SRC 2014 interviews Student Support: Clopin Meehan

Published

Hannah McNeill

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Clopin is currently the Gender Equality Officer on the SRC, and considers herself a proud feminist and equal rights advocate. Prior to being in the SRC, she held the position of FemSoc President and has been politically active on campus throughout her time at Glasgow. She describes her campaign focus as “listening”, “acting” and “changing.”

Guardian: How will your experience as gender equality officer help you in the role of VPSS?

Meehan: Being Gender Equality Officer this year has given me so much valuable experience, which would definitely help me in the role of VP Student Support. It’s allowed me to really get to grips with how we in the SRC can work with the University, and provided me with a good knowledge of what’s going on with welfare, equality and diversity issues, and the sort of steps the University can take to deal with them. But more importantly it’s given me invaluable experience of supporting students, who have come to me with a diversity of problems throughout out this year, from advice on how to apply for extensions because of medical and personal reasons, to how to resolve issues with lecturers and tutors who have been bigoted or bullying. As VP Student Support, I’d see myself supporting students through a greater range of problems, and this year has helped me gain the patience and sensitivity essential to doing this. I’ve been able to really appreciate that while it’s good to bring our own ideas to the SRC, it’s as important to listen to students, to find out their priorities, and act on that.

Guardian: What ways will you try to make services accessible to all students?

Meehan: I’ll reach out to different groups on campus and find out where they feel they face barriers to our services. With such a diversity of  backgrounds and experiences in our student body, it’s essential to listen to what students concerns are, and act as they feel would be most helpful to them. One particular thing I’d like to look into is interest in women-only time slots or spaces in the gym, as I’ve learned this year in my role as GEO that this is a big concern for a lot of female students, and for a range of reasons. For some women it’s because of their religious requirements, for others because of their needs as survivors, and for others it’s because of the male-dominated and often intimidating nature of certain sections of the gym. This needs to be seriously addressed, as no student should feel prevented from using such an important service on campus.

Guardian: You talk about tackling student poverty – what way will your plans do this?

Meehan: I have a number of ideas of how we can start doing this. One is to make sure the hardship funds and crisis loans, which are currently available, are much better advertised to students, and so made more available. At the moment most students don’t even know they exist. They can provide a lifeline when students are really struggling. They can prevent students in poverty from having to drop out, in order to move home or find a job, but only if the information is made available.

I want to make information on how to deal with threats from landlords/letting agents, energy suppliers and the council more available and accessible for students, so that they don’t end up in situations where they’re paying unnecessary fines or illegal letting fees, which are common. The SRC needs to greatly improve its communication with the student body, and make sure they know their rights.

I’d also push for the introduction of more lockers on campus, which  would help with preventing theft. This is of particular importance for students living at home, who are having to bring in more stuff with them day to day. With easily accessed lockers on campus, they can go out to the pub or union, for example, without having to take valuable items like laptops, and risk them being stolen.

Guardian: In your manifesto you focus a lot on the problem of sexual violence against students – what new ways do you have of tackling this?

Meehan: While poster campaigns are nothing new, they’re something that could be really beneficial on campus, if the SRC were to put the passion and commitment behind them. Good anti-rape and anti-sexual violence poster campaigns, which target the attitudes in society that perpetuate what we might call “rape culture,” rather than targeting the victims for not ‘protecting’ themselves, have been shown to be very effective at changing attitudes, and empowering survivors to speak out about their experiences and seek support. We’ve seen these on campus before, but they’ve not had the presence they deserve, or the commitment behind them. It’s not enough to pay lip-service to an issue, we need to follow up on it with comprehensive support services – one of my suggestion is to ensure staff in the Counselling & Psychological Services are trained to deal with these specific issues, and related illnesses such as PTSD- and a zero tolerance attitude to sexual violence. One thing I’d do is push for an official Zero Tolerance policy to sexual assault and harassment, and get the Unions on board as well. Education is also essential, so I’d roll out workshops on how to tackle instances of predatory behaviour, sexual harassment and hate crimes, such as Women’s Aid brilliant and engaging Get Savy workshop, ensuring that board members in all Unions have attended these, pushing for staff across the University to attend them, and also making them available to students.

Guardian: You talk about how mental health is stigmatised on campus. How do you plan tackling this?

Meehan: I plan to tackle this by both raising awareness, and improving our support services. There’s still a lot of preconceptions about mental health issues, which can prevent people from seeking support because they internalise ideas about how their problems aren’t big enough, and how they should just ‘get over’ it. Challenging stigma, through visible and engaging campaigns, will create an environment that’s more understanding and where it’s safer to talk about mental health. I’d also work to improve the services on offer, firstly by making them much more visible – for example, making it clearer to students that the Disability Service supports students with mental health-related disabilities and issues as well as physical, which many students are still unaware of. I’d also push to ensure staff are trained with an understanding of the different ways in which gender, sexuality and race intersect with disability and mental health, so they can provide the best support possible.

Guardian: In your manifesto you’ve talked about building a scheme that will allow students to name and shame dodgy landlords – how do you see this working?

Meehan: This would be very easy to implement, but bring enormous benefits. What could be done is for a section to be added to the SRC website, that allows students to post about and discuss their experiences with different landlords and letting agencies, much like the forums on Moodle. From there we could build an easy to use database, providing average ratings, and allowing students to search landlords or letting agencies who they’re considering renting with. This would mean they’d be alerted to landlords/letting agencies that are consistently bad, or seem to have a habit of taking advantage of students. Many of us have had bad experiences with renting, and wish we’d just been warned beforehand about who we rented with. It’d be particularly useful for international students, who can’t as easily judge landlords/letting agencies when they’re searching for accommodation from abroad, and for first years, who are less likely to have experience renting and to know what warning signs of a bad deal to look out for.