First Fortnight

This is the first blog I’m writing as your new Vice President (welfare). We’re about a week and half in and what a week and a half its been!
I’ve had the opportunity to meet so many new people, build some really good relationships and spend longer than i’d like to admit getting to grips with the phone system.

Overall though its been a good fun all round. I’ve not had the chance to get my teeth really stuck into anything yet, but I’ve been learning the language and floating some ideas of what I want to get sorted this year.

As a reminder my manifesto points are 1) Organise some better daytime, non alcohol centered, events during welcome week. 2) Bring back SHAG week, bigger, better and more inclusive than ever. 3) Get an online resource where welfare advice, services, info and processes can be collated and made easier to use.

As the next few weeks progress I’ve got lots of exciting meetings and planning sessions lined up including; freshers fest, welcome week and mentor training. Keep up to date on what I’m doing by following this blog, checking my facebook or following me on twitter.

Homes Fit For Study Launch

So last week myself and the Vice President Housing and Community (Dave Charles) went down to London for the launch of the NUS’s new piece of research into Homes Fit For Study. The sample size wasn’t fantastic but I would describe the outcomes as shocking yet expected. Speaking broadly a huge number of students, it seems, would rather put on multiple coats than make the dangerous move of turning the heating on. It would appear that not until stalagmites are forming from the ceiling do some students relent to putting the heating on. I have been there myself, where every member of the house has a secret electric heater/blanket but no one will take responsibility for switching on the boiler at a great cost.
This living in a cold house has a serious side as well, according to the data around 20% of mental health issues had been exasperated by living conditions. It is perhaps this that student services need to consider when a student comes seeking advice that rather than probing every bit of history they must also consider something a lot closer to home!
It is spring now and we are moving towards warmer weather so we can look forward to vermin if the research is to be believed, Hoorah!

Mo Bro No No

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Rule number 5 on the Movember rules, ‘Each Mo Bro must conduct himself like a true gentleman..’. This just illustrates one of the things I find problematic with the branding of what is a very worthwhile campaign in my opinion.

This is the first year I have chosen to grow some facial hair with the aim of both raising awareness and money for important charities. It has certainly been an experience and I can’t wait to shave it off but I want first to address the issue I have with the branding of the campaign this year. Using words like ‘swift’, ‘silent’ and ‘hairy’ and describing people who take part as ‘real men’ all succeed in creating a hyper-masculine environment. If we are to have some hope in combatting lad culture then it is these sorts messages we need to be careful of sending out. People who choose to grow moustaches in the month of November are not members of my ‘pack’, but simply other people who want to raise awareness about men’s mental health, testicular cancer and prostate cancer. Maybe it would be better to leave all of the ‘Mo Bro’ stuff behind for next year?

Freshers Fest 2013

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With all the excitement and busyness of Welcome Week it is easy to overlook the famous alcoholic element, Freshers Fest. The night time events have come under a lot of pressure and criticism in the last few years, primarily by the University. Issues with it running on the second week when lectures have started being one of the main concerns voiced but it is what Freshers Fest embodies that draws negative opinions. The images promoted in the media of teenagers vomiting in the streets having been away from home for a mere 24 hours but is the actual event we run anything like this?

As Freshers Fest approached certainly the VPHC and myself had a certain apprehension as to what could happen. This is one of the main reasons why I decided to revamp ‘Chill Out’. In the past this welfare service had consisted of a couple of Polar Bears wandering around the club pouring water on people and perhaps directing them towards the ‘Chill Out Room’. These rooms were typically no more chilled out than the club outside, they became a social area for people to chat and the real core reason for ‘Chill Out’ had been some what lost. That’s why I redesigned the service to be about assisting anyone who had misjudged their limits. The fantastic RAs would go around in teams of 2 and have water, biscuits and advice on hand ready to look after any worse-for-wear freshers.
The service was far more effective than I ever could have hoped with Chill Out volunteers going over and above their remit by taking people home to make sure they get back ok.

This attitude of going over and above really reflects the nature of the majority of people who helped deliver one of the most successful Freshers Fests ever.

So I would like to take this moment again to thank the 3 Freshers Fest SAs, 15 Freshers Fest Crew, 70ish RAs and 100ish Volunteers for allowing 3500 Freshers to have the best start to their University lives!

