she made it look interesting as she did so much. Still, I feel like there is a big stress on the ‘You Are More Than Your Studies’ events and pushing for people to talk to their tutors etc. during exam season, but then at no other point of the year. We’re always doing exams and essays throughout the rest of the year, and I feel other points of the year are a bit neglected. Especially with people in their final years doing dissertations throughout the entire year. You have to keep up the ‘we’re here and we’re here to help you’ initiative, and be more active in where we are within the university. For example, Enabling Services is within Student Services, but you never really see it outside of that. Advice centres are in their offices and that’s it – I feel like if once or twice they were on the Redbrick, and have more of a presence, students would feel like they are here to see and support us. A familiar face to a name to show that a service exists for you.
How would you engage with students on Welfare issues knowing that it can be difficult for students to come forward with some of their issues?
Having stalls going on or some more interactive meetings or even Q&As so that people are aware of which services are provided, so they go to the ones that are best for them. Also, I know that Enabling Services does a drop in; while that is excellent, I know that a lot of people will avoid drop ins due to the stress of waiting. Having sign-up times allocated would give it a bit more structure and agency to the student. There are a lot of things we can do that cost nothing extra.
If you are elected what will be your top three focus areas?
More ‘You Are More Than Your Studies’ events throughout the year.
How would you address the controversy surrounding the animals being brought to the uni?
We don’t have to bring animals in to be handled badly, but being brought in under special conditions. They don’t need to be picked up; some people just like seeing them or taking pictures with them. Also, the hearing dogs are here a few times of year. It is still possible to do without bringing stress to the animals.
The issue of sexual consent was all over the news lately, after University of Cambridge received 175 complaints of inappropriate behaviour in the last month. Do you think sexual consent is a challenge for universities? If so, why and how would you tackle it?
It is a challenge in the same way it is in every day life. As students, it is slightly more pushed upon because of the drinking associated with being a student. There are a lot more opportunities for it to happen and slip through the cracks which is obviously not acceptable. The previous Welfare officers were starting the Angel Shot campaign; Stag’s in particular has it in all of its bathrooms, and to push that in clubs in Portswood and town. It is important to also target Halls of Residence because Freshers are coming to university for the first time and they don’t necessarily know what’s going on. It is of course never the victim’s fault but in order to catch it at its source it makes sense to promote care in Halls as well as generally on campus.
Have you thought of anything specific you would do in your role to achieve this?
The Angel Shots – I want to ensure this is still being implemented. Places like Bedford Place need pushing as they don’t seem to be doing it very well currently. Also, having staff aware of what is going on and that they should act on anything they see, and to campaign for people to understand about consent as this gets overlooked a lot – people forget what is okay and what’s not. We need to find a non-patrionising way of explaining what counts as good or bad etiquette in consent education.
One of your aims is to expand the ‘You Are More Than Your Studies’ activities throughout the year. Do you really think there will be a constant demand? How would you ensure student participation throughout the year? Is your idea relying on a realistic budget?
During exams, I do often feel too stressed to come into uni and take time out of what I’m doing to come to the events. So this is where holding events throughout the year comes in. With, for instance, putting on TV shows or movies on screens throughout the year, it shows that the uni care about you as individuals, and not just as students here to get a degree. I’m aware that the budgeting at the moment is up in arms, but money should be going towards student welfare in priority. I’m talking about doing things with a fairly minimal cost. I know societies that would be happy to get involved, which is free.
You didn’t address sustainability in your statement. Why is that? Do you have any aims in this area?
I didn’t mention it specifically as I feel like Sam has been addressing it fairly well. It would be continuing that, which was one of my points. Also, I didn’t have enough words to specifically address it!
Is there anything that can be done better in sustainability?
The straws should be gotten rid of. They create a lot of waste. Other non-student institutions are moving towards it too. In the same way, this year talking to people about elections, we had no flyers to give out as we’re trying to cut down on paper. It obviously is great but it does cause issues. QR codes are currently quite unpopular for use instead of flyering and handing out information but people always have their phones on them. That might be something to look more into.
In your statement you mentioned clearly that ‘better forms of communication’ can resolves issues. How would you foster new means of communication within the Union and how would you make students see you as approachable?
I like to think of myself as an approachable person. I want to make myself available to students by having office hours and meeting times so people can speak to me, as it is supposed to be students first. I want to also be fairly integrated in the events that I run.
Any closing comments?
I feel like, as a university and student union, there needs to be more communication between the two so that students come first in all situations. When we need help for any reason, I want students to be able to go somewhere for it.
To find out more about Miriam Barker and what she wants to achieve in a year as VP Welfare, read her personal statement here.