ANU students joined Vice-Chancellor Professor Ian Young AO, Pro Vice-Chancellor (Student Experience) Richard Baker and guest moderator, Carolyn Farrer, Head of the ANU Counselling Centre at the Brian Kenyon Student Space on Tuesday 21 April to discuss health, well-being and safety on campus.
Issue raised around the University’s response to bullying that occurs on Stalkerspace. Concerns also raised that women who have been harassed for speaking out against bullying/harassment on Stalkerspace and have put official complaints into the University about those harassing them have no faith in the University’s response as the process for handling complaints is not transparent.
- Richard Baker: Every student has the right to be safe. Policies are clear about your rights. Lynda Mathey, Registrar (Student Life) is currently reviewing the University’s cyber policy. While Stalkerspace is not an ANU owned site I see it as a space that our community uses and we need to make sure that our community feels safe.
- Lynda Mathey: We need to remind students of their responsibilities. An education campaign is needed around operating in the cyber space.
What dictates what grievances lie with ANU, Facebook, police etc.?
- Richard Baker: The University views online harassment the same as in-person harassment. Therefore any online bullying and/or harassment between ANU students can be taken up as a grievance within the University.
Effects of assessments on mental health
As a student at ANU, one of the main things that creates anxiety for me is assessment. I haven’t seen a connection drawn between them. Has the University looked into this?
- Richard Baker: There are certainly peak periods of stress, anxiety and depression which correlate with assessment periods. Often in May and in week three to four of Semester one. We are always looking at how we can improve. We have been investigating having lecturers run short mental health education sessions as part of larger courses. It is difficult to coordinate this across seven different colleges, but we are trying to get them all on board. We are currently negotiating with BATYR around a series of mental health programs. (Note we have now come to an agreement with Batyr and their activities will soon commence on campus).
The University’s initiatives seem to treat the symptom rather than the potential cause i.e. if you change the approach to assessment itself, this might improve the incidence of mental health issues in these periods. Attention needs to be turned to the modes and flow of assessment rather than the consequences.
Some consensus from students that take home exams are less stressful and allow students to provide markers with a better quality of work. Sit-down closed-book exams seem outdated.
Education Access Plans
There is uncertainty among students as to what is required for EAPs to be considered in assessment and stress caused by inconsistency in approaches across campus. At the ANU College of Law students have been told that EAPs are not evidence of disability and that more documentation is needed. This is problematic given the amount of time registering with Access and Inclusion, time constraints in the medical system often render gathering required documentation almost impossible, particularly if one’s disability is affecting one’s capacity to do so. Different course conveners require different documentation and also use the EAPs in different ways.
- Richard Baker: I wasn’t aware of this and will follow up. We have done a lot of work to improve consistency across the University and this has been successful over the past few years. I am disturbed to hear that some areas are apparently making it harder.
Feedback from academics to some students is that the University’s policies, which are there to ensure equity, are so strict that they cannot be lenient even if they feel it is warranted. In an attempt to be as fair as possible it seems these policies are also as harsh as possible. Late penalties make it even harder.
- Richard Baker: Lecturers should take into consideration EAPs. It is important for them to be fair and to go through the process properly.
Mental health support and awareness
Currently on campus there are 1,000 students with EAPs, this represents approximately 5 per cent of the population. Students raised the issue that research suggests one in five students in any year experience some mental health issues so this would suggest around 4,000 students are not accessing EAPs. The issue was raised of how we should support these students? We need to have a discussion about how we support those who may not feel ready or acute enough to apply for EAP or that may be experiencing shorter-term problems that don’t qualify them for EAP.
- Vice-Chancellor: Having peer support programs could help support these people. The world is a stressful place, not just as a student and being able to rely on your peers for support is important.
- Lynda Mathey: We do have early intervention and peer referral programs for this reason.
There are already some peer support programs across campus (like at Engineering) it would be nice to see them go wider. It would be nice to have mentors being trained in mental health first aid training too.
- Lynda Mathey: We are planning to do more of this. We will be offering MHFA Cert training to more students this year.
A big issue is that students don’t know what services are available. It would be good to have lecturers talk to their students about it. Also a Wattle page around mental health, policies and services would be great – everyone already uses it.
Lynda Mathey: We plan to use a range of platforms to communicate and inform students. We are exploring ways to create a presence on Wattle and to provide students with access to support 24/7. This is part of our operational plan this year.
A student noted that they had recently completed tutor training at CECS, we were told that CHELT had mental health training available for tutors, but that it would cost $50. Some areas cover this cost for tutors, some don’t. Is there a University-wide approach to getting all tutors to complete it? We are often the frontline people engaging with students.
- Vice-Chancellor: There isn’t an approach, but it is a good idea.
- Richard Baker: It is difficult to get all tutors to do the training. It is quite time-consuming. But it should be available for all. I hopethat more staff continue to put their hands up for the training.
Is it possible to offer a shorter version of the training?
- Richard Baker: yes it should be – I will explore this possibility
Can we improve awareness of what Access and Inclusion does through student-led campaigns? It would be good to raise awareness about how common it is to register and help remove the stigma by sharing stories. Separate from ANUSA, there is a wealth of student resources around that should be subsidised.
You mentioned earlier that the uni is engaging with BATYR. Are you looking at doing sessions around the stigma associated with mental health issues?
- Richard Baker: The proposal with BATYR is around lots of activities, including student-to-student programs. We are determined to show leadership in this area.
On campus accommodation
Recently there has been a drop in places available in on campus accommodation for returning residents. Will you increase the returning rate?
- Vice-Chancellor and Richard Baker: First-year students have the biggest need, so we prioritise them. But we want to be in a situation where everyone who wants to live on campus can. We are currently looking at plans to have increased bed numbers by 2017.
There have been some cases of students not being allowed to return to college due to disciplinary action related to alcohol. Now some people don’t want to go to their Student Reps with problems for fear of not being let back in the next year.
There are price differences in different accommodation options e.g. B&G/Fenner vs. Unilodge – someone who misses out on B&G and Fenner may be offered a place in Unilodge that they can’t actually afford, forcing them to live off campus. Is there capacity to take financial means into consideration during the application process?
- Lynda Mathey: We are currently reviewing the application process so we can gather more information that can inform our decision making. Financial support is available to students experiencing hardship and students receive advice regarding scholarships and bursaries if they declare financial hardship.
We tend to focus on helping/supporting residential students a lot. We need to think equally about non-residential students.
It would be good to implement safe space policies across more spaces on campus by clearly displaying people’s responsibilities and the consequences for poor behaviour. This would go a long way toward helping the culture.
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