On Tuesday 21st April, around thirty students met with Vice Chancellor Professor Ian Young, Pro-Vice Chancellor (Student Experience) Richard Baker and Head of the ANU Counselling Centre Carolyn Farrar in an Ed Talk in the Brian Kenyon Student Space to discuss their concerns about health, wellbeing and safety on campus. The Talk provided an opportunity for students to highlight areas they believe the university needs to work on.
Students raised the issue of cyberbullying in the Facebook group ANU Stalkerspace. While students acknowledged the limited capacity for the university to intervene on a non-endorsed site, they voiced concerns about the lack of accessibility and transparency of university cyber policy, particularly the current reviews, policy enforcement and consequences for offenders.
Baker noted that the university has previously intervened by contacting Facebook and individual students. He stated that disciplinary action depends on the nature of the offence and encouraged students to report harassment to the university.
The connection between assessments and mental health was heavily discussed. Baker said that the university was aware of “periods of stress”, identifying May and week 4 of semester. He explained plans to train staff, especially lecturers of first year courses, in addressing mental health. But Baker also expressed support for student participation, noting plans to engage mental health organisation Batyr in university-wide initiatives.
Student Odette Shenfield commented that the responses “[put] the responsibility back onto students, rather than looking into whether assessment structures themselves contribute to mental health problems (e.g. the bell curve at the law school).”
Concerns were also raised that some lecturers did not use Education Access Plans (EAPs) as evidence for special consideration; EAPs obtained from Access & Inclusion for students registered with a disability are used to advocate for reasonable adjustments to assessments. Baker stated that “the onus [is] on lecturers to heed advice,” but agreed that this is an area to be worked on and has since sent follow up e-mails.
Asked about the success of the night’s discussions, ANUSA Education Officer Jock Webb said that “a lot of the answers given raised more questions” but would shape topics for future Ed Talks with student focus groups and members of the university executive. Webb stated the goal of the Ed Talks for the year would be to compile a report and “create actionable items”.
“That we have access to our Vice Chancellor on a semi-regular basis to have discussions about these topics is unheard of,” said ANUSA President Ben Gill. The talk challenged the university executive to consider areas often neglected. Regarding reviews of mental health in the College of Law, Shenfield commented, “I found the response that individual teachers were influenced by the report but that no institutional change occurred disappointing. That said, I was really impressed that Richard Baker sent a follow up email offering to meet and discuss the issue further!”
Webb further noted, “Ian’s taking notes […] that’s a really positive thing to see.”
Notes from the event can be accessed at renew.anu.edu.au/ed-talks/