What does Zero Tolerance truly mean?

Zero Tolerance is phrase we seem to hear in life a considerable amount. I’ve no doubt at school there was a zero tolerance attitude to drugs and we only have to look at the news to see stories of airlines implementing ‘zero tolerance to anti-social behaviour’ but what does it actually mean? The difficulty is deciding how to enforce such a policy, is it better to enforce uncharacteristically harsh punishments or perhaps just make an example of minor offences?

On the 5th June 2013 The ‘Zero Tolerance Policy to harassment’ passed through Guild Council and since then it had existed as stapled document on the VPW’s desk. Over this summer I have been considering the best way in which to effectively implement the policy. After several meeting with Venues and the VPDR I have formulated an implementation strategy that I hope will see the policy being incorporated into the membership disciplinary policy and ultimately the rules of The Guild. This building and the external events it runs have always prided themselves as being a ‘safe space’ and on the whole during the day we do rather well but it is during the nightime economy hours(2000 – 0400) that it sometimes forgets this promise. Whether visiting The Guild during the day or night I want every student (and member of staff) to feel safe from any kind of harassment.

From the 23rd September (start of welcome week) venues (both security and bar) will be trained in the policy and examples of what may include harassment including various fancy dress themes which breach this. This will kick off the full roleout including promotion of the policy by the bar staff.

I will blog next week about many other things I’ve been cracking on with but I wanted to let everyone know how excited I am about making the Guild an even safer space to socialise and work in!

#WelfareWin

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Hello All,

So after a month of training I am now officially in office (and have been for nearly 2 weeks). I would firstly like to thank Katherine for a superb handover and a folder I still have not finished reading! I wish her all the best in the tough career of Law.

A little bit about me

I graduated this summer with my degree in sport and exercise sciences after a very fun 3 years here at Birmingham. My involvement in the guild has included both being on the committee for my course and being a senior student staff member for over 2 years.

Training and starting in office

Training really did fly by. On the 9th -11th of June, Dave (VPHC) and myself attended the NUS Welfare and Communities conference in Stafford. This was the most useful part of the training for me. I met many other welfare officers from the country and made a lot of useful contacts to help over the coming year.

Since starting it is safe to say I havn’t stopped. Our team seem to be working together very well and we are already putting plans in motion that will lead to achieving both mandates and our manifestos.

Currently I am working specifically on Mental Health first aid training within the guild, the freshers Welfare Wall Packs, Zero Tolerance training within the guild and of course FRESHERS FEST.

Thats all for now but feel free to contact me!

Jet Lee

(Vice President Welfare)

FIT TO SIT

We’ve done it!!!

Following a University meeting with the PVC Education, the Director of Student Services, a member of Registry, the VPW Elect and I we have agreed a full review of the policy next term and the University have accepted all of my recommendations!

EPIC WIN!!!

April and the Easter Break

Hello lovely peoples!!!

So April has seen the end of the snow and the springing of, well, spring! We also had the Easter break and I hope you’re all well rested and pumped up for revision this term. YOU CAN DO IT!!!

I personally am in support of us getting a puppy room on campus to support you through this difficult time, but after the raging argument the unions had about them on Jiscmail I think I’d need a specific mandate… hint hint.

So what have I been up to in the wonderful position of VPW I hear you cry! Well I shall tell you!

Extenuating Circumstances and Fit to Sit

We have a meeting set up in the diary with some very senior and important people over in the University to discuss the review so I’m currently drafting an updated paper for discussion at that meeting.

Gender Neutral Toilets

Wording has been a nightmare! BUT we’re there, hopefully, so these shall be signed this week and operating and I hope lots of you will use them and feedback to us! They are on the second floor in between the hair dressers and marketing (the old kitchen space).

NIGHTBUSSSS

Oh yes, it’s back and it’s shinnyyyy!!! It ran from fab and friday last term as a trial and I’m currently waiting on some stats as to usage etc. We will be rolling it out for fabs the rest of this term so please send me feedback if you go to fab!

