Abuse is regarded as a dirty little secret – even within our JCR welfare teams

CN: Abuse, manipulation, silencing

JCR committees are strange. Sometimes they are approached and joined by those who have a genuine desire to make improvements for the JCR. But, more often than not in my opinion, they are spied as opportunities to gain something to write on your CV, to ‘act the businessperson’. It is this odd corporatisation, particularly with regard to JCR welfare teams, which not only limits the extent to which positive welfare can be supplied, but also creates some situations in which the very JCR members who they are trying to protect are actually harmed.

One event in particular opened my eyes to this, and reiterated that we still have a lot of work to do both in terms of how we think of welfare and how we think to treat victims of abuse.

I was a welfare rep on my JCR committee for two years, in two different positions. Both times I had amazing partners in the role, and on the whole I think we managed to both provide welfare and make some important changes within the college. Last Michaelmas, towards the end of my second year on the committee, someone who had manipulated and abused my mental health was elected to be on the next committee, starting this term. This in and of itself wasn’t a problem – I had made peace with what happened and was managing to live with it, and I wouldn’t have to be on the committee with them as I’d decided not to rerun.

There was to be, however, a quasi-handover meeting. In the private Facebook group for the old welfare subcommittee, there was a post reminding us about the meeting. I commented (with content warnings for abuse) that I didn’t feel that I would be able to go, due to the presence on the new subcommittee of someone who had been abusive towards me. In retrospect I shouldn’t have revealed such an intimate detail about myself to a group of ten or so people who I didn’t know so well, but I was emotionally vulnerable at the time due to the situation, and so just wrote as best I could explaining why I’d have to miss it.

The day after, I was messaged by one of our welfare officers, asking to meet with me to talk about what I said. I was very happy to do so – I assumed they would simply be checking if I was okay and that the situation was manageable; both of which were true. In other words I assumed they were meeting with me as the welfare rep of my college, not as an official. I was wrong. This was part of their intention, to give credit where it is due, but the main focus was another issue. They told me that it was inappropriate to make the comment I did because it ‘reflected badly on the committee’. They said that talking about abuse in an open manner – particularly with some future members of the new committee being able to see my comment in the old group – was ‘inappropriate’.

If more people applied for positions on a committee out of genuine care for the members of the JCR and not desire to try their hand at management…then committees would be able to spend more time actually helping people

This obsession with the image of a welfare team does not come from concern for the team’s ability to do its job – to provide welfare for those who need it. It comes from viewing the committee you are on as a ‘business’ with a ‘reputation’ to maintain in order to tighten a grip on ‘customers’. It comes from attempting to censor non-positive opinions about your ‘employees’ for fear of their reputation, no matter how true they might be. It gives, most worryingly, welfare reps the ability to be above reproach. It is, in other words, wholly inappropriate for a position intended to be about looking after students.

If more people applied for positions on a committee out of genuine care for the members of the JCR and not desire to try their hand at management so they have something to talk about in their upcoming interview at KPMG or Deloitte, then committees would be able to spend more time actually helping people, and less time jockeying for position, and editing out opinions which don’t support every aspect of your team, as if they are truly superior to the members they claim to support. And they wouldn’t feel the need to silence an abuse victim.