VP Welfare candidate: Roo Dunbar

The Student contacted VP Welfare candidate Roo regarding their campaign and manifesto. To read Roo’s manifesto, click here.

What made you apply for this role?

I’m a non-binary activist. Since coming to the university, I’ve become more and more involved in the welfare campaigns because issues like sexual health, institutional oppression and ableism are things I am passionate about. I never saw myself being deeply involved in student politics, but it’s been made accessible to me through the Liberation Campaigns, and I want to do the same for others by amplifying as many voices as I can.

What are your views on the proposed mandatory interruptions policy?

I am firmly against the policy, as students should be entirely autonomous when it comes to their choice of whether or not to continue their studies, regardless of their mental health or the intentions of the university. Currently, there is a serious lack of clarity about post-interruption support, especially for international and estranged students.

However, as I’ve learned (from a brilliant organising meeting set up by Diva and Kai, the current VPs Education & Welfare, a resource we need to see more of!) the stages of the current Support for Study policy are: firstly, a focus on local resolution of concerns about a student, followed by a panel of staff to discuss solutions and support, and finally, a referral to the Disciplinary Panel. I don’t want to see students face disciplinary action for situations outside their control. Overall, we need a serious overhaul of both policies with focused input from as many students as possible.

What do you think the most challenging point on your manifesto is and how will you overcome this?

While it seems simple, I think unifying our campuses and making the university population feel like a more cohesive community will be tough. We already have an ingrained disconnect due to the distance between our campuses and our wide array of studies, and so many of our main events being hosted in central Edinburgh. On top of that, everything from chronic pain to mental health or even just a very busy schedule can keep us away from events. I’m confident that I can work towards a far more accessible website for signposting, a better EUSA online presence for students to engage with, rather than scroll past, and more events at campuses outside of George Square.

You’ve been heavily involved with PrideSoc. How do you think this relates to the position of VP Welfare?

My involvement with PrideSoc has been valuable to me. We welcome students every year with experiences ranging from running their own LGBTQ+ groups back home, to never having been in a queer space before. Facilitating a sense of community and signposting resources are the most important skills that I’ve taken away from my role on the committee, and they link well with the VP Welfare role. I’d use that experience to raise awareness of our student-led wellbeing groups and liberation groups and to improve support from personal tutors. In a more practical sense, being Secretary has given me ample experience in everyday admin work, and I’ve been lucky enough to meet and work with many people in EUSA already.

You mention in your manifesto that you would like to amplify the voices of students who don’t study at the central campus. How will you go about doing this?

It’s clear that different areas of study come with a range of stressors, and that being at a campus removed from regular events can feel isolating. Therapets don’t necessarily help everyone, and socialising can make some feel even more burnt out. I’d like to see quiet rooms across campuses, increased engagement with students on what they want to see on campus, and I want to incentivise and support societies in hosting events away from George Square.

Finally, is there anything in particular about your manifesto/campaign that you want to draw students’ attention to? What is your favourite policy?

My ideas about community-building are largely for the benefit of students without assumed support systems, whom I’ve described in my manifesto as estranged students, carers, students coming to university from foster care, from far away, or from any situation that can be financially and emotionally complex. These students make up a significant percentage of our population. My focus on inclusion isn’t starting from a baseline of a nuclear family, or a neurotypical perspective – I will be explicitly and consistently supportive of voices that are too often left out of the conversation, and I want to reduce the stigma around asking for support.

 


 

The following is a transcription of Roo’s responses during the Sabbatical Candidate’s Question Time which took place on Thursday 28 February 2019.

Some answers may have been edited for clarity.

Evening everyone, I’m Roo!

I’m an international undergraduate and a non-binary activist with lived experience of this university’s mental health resources.

I’ve had trouble navigating this system since starting my first year. With so many resources – the counselling service, the disability service, my school’s support system, the Advice Place – it was difficult to know which one to turn to. I got stuck on waiting lists, waited, and learned I was in the wrong place. And far too many of the people I’ve met in Edinburgh can sympathise.

As a society secretary, I’ve booked my fair share of university rooms. When I was leading events for PrideSoc’s Disability & Mental Health subgroup, it was frustrating to book accessible rooms only to find a small step at the entrance or a heavy door.

We have resources at this university, I’ve listed a tiny portion of them. But right now, they’re over-booked, under-funded, and too often signposted for the wrong reasons. The Advice Place can’t offer treatment in the same way the counselling service can’t provide housing advice. Personal tutors and support schemes can’t fill all the gaps in our mental-health services effectively. And with all this construction going on, it is vital that the university looks to disabled students for regular input. I want to advertise what we have BETTER to get help for students who need it FASTER. Such advertising shouldn’t be buried five links deep on our websites, and students shouldn’t be left in the lurch until they are – as may come to pass – asked to take leave from studies.

We have similar gaps in our support for international students, who can arrive and feel isolated. And students far away from home aren’t the only ones without the support systems society often assumes we have. I’d like to see the university sign the StandAlone pledge, which would publicly commit our institution to support estranged students. I’d also develop guidelines for our many, many societies to get international students involved and engaged, as well as specialised campaigns for those from complex family situations.

I’ve got a lot of joy out of working on ongoing welfare and liberation campaigns, like doing outreach for #NoExcuse, the sexual harassment campaign I’m sure you’ve seen posters for, and auditing toilets as part of the gender-neutral Toilet Squad. I’m a queer activist, these are issues I’m passionate about and I want to see the good work that the current welfare campaign has done continued. Let’s keep the momentum going and set new goals.

What do you think needs to be done to help address students mental health issues at the university?

As I said, we need clearer signposting of what we already have right now. There are students who have stress and anxiety that they need managing for exams. They may need to go to the counselling service and there may be people coming to the university, as more and more people are, with more long term health conditions, and these people need to be more effectively signposted to the disability service. We’ve got peer support schemes, we’ve got societies, we’re all part of this community and that at the moment we’re not sending each other to places where we should be sending each other to. I would like to see more structure so that societies know where to send students who are having trouble too, so that whoever is asking for help, and whoever they’re asking for it from, they’ve got a clear, accessible resource to help that person get where they need to be.

How would you work with students to develop welfare campaigns?

The key to welfare campaigns is in the development process – like obviously all of us here are keen beans because we’re here, but not everyone is hyper-educated on policy, and on kind of all of the things that students do on a day to day basis. [I want to start] sessions that break down policy and explain campaigns bringing in the liberation campaigns. Explaining how marginalised students deal with problems that other students may take for granted is absolutely essential, to make welfare campaigns more accessible to all students at the university, not just the people that are incredibly keen. Cheers.

The vice president welfare plays a key part in liberation work at the students association, how would you approach this in your work?

I would approach this as, I’m gonna quote Oona again, the liberation campaign should be absolutely autonomous. I have participated in the LGBT liberation campaign with my work on PrideSoc obviously, as well as in the disabled student’s forum, but I cannot cover all the liberation campaigns, and they play such a key role in being the voices for students who otherwise wouldn’t be heard. I believe that my job as VP Welfare would be to uplift their voices rather than to direct them in any sort of way and to take whatever criticism or compliments on my campaign they would have.

 

Image: Anna Asher

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