Shortlisting of International work experience bursaries

I was asked to help shortlist and I must say I was incredibly impressed, not only at the quality of the applications but also the innovative work experience placements students are personally sourcing. It’s incredible and I wish we could have given money to everyone!

Planning Gradball

The tickets come out todayyyy!!!! I hope you’re all excited, it’s going to be incredible!

Student Representation

As coursework deadlines pass the VPW inevitably gets more busy with plagiarism meetings, fitness to practice meetings, misconduct meetings and appeal meetings.  We are collating information on these (as always) to make recommendations of codes of practice to the University.

Democracy and Engagement Committee

This was a really good meeting, I think we made some really good choices to improve the democracy and improve engagement with Guild Council. Look forward to this paper at the next Guild Council!

Zero Tolerance and the Cross-Liberation Meeting

I made a presentation of the current state of Zero-Tolerance in the Guild and took recommendations from the liberation groups on harassment relating to the defining characteristics outlined in the policy.

The group’s input was invaluable and the recommendations have now been put into the final briefing document that I am taking to SOG next week and then Guild Council where it will become policy of the Guild.

Crime Safety

As many of you will remember SOG recently put out an appeal to students to take extra care when out and about in the evening as there had been some sexual assaults in the local area. Following my recent campus crime and security meeting it was confirmed by the police that they have arrested someone that they believe to have been involved in those attacks. HOWEVER, I still implore you all to continue taking care in the community, especially in the evening and late at night.

As always, if anyone has any questions please feel free to email me on vpw@guild.bham.ac.uk

Good luck with exams everyone!!

Katherine.

 

My Voting Intentions – Motions

Sooooo I think I got it completely wrong when people asked for voting intentions because I thought they meant for motions and not for NEC, so this is how far I got with motions… I will hopefully get my intentions out for the NEC as well if I get time.

Obviously all of this is subject to me hearing debates on the day, these are just based on my first impressions.

Membership and Priority

001 – New members – For.

101 – A Vision for the Future of Education – For.

Education

Further Education

201 – Further Education in the Tertiary Sector – For.

202 – Barriers to Participation – For.

203 – Employment – For.

203a – For.

204 – Qualifications & Assessment Reform – For.

211 – International/Private – For.

212 – FE Students too old at 21 – For.

Higher Education

301 – The Public Value of Education – For.

301a – For.

301b – For.

301c – For.

302 – Students Are Partners – For.

302a – For.

302b – For.

303 – Students Thriving for Surviving – For.

304 – Higher Education: Finding, Markets and A Policy Platform for 2013 – This one I don’t know, my gut thinks it’s better than we already have, but I prefer the amendment a.

304a – For.

304b – For.

304c – For.

311 – Using The NSS To Build A Partnership In Higher Education – For.

311a – I understand why this would be beneficial, but I agree with motion itself that the NSS is one of our only forms of feedback from students nationally and without it students would lose a vital opportunity to have a voice. Therefore I agree the NSS needs changing, but I don’t think a boycott is fair to students.

312 – Xenophobia Immigration Policy – I could do with a steer on this one, given recent developments with the UKBA I don’t feel my knowledge is enough to make a good decision, so for the moment: Abstain.

313 – A Fairer Deal For Postgraduate Students – For.

314 – Postgraduate Employment – For.

315 – We Want Good Placements – In principle for, although I’m not sure if it’s possible/legal to do some of the things in this motion so I would like to hear the arguments on the day.

316 – Timetabling – For.

317 – GPA and Alternatives to the Degree Classification System – For.

318 – International Students – For.

319 – Arts Education – For.

320 – “I Believe the Children are the Future”… – For.

320a – For.

321 – HE to left of Me FE to the Right, HE in FE Stuck in the Middle Confused – For.

322 – Fund Graduate Entry Medicine – For.

323 – Confirmation and Clearing – For.

324 – Knowledge Transfer Diploma – For.

325 – Circle of Life – For.

326 – Marketisation – This is another one I’m not sure about. I’d like a steer, and I’ll listen to the arguments on the day.

327 – Student Representation in MOOCS – For, but there appears to be a typo because the last line says reputation instead of representation…

Society and Citizenship

401 – Organising for now and for 2015 – For.

