Cambridge students take to Facebook to discuss 'serious flaws’ in university welfare system
Monday 20 January 2014
Students at Cambridge have spoken out on social media to complain about what they claim are serious flaws in the university’s welfare system.
On Facebook, increasing numbers are anonymously claiming that the university is failing to support them in the face of severe mental stress.
Inspired by the Everyday Sexism Project, the Cambridge Speaks Its Mind campaign covers topics ranging from depression to sexual assault.
One recent post on the site alleged: “During my first term here I suffered from crippling depression and was dealing with extreme thoughts of suicide.
“I sent a form into the University Counselling Service – clearly ticking the box that read ‘do you think you pose a risk of harm to yourself?’ – and they never got back to me.”
Another student wrote: “There’s very little support available, beyond seeing the UCS. Colleges don’t want the bad publicity.
"Cambridge University just doesn’t care about its students.”
The campaign began when a group of students found that they had all encountered similarly disappointing welfare support from the university and has received around 50 testimonies since it started in September.
The founder of the project told The Independent that “Cambridge Speaks Its Mind was set up after we realised we'd all had similar, negative experiences of college welfare. We wanted to raise awareness of the issues, give students a space to speak out against their treatment, and make a change.
“There's something about Cambridge that makes us normalise a certain level of misery; from day one of freshers' week, we're told that we will be stressed, we hear jokes about having break downs. We even have an unofficial title for one week of term: 'the week five blues'.
“Work comes first. If you can get the top grades in your essays, achieve something academically, then that is what is important.
“If you're ‘well’, you can be in Cambridge. If you aren't you can get lost.”
However, a university spokesperson said that “Cambridge and its colleges take student mental health very seriously”.
“Last academic year, 1,562 people were seen for counseling. This represents 8.5 per cent of the student population.
“Clients value the support that they receive as shown in the student satisfaction survey: overall, 96 per cent said that counseling had helped them deal with their difficulties, with 82% saying counseling helped ‘quite a lot’ or ‘a great deal’. “
Since it began, the Speaks Its Mind project has received messages of support from across the country, with Oxford recently setting up its own branch of the campaign.
Speaks Its Mind is also set to reach even more universities, with the campaign’s founder saying: “We're in discussion with other students around the country to help them set up Speaks Its Mind for their campus. We are not going to remain silent about this issue. If anyone wants help setting up a Speaks Its Mind project, our contact details are on our Facebook page.”
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