The six winners and highly commended individuals of the annual Vice-Chancellor’s Civic Awards have been announced this week.

The Vice-Chancellor’s Civic Awards, which are awarded by the University in partnership with the Oxford Hub and are now in their fourth year, are given to students who demonstrate exceptional commitment towards and achievement in producing positive social change, both in local or global communities.

Candidates are judged by a panel made up of representatives from the University and the wider community through a series of interviews, references and a judging panel. Students can nominate themselves, or be nominated by others for an award and over fifty applications for the award were submitted this year.

The six winners are Tatiana Cutts, co-founder of OUSU’s Mind Your Head campaign; Elisa Klein, founder and CEO of The Mali Initiative; Abi Sriharan, who champions Peace Through Health Initiatives; Neil Howard, who has worked on a number of political projects in Oxford; Helen Willis, who has campaigned around disabilities, and particularly improving access to higher education for death people and Joshua Oware, who has led OUSU’s Campaign for Racial Awareness and Equality.

Tatiana Cutts, a DPhil Law candidate at Keble College, explained the significance of the award for her involvement in the Mind Your Head Campaign, which works to raise awareness of mental health issues in the Oxford community and remove some of the stigma surrounding them, “It is an honour to receive the award, but I cannot accept all the credit for the Mind Your Head Campaign. Seb Baird and I created this project together, and everything that it has achieved has been down to a joint effort, and the efforts of those who have worked with us over the past 18 months.

“I feel incredibly privileged to have been part of laying the groundwork for change. If only a few students had felt the benefit, we would have been happy. Instead, we have had hundreds of messages from people – within and outside the University – to say that it has given them comfort, has enabled them to talk more openly, has encouraged them to seek help, even that it was the difference between them sitting their exams and dropping out altogether. That will stay with me forever.”

Seb  Baird, who also founded Mind Your Head, but who did not receive an award, said, “[Cutts and I] really felt that the last couple of years have been an ideal time to campaign on mental health stigma – indeed, when we started the campaign, we were both surprised that nothing comprehensive had yet been done for it. The national Time to Change campaign provided a useful example of how to achieve change on mental health stigma, too.  

“I’m very happy at how well the campaign has been received. An incredible number of people have interacted with it – either by writing for the blog, reading and sharing the  blog, or turning up to events. The popularity of the campaign with students really speaks to how pressing issues of mental health are in the student community. I think we’ve been successful in helping to start a university-wide conversation about mental health and mental illness, but there is a long way to go before we wipe out the stigma surrounding mental illness.
“I’m ecstatic about Tatiana’s award: it’s great to see the work of the campaign rewarded. It shows that the University recognises the significance of student mental health, and I hope it marks the beginning of a dialogue with the university about how best to approach these issues.” 

Sarah Hewett, Programmes and Outreach Officer for the Oxford Hub, told Cherwell about the importance of the awards within the University, “The final Awardees represent a really diverse range of causes which students are engaged in. We hope this will highlight the opportunities available to students to get involved in volunteering as well as the capacity to start a project or initiative themselves.

She continued, “The Award represents how students at Oxford University are not only world class academics but also active, engaged citizens who can have a real positive impact in the world both during and after their studies. The official recognition this award received through the Vice-Chancellor shows the University’s dedication to social action”.

The winners will receive their awards as part of the Encaenia celebrations on 19th June and the Oxford Hub will also hold a celebration for award winners and highly commended individuals of this year and previous years at the end of Trinity term. The Oxford Hub also offers personal development support and resources to the award winners and highly commended individuals following the award.