Suspended Students Campaign – A perspective of the University
Recently, I had the opportunity to meet with Gabriel Lazar, the Chair of the Suspended Students Campaign at the SU. We had a discussion broadly about the University’s attitude towards suspended students as well as the work which the Campaign had been doing and is planning on doing in the future to help these students. I wanted to write this in part out of my wider frustrations at this University as well as to give some exposure and publicity for the amazing work which these people do to give advice to those already suspended or those considering suspension.
Meeting at Taylor’s in the Covered Market, I began by asking questions relating to the University’s current policies and guidance, given that I, like most of you potentially, had very little knowledge of suspension or this Campaign. Gabriel assured me that while the University treats suspension as a punitive measure in all cases, highlighting the obliviousness towards their often toxic work environment, most suspensions are voluntary.
Out of the 5271 students who suspended between 2011/12-2020/21, 4948 suspended either for personal reasons, medical reasons, financial reasons or an unspecified reason. Only 190 suspensions in this time have been for disciplinary reasons. These stats point to the reality that the main reasons students suspend are not anything to do with personal faults but simply because our University brings with it pressures and work loads which for many are simply unmanageable, especially when having to deal with external challenges such as medical issues or personal troubles.
Out of the 5271 students who suspended between 2011/12-2020/21, 4948 suspended either for personal reasons, medical reasons, financial reasons or an unspecified reason.
The SUSCam have done incredible work to fill the void of assistance left behind by the University, for instance by lobbying so that students retain their Bod cards and providing advice and support to these students, often in a very vulnerable state and desperate for this help. As Gabriel said to me, the University really is failing on its welfare provisions in more ways than one, but by taking this case example, they leave vulnerable students in the dark about how they can more effectively manage their degree, or receive financial assistance. Not only this, but their stretched and ineffective welfare services cause suspension themselves, as students often feel there is no help and therefore no other choice but to suspend.
Colleges are especially at fault for these issues. Many colleges have restrictive accommodation policies and give very little advice about financial support, while also removing JCR membership from suspended students, restricting their access to the college. The denial of the services which we rely on colleges for is a clear breach to me of the college’s responsibilities. Whether a student happens to be actively enrolled or not, they deserve the same rights that all students at that college may have, and certainly deserve access to libraries. The Campaign have created a draft JCR motion to address this issue, allowing students to retain JCR membership while they are suspended.
The denial of the services which we rely on colleges for is a clear breach to me of the college’s responsibilities.
One point which Gabriel also made to me was relating to the issue of suspension being restricted to an entire year away from studies. Not forgetting how arbitrary this is given the wide variety of reasons for suspension, this also takes no account of individual circumstances regarding subjects and modules. The process would be much more simple of course for a History student like me but for many subjects the idea of taking an entire year out could completely upset the run of modules and learning, taking away a consistent work environment for students. Quite why the University has decided you can’t simply take a term out, especially if your medical or personal reason is only a temporary issue, is beyond my comprehension. I suppose, like much of this University, it is probably some archaic legacy. After all, our University is more of a museum than a place of study.
I am one of the lucky ones. While I won’t pretend that my degree has been smooth sailing, and there have certainly been times when I questioned why I chose this Uni, ultimately I have never seriously been in the position that the students receiving support from this Campaign have. I have however, worked through illnesses, missed out on social engagements because of work, worried seriously about my ability to meet deadlines, and felt inadequate academically. My guess is that my experience of this University isn’t unique. It is challenging beyond the point at times that seems acceptable, and it is so telling that I know so many other students who have suffered mental health issues, often attributed to anxieties about their degree. If you are considering suspension, know someone who is or are currently suspended yourself then I urge you to get in contact with the wonderful people of this Campaign. We all struggle and often the most difficult thing is to both recognise your struggle and to ask for help, but it is vital that we do in order to stay healthy and happy in this environment.