An OUSU slate focusing primarily on mental health has been announced. The slate will be standing for election in 6th Week.
‘BackJack’ is standing for election later this term on a shared belief that OUSU must engage and mobilise students across the University in order to implement wider change regarding students’ mental health. Its three executive members are Jack Hampton for President, Sandy Downs for Welfare & Equal Opportunities Officer, and Duncan Shepherd for Academic Affairs Officer.
Hampton told Cherwell that mental health is “the most pressing issue among the student body”. He and Shepherd both agree that in their time as JCR Presidents (at St Catherine’s and Balliol respectively), “A lot of time in those positions was spent on issues involving students’ mental health”.
Hampton said, “There were 13 different cases where mental health was an issue last year in meetings with college”, adding that during processes of rustication, “you’re often seeing people at the point of breaking and asking yourself: how is more not being done for these students?”
The slate will argue that University policy works directly to the detriment of students’ mental health. Hampton told Cherwell, “I’ve seen instances where students have performed disappointingly in collections because of problems at home, for example, and have been met with increased workloads, increased stress, and a kind of punitive hit-them-while-they’re-down approach from the senior tutor.” Despite the University often justifying this approach because it “maintains academic standards”, the members of ‘BackJack’ it cannot, when it comes at the cost of students’ mental well-being.
Shepherd told Cherwell that while “there is a lot of focus on getting people into Oxford, there needs to be more on keeping people here”. He added that although “the counselling service is great”, the allocation of central University resources is often inadequate, with “some colleges having lots of policy on mental health and others with barely any at all”. According to Hampton,
“The problem is we don’t give parity to physical and mental health – why aren’t there counsellors on site in colleges, like there are doctors?”
Hampton asserts that if he were elected he would “take these things to the University for change”, seeking an end to “punitive” in-term collections, “proper” discussion on reading weeks and term lengths and enforced standardised caps on workloads. BackJack will seek to mitigate the “negative elements of Oxford“ such as ‘5th Week blues’ and the problem of unfair workloads, which Shepherd emphasises “can be a huge issue for Joint Honours students, where departments often don’t talk to each other, leaving some students with four essays in the first week, and none in the two weeks following”.
The slate also holds the view that OUSU is “disconnected from the large majority of students because of the collegiate system” and needs to reconnect with the network of JCRs, which “are already great bodies for student mobilisation. We aim to] bring an approach that would be looking at why things have happened – policies that demand structural change – and push that change through bottom-up pressure and JCR mobilisation.”
Hampton, Shepherd and Downs all added, “Every student knows that Oxford has serious problems, but they’re only going to improve if we’re united and determined – we think we know how to do it. Please give us the chance.”