401a – Against – Not because I disagree with the motion at all, but to me it’s placement makes no sense. This should be a motion of its own, it doesn’t really make sense as an amendment here.

402 – Votes at 16 – For.

402a – For.

403 – Ethical Sourcing/Ethical Investment – For.

403a – I don’t remember this passing Guild Council … Anyone?

403b – For.

404 – Tax Avoidance – For.

405 – Child Poverty – For.

405a – For.

411 – Councils and Cuts – For, but I think this is basically asking to stop cuts because most towns are student towns…

412 – Reinventing the Study Leaver Employment Landscape – For.

412a – For.

413 – Strong Students’ Unions for Strong  Citizens – For.

414 – Sex and Relationship Education – For.

415 – Responding to NHS Reform – For.

415a – For.

416 – Challenging Racism and Fascism – For.

417 – Climate Change – For.

418 – Bedroom Tax – For.

419 – Hands off Africa and Middle East – For.

420 – Protecting and Advancing the Arts – For.

421 – Evidence Based Drug Policy – Again I don’t know what’s best for students, I will take a steer and listen on the day.

 

March, the NightBus and a feminist walk in the park

So March has almost left us now, and it wouldn’t be right for me to start this blog without saying a massive CONGRATULATIONS TO JETHRO!!! And of course to all of the other successful candidates. My commiserations go to those candidates who were unsuccessful, but know that the experiences and skills you have gained as candidates will stay with you and aid you in whatever careers you choose to pursue.

As the title of this blog suggests, I will begin with the usual rendition of some of the important things I have been up to as VPW. However the final bit is kind of an opportunity for me to get up on my soap box and explain an encounter I had in Cannon Hill Park this Easter weekend.

So what have I been up to this month? WELL…

First of all I gained a commitment from the University that the Extenuating Circumstances and Fit to Sit procedures WILL be reviewed after Easter, in time for next year’s exam period (yipee!!! Main manifesto point finally on the road to completion!!) This agreement was at the UEB-SOG (University Executive Board – Sabbatical Officer Group) meeting – the first of it’s kind!! Which is incredible in itself, let alone the agreements we made.

I’ve also been working on Gender Neutral toilets in the Guild! They will be trialled next term on the second floor (the same level as the sabb corridor) between marketing and the hairdressers – right outside the balcony to Deb Hall. I understand that there are issues about the location, it’s isolated and a bit of a pain to get to. But this is a huge step forward for the Guild, for 10 years we have been talking about Gender Neutral toilets and finally we have the opportunity to trial them. The toilets also address some of the concerns people had about case stories from other universities where sexual assaults have taken place in their gender neutral toilets during their club nights as these toilets are in a part of the building which is not accessible during FAB. I have spoken to the LGBTQ association and they were very happy with this proposal and I will leave a comments box in the toilets all term so that anyone who uses the toilets can tell us what they think of them.

I have also been working on a revamped NIGHTBUS! Wooo Wooooooo!!!! As the clubbing scene in town is not doing too well at the moment and FAB is booming as ever I have decided that the nightbus will be best used for Guild nights to get people home safely in Selly Oak and the halls. It is still a free service, which has been a much debated subject because (and this is a fair point) if one is paying for a night out why shouldn’t you pay to get yourself home. But for the moment I think that the nightbus taking people home safely from FAB and Sports Night (or Sports and Nutrition night) should be a free service. I think we should also be working with the local police to ensure that they know times the nightbus goes and places it drops too (for example if it has to start making stops like a bus stop rather than taking people to their houses – for capacity reasons) so that we are not just dropping people in groups with no protection. But that may be a matter for Guild Council and the future VPW to sort through as I suspect it may be after my time now.

So that’s the important parts of what I’ve being doing as VPW. Now I would like to tell you what happened to me on Easter Saturday (the day before Easter Sunday, that is).

A trigger warning here is that this will discuss sexual assault so please don’t read on if you think it will upset or offend you.

So I was helping out a friend by dog-sitting for the afternoon and thought I’d wear little Charlie (the dog) out by taking him for a long walk around Cannon Hill park.

We had got to the park and were half way round our first little wander round the lake when three young men, I’d say late teens, potentially early twenties at a push, jumped out of some bushes on the outer side of the path. They startled me a bit but I barely acknowledged them and continued walking Charlie. Suddenly from behind me I heard an ‘Excuse me’, so I turned around and the conversation went like this:

Me: ‘Yes?’

