This article first appeared on DUSA Media.
About six month ago, the Exec – the seven student-elected leaders of Dundee University Students’ Association (DUSA) – took office with ambitious plans. Now that they are more than halfway through their terms, we sat down with them to talk about their experiences, successes and lessons learned. In the fifth instalment of our series, Vice President of Student Welfare Katie Jowett talks about STI testing on campus, volunteering opportunities, and why even responsible students occasionally need to let loose.
You said in your statement that you wanted to increase awareness of student services around campus. What have you done with regards to that?
I introduced a few social media sites for student welfare. I have a Facebook site, I use my own Twitter, I put up regular posts on DUSA’s Facebook page, advertising links to student services. I also regularly post and retweet messages that the different University departments put out. I’m constantly advertising different services, whether it’s online or through flyers, telling anyone who will listen to go to student services because they’ll help.
Do more students use these services now?
I know it for the Health Service. Although they had quote high numbers, it was still relatively low compared to the student population. The number of people who went to the health service this year has shot up, to the point of where we’re almost overworking them. It’s definitely increased, at least for some departments.
Why should students go to the Health Service?
We now do STI testing on campus, which is great because it’s a drop-in and it means that you don’t have to go up to Ninewells. Any day during the week, you can go when you are on campus.
We also have a regular doctors’ surgery at 1 PM every day. It can take so long with your regular GP so if you’re really ill, that’s easier if you are on campus already. Students can go there instead of booking an appointment with their own GP.
The second goal you set for yourself was to carry out a week dedicated to the importance of a healthy mind, healthy body for students. Talk about that.
Healthy body, healthy mind is about increasing awareness of how being healthy all over in general can help you in different aspects. If you eat healthily, you’re more likely to be mentally healthy as well. If you’re doing regular exercise, you’ll be stress free and more likely to be healthy. It all connects together.
It’s important that everyone on campus should be healthy, so instead of a week dedicated to that, myself and the Sports Union, who lead that campaign, and Students Services carry out one-off events throughout the year to keep the awareness up.
I also have a Pinterest board with a lot of tips.
You also wanted to promote awareness of student volunteer roles. Have you made any progress on that?
The idea is that if you want to volunteer, there will be a list of places where you can go, both on campus and in the community. You will get a little bit of credit for it, whether it’s a certificate saying you dedicated so many hours, for example. I’m part of a working group that is putting that in place.
I currently advertise any volunteer roles that the Career Service put up, like internships on campus. I regularly post about the Student Representative Council (SRC) to get students involved in that, even by just helping out on different campaigns or for societies and events…
You also wanted to run a campaign for drink awareness. Obviously the Union depends on students spending their money on, among other things, drinks. Do you see any tension there?
No. It’s important to remember that we’re never going to get students not to drink at all, and I wouldn’t want to take away their chance to enjoy themselves. A big part of remaining stress free is being able to let loose every so often. I’ve aimed the campaign at just responsibly and at making sure you’re safe, so that it doesn’t get to the point where you’re throwing up on a street corner at three o’clock in the morning when no one’s about and you’re putting yourself at risk of being locked out of your flat.
You are one of the Exec’s non-sabbs, which means you also study. How does being a final-year student and having this position go together?
It’s incredibly difficult. I really enjoy it, and I don’t regret running for it, despite the fact that I have been incredibly stressed at times. Defining hours when I would be available for students to drop in pretty early on was important. That gave me time to not only focus on uni work but focus on me as well. Otherwise you end up living here in the Union.
Would it make sense to make VPSW a sabb role?
As much as I would like it to be a sabbatical role, I don’t think that’s a high priority. A lot of what I do is supporting Student Services, helping them with campaigns, and they help me with mine. If it was to become a sabbatical role, I think it would take a lot away from them. Effectively I’m here to make sure that they’re doing their job properly and the students’ needs are being heard. I don’t think there’s the need for a full-time position.
I think many students know Student Services exist but don’t use it, maybe because of embarrassment or stigma. Why would you say that is?
Knowledge about Student Services is a lot like knowledge about everything on campus. You’re kind of aware it’s there, but until you actually need it, you don’t think about how they can help. Often, when the students are in crisis or stressed, they go, “Oh wait, there’s a Student Services.” They’re often not aware of the events I set up to prepare them for the exams, to stop them getting to the very end of their tether…
Unfortunately we can advertise as much as we want and constantly shout “It’s right here”, but until you need it, you’re not going to find it. Luckily, with the move to old bank [in the entrance area of DUSA] this year, they can be a lot more effective than where there currently are.
If you had to single out one threat to student welfare in Dundee, what would it be?
Alcohol and the freedom to escape all the rules your parents have set down. When you’re finally free and away from home, you can do whatever you want. Some students run with that freedom and get themselves into a bit of a state. But there’s plenty of students who are responsible, understand what risks come with drinking, and manage it with the work and the hangover.
What was the biggest surprise for you coming into this office?
I didn’t expect that we would be that well known on campus. I never really knew what the Exec did until a couple of years ago. It’s been really nice to see that there are plenty of students who know who we are and will happily come to us with issues.
Are you running for re-election or another office next year?
No, I’m not. I’m in fourth year and I don’t feel I could carry a postgrad and an elected position at the same time.
DUSA Media is part of DUSA, but you knew that already. The interview has been condensed and edited for clarity.