[CN: mentions of racism, sexual violence, and suicide prevention]
Being a Sabbatical Officer is a really varied role and no two days are the same! It’s up to you how to divide up your time and what to focus on, but here are a few of the things I might be doing in the average week:
As Welfare & Community Officer I sit on various University committees. Most of these deal with some aspect of student welfare, from the counselling service, to accessibility, to the University’s COVID-19 response. The work I do for committees includes reading papers, bringing items and papers for discussion, ensuring student perspectives are heard and relevant groups are consulted, and advocating for changes and policies that would improve student life.
The workload associated with different committees varies, but some committees offer opportunities to get really involved in shaping University work. For example, as members of the Steering Group for the Strategic Review of Mental Health, Tara and I have been able to secure a specific strand of the review to look at BME students’ mental health, provided briefings on specific issues affecting students, and have helped shape the direction of work on out-of-hours support, staff training, central services, and many other aspects of student mental health.
Campaigns and projects
As sabbatical officers we each have our own priorities and remits, and we work together on campaigns where our roles overlap. My big areas of work this year are improving support for student mental health, with particular focus on closing the BME mental health gap and removing barriers to accessing support; improving experiences of intermission through more student autonomy over the process and access to welfare & financial support; campaigning for a robust Suicide Prevention Policy; reforming the disciplinary procedures that deal with racism and sexual violence at Cambridge; and fighting for workers’ rights including improved conditions for postgraduates who teach.
Running a campaign can involve lots of different types of work: research and consultation with students, campaign planning & strategy meetings with other team members, meeting key allies and stakeholders at the University, producing resources and organising events and actions, to name just a few! Different team members have different strengths and areas of expertise, so we try to split up tasks to make the most of the skills we have between us, and the SU permanent staff are also always on hand to help with campaigns.
Working with students
In addition to the goals I ran for election with, I try to work with students on their projects as much as I can. This can include keeping in touch with Welfare Officers, and supporting the work of campaign groups, such as the Cambridge Period Project and the Justice for Workers campaign. I also regularly support students to bring motions to SU Council and with campaign planning. This year I’ve worked with students on issues such as accessibility at college bops, migrant justice at the University, nightclub safety, and street lighting in Cambridge.
I try to involve students as much as I can within my priority campaigns as well, for example through the Disciplinary Procedure Action Group which we set up to ensure our work on disciplinary procedure reform is driven by students. I also run in person events and activities for some campaigns, such as breakfast runs in solidarity with UCU and banner making ahead of student protests, which are a great opportunity to get students more involved in the work we’re doing and hear about their experiences.
Welfare schemes & resources
I work closely with the Student Advice Service to improve the welfare schemes, resources and training we offer as an SU. This year I’ve been involved in collecting feedback on the Sexual Health Scheme to improve it, seeking funding for a Menstrual Products Scheme, and reviewing the training the SU provides to students. I’ve also worked with the Women’s Officer on sexual health and consent education resources, and with the Welfare & Training Coordinator on the Winter Holiday Activities Guide.