Tell us a little bit about yourself!
Hi, my name is Yejin and I study MSc International Development. I enjoy walking around the city and talking with people who have different backgrounds from mine. I am really passionate about students’ rights, particularly the things that should be secure for those studying and living in Edinburgh, such as access to mental health services like counselling, as well as resources for students who have experienced sexual violence.
Why are you running for the role of VP Welfare?
I really like engaging with students and I want to be active in real-life field, where I can be involved with policy-making to improve student welfare. I understand that students are struggling, and I can help make a difference by creating policies, alongside running events that the Student Association and students feel are important to them. I want to represent and uplift the voices of students.
The role of VP Welfare is essential to students, they have a duty to ensure that students can complete their studies at Edinburgh with as little harm done to them as possible. Students deal with a lot of issues; not only academic- with studying and completing assignments- but daily life can also be difficult for students. I really empathise with this, I have struggled in the past with my mental health, as I dealt with moving to a new environment that I didn’t feel comfortable in. From the intensity of studying to making friends, to purchasing groceries, to getting NHS service, everything was chaotic at the same time.
What experiences do you have that make you qualified for the role of VP Welfare?
I have volunteered in Laos, Kazakhstan, Korea, Ireland, and Edinburgh. While volunteering I encountered many issues that people had to face, such as reporting sexual harassment or dealing with mental health issues. Whilst sometimes I could not talk publicly for them, I will always stand by their side. I sincerely want to make a change; I realise that listening, responding, and acting is important.
What does the university need to do better, and how will you help them do it?
They need to improve their transparency. I know of students who have experienced sexual violence, and they are frustrated because of the lack of response from the university. Unlike the application for extensions or special circumstances, students cannot see the status of their report when they have experienced sexual violence. Issues like sexual harassment should be dealt with immediately, but instead, it takes an incredibly long time, no one is updated on the process, and no one knows who is in charge of it.
How do you plan on improving the mental health of students?
The current counselling service only offers a 4-week programme. As a previous user of this service, I think it is useful but not enough. There should be something more effective and longer-lasting than short-term counselling. I would like to introduce ‘Mental Health Buddies’. Participants will be matched and will meet during each semester and holiday. They will also complete a project related to a mental health topic. This programme will be specially designed to invite students and staff who are not specific to the counselling service, and so have other experiences they can share. When they have completed the project, participants will receive an award.
New students coming to Edinburgh will undoubtedly have anxieties; we are still living in a pandemic, where everything feels uncertain. What will you do to ensure the welfare of new students arriving at the university?
We were all freshers once; everyone understands the feeling of getting lost trying to find the right class or trying to make new friends. It’s important to make friends at university, but this is difficult for freshers. I want to introduce campus buddies; this system will run through the university’s events app and will connect students at-close distance to help them find a study buddy. The campus buddy will be very simple, from helping each other find the right study building, to being able to walk across the Meadows to study in the library together.
As well as enjoying school life together, buddies can become ‘first responders’ for any issues. Building a safety net for individuals is the ultimate starting point for the welfare of students.
There has been a recent outcry over the university’s system for dealing with sexual violence complaints, culminating in a protest organised by third-year student Aarti Mukhedkar, FemSoc, GirlUpEdinburgh, and many other organisations. This is clearly important to students; if you were currently VP Welfare, what would you do to ensure that these students are not silenced, and the university is held to account?
As I mentioned earlier, I want to make the process more transparent so that students can see the status of their report, similar to the extensions process. I believe all claims should be answered within 2-3 days. These are important issues and so they should be dealt with quickly and justly; the welfare of students must be the primary objective of the university.
How has the coronavirus pandemic impacted the role of VP Welfare and student welfare issues, and what will you do to protect and improve student community issues in a world that is constantly changing as a result of the pandemic?
Everything has changed because of the pandemic. Students feel less supported, as they have less contact with friends and the university. Many students have had to isolate themselves and have experienced complex symptoms as a result of coronavirus, such as fever, cough, and depression. Building a network of students is important to help them physically, and mentally. I want to increase welfare events both online and in-person, as this will be helpful for students to remain connected.
Image courtesy of Yejin Jung