Trinity’s Welfare Turmoil

Trinity's attempt to tackle systemic welfare concerns have been met with complaints.

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Serious concerns have been expressed by Trinity students about the performance of the College’s welfare provisions in Michaelmas, according to survey results obtained by Cherwell.

An emergency JCR meeting called just days after the survey was published led to the College launching an independent review into their welfare provision. A new member of the welfare team was also appointed to help improve the college’s welfare capacity to deal with welfare concerns.

The minutes of the meeting record how: “[the JCR Secretary] emphasised how JCR members can share their concerns about either the temporary measure or the longer-term review of the welfare system with the Exec Committee and the Welfare Reps, who will respect confidentiality.

“It was also emphasised how this temporary measure is by no means all that is being done to reform the Trinity welfare system – and the review will help to usher in further changes for the new academic year.”

On 29th January 2019 an Emergency JCR Meeting was called in which the results of the survey were discussed, having been sent out to JCR members via email. The survey was a volunteer sample of 93 members of the JCR. It was made clear that because of this: “the figures should not be taken to be a completely accurate representation of the JCR at large, however they shall give an indication of general feeling on certain key issues.”

One section of the survey asked respondents whether they agreed or disagreed with the statement: “Trinity is a place that cares about its students’ welfare.” The results concluded: “Out of the 93 responses, 30 students either disagreed or slightly disagreed, with a further 13 having no clear opinion on the matter, suggesting that nearly half of all JCR members do not feel that Trinity is a college that strongly cares about its students’ welfare. This is particularly striking given that only 16 students fully agreed with the statement.”

When asked “How confident would you feel approaching a college staff member about a mental health issue?” half of students said they were not confident, rating the college either one or two on a scale of one to five. Only three students gave a rating of five. In contrast, for confidence in approaching a JCR peer supporter about a mental health issues the average response was a 3.2.

Another question asked “If you have approached a college staff member about a mental health issue, how satisfied were you with the way the issue was dealt with?”. In response to this, 9 out of 31 students said that they would rate their satisfaction as a 1. On the other hand, none of the 19 students who responded rated their encounter with JCR welfare representative peer supporters as a one.

A section on sexual harassment asked respondents whether they thought there was a clear way of reporting harassment issues in college. Only 8.8% of those who answered gave a response of “yes”, with 34.1% answering “no”. Asked whether they would feel comfortable doing so, only 10% of people answered “yes”.

The survey also found issues with the JCR’s welfare positions, namely Peer Supporters and Welfare Reps. It stated: “The main barrier to improving the approachability of the JCR Welfare Representatives and Peer Supporters was that as these roles are filled by current students… in turn, JCR members may feel this is a less confidential means for support, due to its greater informality, particularly if you know the peer supporters socially.”

However, it was also emphasised that the lack of an “approachable system” provided by College put a “huge strain” on the JCR welfare team who were not qualified mental health professionals and are “limited in both training and power.”

The minutes record the response of the JCR President: “This is also a really important issue that needs to be recognised and should not be overshadowed by the other findings of this report. He stated that the new Equalities Fellow Maria is extremely willing to deal with these problems and promote a more inclusive community.”

Another student was reported to have “expressed confusion about the way [College President Dame Hilary Boulding] and Anil (then the Equalities Fellow) were surprised by the findings of the report, given that from their experience, a multitude of issues have been reported over the past year. This suggests a major issue with lack of transparency of where information goes from the initial point of contact.”

The JCR Secretary responded by telling attendees that she had been “encouraged” by the meeting with the College President, and stated that “she does seem to really recognise the issue” but has to be “pragmatic” when carrying out changes.

The College President later announced, in an email on 28th February, the Governing Body’s intention to conduct an “independent welfare review” of Trinity’s welfare provision, which will be carried out this term. Deputy Head of the University Counselling Services Maureen Freed was announced to be conducting the review, which was to start at the beginning of Trinity term.

In light of the review, a new member of the welfare team has been appointed. In an email from last week, the President said: “Please note that we have slightly different welfare arrangements in place for this term. In order to create some additional Welfare capacity, we are pleased to welcome Mark Bezerra Speeks who will be available to students on Mondays and Fridays.”

The results of the survey prompted a series of proposed solutions, both in terms of JCR and College welfare. The JCR’s action to be taken included urging College to recognise “the extremely low levels of confidence students generally have in approaching college staff members about mental health issues” and creating a Google Form to allow JCR members to submit anonymous complaints or concerns about specific Peer Supporters, whilst also creating a more thorough screening process for candidates who wish to become Peer Supporters.

In response to the reportedly “shocking” statistics on the handling of sexual harassment, the JCR has urged the College to create the position of at least one “Harassment Officer/Women’s Officer” among the Fellows that was separate from both the Dean and the Welfare Dean. The JCR also stated their intention to “make both Trinity’s stance on and processes of managing claims of sexual harassment clearer to all students” and to “formally increase the number of sexual harassment responders in Trinity.”

The minutes of the emergency meeting state that Trinity College “seemed to take the findings very seriously” and confirmed that various plans which were presented to the Governing Body.

These proposals include a revising of the College safeguarding policy to clarify the route through which students can be referred to outside agencies, a College policy on sharing information to solve confidentiality issues, consideration of the provision of Mental Health First Aid training for key personnel, and a regular review of the College Harassment policy. The results of the survey were also shared with the Dean and Welfare Dean.

A spokesperson for the College told Cherwell: “Ensuring Trinity’s welfare provision is as effective as possible is an important priority for Trinity – the JCR welfare survey raised important concerns around provision, which we are committed to addressing in a positive and decisive way.

“As a next step, the College has engaged the Deputy Head of Counselling at the University to conduct an independent review of welfare at Trinity; she is an experienced organisational consultant who has worked with other colleges on similar reviews.

“It is our goal with this review to get underneath the general impressions of welfare at Trinity and understand specific instances where support was needed and how the college responded. These will be used to develop appropriate responses to the issues raised.

“We are grateful to students for working with us and hope to continue working positively and constructively to ensure our welfare provision is robust in serving all students who need support.”

Last term, as reported by Cherwell, an email on behalf of Trinity’s JCR President was accidentally leaked, revealing sensitive information about welfare to the JCR.

The email stated: “out of 12 people identifying as Black/African/Caribbean/BlackBritish (4) and Mixed/Multi-Ethnic (8) (some people however also said prefer not to say) 9 people said in the survey that they “faced any specific issues or incidents” at Trinity with regards of race/ethnicity and 5 people said that worries/issues about race have a detrimental effect on their mental health.”

Trinity JCR, the Trinity Welfare Dean, and the college’s President were contacted for comment.

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