Bryony Chellew gives a damning indictment of Bristol's University student support services - arguing the only good support she recieved was from her hall warden.
In the months of November and December in my first ever term at Bristol - in 2016 - I was sexually assaulted twice. Both instances were at the hands of people I didn’t know, and in both instances consent was very clearly, objectively, not given. I am aware that the multiplicity of my assaults, and the fact that they happened so close together, is highly unfortunate and not common. However, what I went on to experience as a result of the university’s highly problematic system of pastoral guidance is in no way a rarity.
"Feeling less and less confident that I would ever receive any kind of support, I gave them my number, and was never contacted"
The first assault happened on the 26th November, 2016, the second taking place in December. Initially, I dealt with it alone; my pride stopped me from admitting that I was part of the rapidly growing demographic of students who are in need of mental health support - a demand that each university has a duty to accommodate. On the 15th March the following year, I emailed my personal tutor; a meeting was arranged, and on the 16th March the university were ‘officially’ notified of my assaults. On the 18th March, I emailed the senior tutor after being told that they would contact me, but didn’t; a decision to discuss my circumstances was reached on the 28th, and it was to take place ‘over the phone’ on the 3rd April. Feeling less and less confident that I would ever receive any kind of support, I gave them my number, and was never contacted.
"Instead, the senior tutor read the email halfway through the appointment, due only to a prompt by me"
My first actual, face to face meeting with a senior tutor was last term, on the 23rd November 2017. Nearly a year after the assaults themselves occurred, and eight months after the university was officially notified of them. It was the result of some months of meetings, and emails, and trying to balance my studies with my deteriorating mental state - something which had a significant impact on my grades. When I got to the appointment, filled with hope that perhaps, finally, I would be receiving some professional, pastoral help, the senior tutor didn’t know why I was there, despite my personal tutor having emailed them about my situation, and reassuring me that I wouldn’t need to revisit the assaults by having to relay them - again - in conversation. Instead, the senior tutor read the email halfway through the appointment, due only to a prompt by me. In addition, it transpired that the senior tutors were simply another stage of the process leading up to receiving some kind of routine counselling; I was given a card and told to fill in an online form. I left the meeting feeling let down, alone and unsupported.
It is this kind of lack of professionalism and organisation that leads many students to not bother seeking university pastoral help at all. And I entirely empathise with this - as someone who dealt with the majority of my trauma completely alone, in a constant state of anticipation that I might be getting help soon, but never receiving it.
Experiences like this are simply not good enough. Students & grads please take our survey so we can change the way sexual assault is dealt with at universities https://t.co/HUrPSTuEpF #ItsRevolting https://t.co/Ujf0kYMjio— RevoltSexualAssault (@Revolt_Assault) February 12, 2018
I was entered into what felt like an obstacle course; the waiting list for counselling is so long that the months following the university’s notification of my circumstances - months that should have been filled with pastoral support and university guidance - consisted of meetings and emails to gauge as to whether or not I ‘met the requirements’ to warrant having my case prioritised, so I wouldn’t have to wait at the end of a ludicrously long list in order to receive the support that should be readily available. The very idea that, were I to undergo counselling, it would be at the expense of another student receiving it, was a deterrent - and quite frankly, is also morally wrong. Bristol university is a highly funded-institution; the priorities regarding monetary expenditure should lie in expanding the pitiful department of pastoral guidance, rather than planting daffodils in the Botanical garden. I am an English student - I currently pay over £9000 a year for an 8 hour week, and I do not have access to anywhere near the level of university support that the fees would justify.
"I do not believe that the little to no support offered regarding the mental health of students is sufficient enough"
I reject Bristol’s urge for students to ‘look to the pastoral care available’. I do not believe that the little to no support offered regarding the mental health of students is sufficient enough to be the sole thing to fall back on in the context of something traumatic; I am, of course, referring to sexual assault in this article due to my personal experiences, but it would be ludicrous to assume that Bristol’s lack of care is reserved for sexual assault survivors alone. This is undoubtedly a widespread and systematic flaw, and one that Bristol has a duty to rectify.
Incidentally, the one pastoral figure I can only speak of in high regard is Robert Villain, the Wills Hall warden. Within fifteen minutes of having emailed him relaying my experiences, I was sat inside his home discussing the potential ways to progress. The support he offered was only kind, considerate, and validating, and a genuine polar to everything the university’s pastoral team have been. And Bristol is currently deciding as to whether or not to remove the Wardens’ positions.
Look to the support of the people around you. Strive to immerse yourself in the most caring surroundings you can. Be there for your friends who are suffering. Because currently, if you base overcoming your trauma on the level of pastoral guidance the university can provide you with, you risk ending up unsupported and left to try and make some kind of sense of your situation alone. There is a reason that Bristol’s student satisfaction remains so consistently low in the league tables, and it starts with the current pastoral system. Bristol university’s support system is heavily flawed, and it is shameful, and it needs to change.
"I am still dealing with the psychological aftermath alone. And this is unacceptable"
This is not a cry for attention. Quite frankly, it is embarrassing having to discuss such an intimate and private aspect of my life on public ground. This is a very calm, objective response to the fact that Bristol university have known about my assaults for nearly a year now, and I am still dealing with the psychological aftermath alone. And this is unacceptable.