The proposed changes to the pastoral system are dangerous for students suffering with mental health issues

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In light of the recent news that the University plans to replace the current pastoral system in halls with a new hub system, Ruth Day considers the dangerous consequences a reduction of Wardens, Deputy Wardens and Senior Residents might have for students suffering from mental health problems

Recently, the news has broken that the University plans to make changes to the pastoral system in halls of residence. This will result in the current system of Wardens, Deputy Wardens and Senior Residents being replaced by a hub system, with a Clifton hub, Stoke Bishop hub, and City Centre hub incorporating residences in those three areas. There will be a reduction in the number of Senior Residents, called Residential Life Mentors under the new system, by approximately 2/3, and less staff will live in halls.

Personally, live-in members of staff have stayed with me when in crisis until I could get proper professional attention, which ensured my safety and security
Certainly, this will impact the sense of community in halls, as JCRs are also being scrapped, but more importantly these changes are in fact unhelpful from a mental health and wellbeing perspective.

I will be looking at why I think the new Residential Life Model will be disastrous for students living in halls with mental health problems.

Firstly, the new system seems very removed and centralised; by reducing the number of staff members living in halls you also get rid of the relationships between students and pastoral team members. One key aspect of having enough Senior Residents to cover each block of flats/floors is that you can build a relationship and rapport with them, you know who they are and where they live, and they know you because they have a manageable number of students under their care.

Because of this, it is easy to knock on their door and ask for help with a wide range of issues. Personally, live-in members of staff have stayed with me when in crisis until I could get proper professional attention, which ensured my safety and security. They work extremely hard for students, are a vital intermediary point between students and professionals if needed, and are such a key form of support.

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However, in the case of the new system, centralising pastoral care will result in little rapport or trust between Residential Life team members and students, which is problematic as certain levels of trust do need to be established before going to someone about your problems and worries. Students will be less likely to seek help from people they’ve never met before, especially when talking about such a highly stigmatised and deeply personal topic as your own mental health problems and struggles.

It is hard enough to ask for help in any circumstance, let alone if you have to go to people in an impersonal, centralised hub system, rather than in your block or down your corridor.

Also, there will be less staff members which implies that there will be less help available. It is vital to have enough staff members, especially living on site with students, as they can keep an eye out for students after a particularly bad night, and be the first to notice a change in a student’s behaviour which may signify them falling into crisis. This ensures that students continue to stay safe and know where the support is if they need it again.

Pastoral staff should be made more obvious to students, instead of removing some staff from halls altogether
In the new model, however, what will happen in case of a really bad night when multiple people are in crisis or require support? Currently in my halls of residence, there are enough SRs to have both a main Senior Resident and a support Senior Resident assigned to your block, as well as the Warden, Deputy Warden and Student Support Advisor. But with most likely a maximum of 5 Residential Life team members on site in each residence, the lack of staff could become dangerous for students’ wellbeing, especially if you consider that 100-500 students live in each hall.

Furthermore, in the current system, the Student Support Advisor is so helpful with every aspect of student life, providing support when first settling into university life, helping you to refer yourself to Student Counselling Service, and even menial things such as setting up your university bus pass. This role is vital to a smooth life in halls, which will not be the same if this role is scrapped under the new system.

Personally, I have regular contact with my hall’s Student Support Advisor, along with the Warden and Deputy Warden, who are my first port of call when I feel I am struggling with my mental health. Our meetings are invaluable, helping me to notice when I am falling into crisis.

They provide a personal, easily accessible form of support, look out for us, and work hard to ensure we are happy in halls. It is a real oversight on the University’s part to get rid of SSAs as this will further diminish the quality of pastoral support in halls.

Of course changes need to be made to the University’s pastoral model, but not these changes that make support more impersonal, and reduce the number of staff. I think it is positive that the University are making moves to provide better support in City Centre residences, and recognise that 24hr support needs to be put in place.

However, the proposed Residential Life Model seems to make pastoral care worse in Clifton and Stoke Bishop halls. The University needs to fund services better, and fund more, highly trained staff instead of cutting numbers.

Related article: Do not rid us of our Wardens, Deputy Wardens, and Senior  Residents

Pastoral staff should be made more obvious to students, instead of removing some staff from halls altogether. The University is still lacking in the support it provides its students, despite the £1 million pledge to fund mental health services, and my fear is that these planned changes will only make the situation worse.

Featured Image: Bristol Accomodation Office


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