We need to get our house in order: the Community wellbeing discussion – 22/10/19

On Wednesday 9th October in the Drama Studio on UEA campus, there was a Community Wellbeing discussion. The discussion was led by Alison Donnell and Nick Walsh. Even though the event was two hours long, the session focussed on a lot of important issues which are being neglected around campus.

The event opened with a warm welcome from Alison, which helped to clarify the event was an inclusive discussion and welcomed all opinions and thoughts, but was mostly surrounding solutions to help improve wellbeing around campus. It was clear those who attended felt the issues and problems people report at UEA are real and need to be treated with sensitivity and respect. The event also clarified that disagreement and difference of opinion was healthy and any thought raised within the discussion was welcome.

Amelia Trew, Welfare, Community and Diversity officer at uea(su) then spoke and introduced herself and emphasised that within her role, the community aspect of UEA needed to be built upon. She criticised UEA’s current top-down system and said that UEA needs bottom up community building.

UEA was criticised over its claims of being diverse; some members of the discussion felt there was a gap within curriculums, with both staff and students. It is clear that students need to feel represented, and this is key in enhanced wellbeing around campus. Representations within the university have the opportunity to empower, but also to disempower. As a community, UEA need to improve on how we build each other up.

Another key initiative that has helped UEA to improve upon its wellbeing is the introduction of ‘Welcome Week’, to help shift the stereotype that the first week of university is alcohol and party driven. It was clear that the day time wristband was successful, however it quickly sold out with only 100 wristbands available. One point to take away from the discussion was that there is a lot of pressure to conform to the typical idea of being a student, to be loud, charismatic and to drink alcohol regularly. Changing ‘freshers’ to ‘welcome’ had good intentions but many felt that the change in language did not dissolve the stigma surrounding Freshers Week. The question of stigma was re-occurring during the discussion; many people felt that there is an urgency to pretend to have good mental health when really you might be struggling with the academic or social pressures encountered during your time here.

The discussion also highlighted that disability awareness doesn’t appear to have much focus and needs a bigger spotlight within campus.

Nick Walsh, one of the discussion leaders, stated that,” We wanted this [discussion] to be a model of how to do things differently.”

Alison Donnell praised the event and said that “everyone felt they could make an equal contribution”, and continued to say, “it is essential in a university that the students teach the teachers.” Donnell’s main takeaway point about the Community Wellbeing discussion affirming, “creating an environment that we want, welcoming for everyone that works and studies here.”

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