Opinion | An open letter from JCR committees on ResiLife

FULL ARTICLE

By Various former Junior Residents

A group of 2018/19 Junior Residents have written an open letter on the issues they encountered with the new ResiLife system last year.

The intention of this letter is to highlight the shortcomings of the imposed Residential Life (ResiLife) system. This unpopular and dysfunctional scheme, implemented at the start of the last academic year as a consolidation measure, was designed as a successor to the Warden system that had operated in our Halls for decades. Now that even more systems and procedures have been placed under the Resilife banner, we feel we must speak up.

Nobody denies that the old Warden system required fundamental improvements, and we commend ResiLife’s actions regarding student pastoral support where it does great work. However, when it comes to the JCR Committees, ResiLife increased bureaucracy, shifted financial liabilities onto students on the JCR Committee, and made the jobs of Committee members infinitely harder. During Welcome Week in September 2018, some previous Committees found organising events to be a lot harder than in the past, a fact they ascribed to the new system in place.

'Nobody denies that the old Warden system required fundamental improvements.'

The majority of Committee members spend several hours a week on JCR-related tasks, including planning events for residents, organising meetings and dealing with financial and administrative work. Students volunteer to do this, often for little public recognition, because they believe in serving the residents who elected them to the best of their abilities. A demanding job even in the best of circumstances, it was made far more challenging thanks to the failings of the system over the year. This is often to the detriment of academic and social commitments, and to members’ mental health.

As members of our Hall’s JCR committee, we have seen first-hand the effects of these changes and have a deep understanding of the problems. It is clear to us that what some called 'teething problems' were deep-rooted issues and for this reason, we urge fundamental changes.

'It is clear to us that what some called 'teething problems' were deep-rooted issues and for this reason, we urge fundamental changes.'

In light of the new system’s many and varied flaws, we believe the following reforms are necessary:

  • A streamlined process within ResiLife to minimise bureaucracy and paper-pushing.

    This would enable the JCRs to get on with staging events as we were elected to do, instead of being bogged down in the small print of endless forms. While of course an element of paperwork is unavoidable, the current system saddles untrained students with mountains of obscure forms to find, read, fill out and send off, taking away from time that should be spent organising events and causing us needless stress and worry.
  • A clear hierarchy of roles and responsibilities within ResiLife, including names and contact information, to be disseminated to all relevant staff and JCR members, and better staff training for their roles. A major problem for us this year has been not knowing who to go to for help, and for the staff members on duty not being able to answer our questions. Better training for the JCR support staff is a minimum requirement; we would like to see every hub Hall to have a staff member exclusively responsible for JCR support.
  • Allowing Committees to make amendments to their Constitutions, instead of being issued an ultimatum between signing an unfit-for-purpose document drawn up with no input from us, and being cut off from funding.

    At present, the Constitution is a one-size fits all document that ignores the variations between Halls, and more broadly the realities of what life in Halls is like. Adding insult to injury, when pointing out inconsistencies in the document JCR Committees are told that 'in reality [certain inconvenient rules] won't be adhered to'. The Constitution was presented to us as inviolable law: it is obvious that the University is only interested in enforcing its own rules when it is convenient.
  • More support with setting up banking systems. During the summer exam period of last year, many JCRs had still not received their social fee income - £50 contributed by every resident in their first rent payment. Committees were made responsible for setting up their own bank accounts, a task for which we were not trained or even informed of until late in the year.

    Furthermore, signatories to the account are personally liable for the account’s funds, a fact not made apparent to many members by the University prior to signing. The University should not be placing this burden on untrained students.
  • A formal, public apology from the University, acknowledging that their system was fundamentally flawed from the outset, and a commitment to implementing changes as detailed in this letter.

All of us want the Halls and the JCR Committees to succeed, but we cannot succeed under the current administration. Once again, the news that ResiLife is being given even more responsibility, this time over catering bookings, means that we can no longer stay silent.

We hope that this letter is well received by the University management and taken in the serious and constructive spirit with which it is intended. We feel that our input would be effective in addressing potential remedies to the current system’s problems, and we would be very happy to engage in dialogue with the University to this end.

This letter was endorsed by the JCR Committees of: Clifton Hill House, Manor Hall, Northwell House, Orchard Heights, Winkworth Hall.

It has been edited for suitability to be published by Epigram.

Featured Image: Epigram / Patrick Sullivan


Did you have a different experience as a JCR last year? Let us know!

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