Him: ‘I think you’re well pretty, can I have your number?’

*I’m walking away, he’s following*

Me: ‘No. I have a boyfriend, this is his dog, so no.’

Him: ‘Oh please, I just think you’re so pretty.’

*Still walking*

Me: ‘No. That’s not appropriate.’

Him: ‘Ok, can I have a hug then?’

*He spreads his arms out, I jump sideways and walk a bit quicker*

Me: ‘No, go away.’

Him: ‘Oh don’t be like that, look just shake my hand, I wanna  be friends.’

*At this point I stop and turn slightly*

Me: ‘Look I don’t know what little bet you have on with your friends but I have said no now please leave me alone’

*I continue walking, he stays still*

Him: ‘Nahh I don’t care about them, oh come on!’

I then walked on along with the dog and looked back to see him high five-ing all of his friends.

I continued to walk around the park alone with Charlie and a few things occurred to me.

1. I was actively scared now to walk around the park again, and yet I was also scared to walk to along the lonely roads home in case they were there and angry that I had said no.

2. I had first excused my reason for not giving him my number with the words ‘I have a boyfriend’, not that I don’t give my number to strangers, or that I don’t give it to people who jump out of bushes, or even that I don’t like creeps who say they like the way I look before asking my name . But I made myself an object, I told him someone else owned me and therefore he could not. I like to think I’m a pretty strong minded, strong willed woman, and in an instant I gave all of that up.

3. I rang a close friend to talk through the events whilst I continued walking, and one of the first thing we discussed was what I was wearing. I was wearing trackies, a hoodie, big walking boots and a snood. No make up, and my hair a complete mess. We called these ‘not exactly “come at me boys” clothes’. Now this was something else that surprised me, that my state of mind dressed like this was that no one should bother me because I wasn’t dressed for it. Now I know how ridiculous this is, I know that the majority of women who face sexual assault are attacked by someone they know. But I realised that when I go on nights out and I’m wearing short dresses etc I expect to be bothered. I expect to be objectified. Not consciously, but I do. I prepare myself for it. Don’t get me wrong, I don’t take it well on nights out, I almost always either get a bouncer or get pushy with the person myself (‘short person syndrome’ is what my friends call it because it’s usually against someone much bigger than me). But I did not expect it on this walk, I wasn’t prepared and I panicked, I genuinely didn’t know what to do. How can the way you look change your state of mind so much?

4. Finally, this boy way determined to touch me in some way. He wanted a hand-shake, a hug, probably more. Physical contact was a goal for this boy, and No wasn’t an answer. And a huge part of me feared that had I been alone, in a lonely street, without a big old dog with me, that he probably wouldn’t have taken no for an answer. Touching me was almost his right, and I was being unreasonable.

And of course, this experience is not extraordinary. It’s something that happens every day to women, in broad daylight, in well populated areas. So what does it all mean? Well for a start clothes, make-up, relationship status and location mean absolutely nothing when it comes to sexual assault. These things don’t even feature in the mind of a sexual assaulter. A sexual assaulter sees a woman as their right, touching a woman is not a privilege to these people.

Of course I am generalising. It is not just women who face sexual assault, lots of people of all sexes and gender face sexual assault.

But this all leads to the same conclusion. We should not educate people how to avoid sexual assault. I should not have to learn self defence (although I am incredibly grateful to Leander Jones the VPDR for sourcing self defence classes for women next term), I should not have to be walked home by someone at night, and I should not have to wear ‘discrete’ clothing in order to avoid sexual assault. Nor should anyone else. Instead people should be taught to RESPECT each other. They should be taught from a very young age that touching another is not a right, it is a privilege, it is something that should be earnt.

But this is not an ideal world, and the unfortunate truth is that in a world where sexism is still rife,  page 3 till exists and women are still objectified in even the subtlest of ways then  women will have to learn self defence and avoid dark streets and walking alone.

But hopefully small changes will get us there, and I for one will never use the words ‘I have a boyfriend’ as an excuse.

Happy Easter Everyone.