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October 9, 2017 | by  | in News |
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“The most important thing is to campaign”: The battle for Welfare Vice-President

The Welfare Vice-President (WVP) is responsible for ensuring that VUWSA provides an appropriate and diverse range of welfare-based services to members and students. This year, two candidates are running for this role: Summer Wick-Featonby and Beth Paterson.

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Summer Wick-Featonby, a third-year student studying Politics, History, and English Literature, is running for the WVP role because she “wants to have an impact on student welfare and make a difference.” While also running for the Equity Officer and Wellbeing and Sustainability Officer roles, Summer told Salient she “would probably prefer this role as it would give [her] more of an opportunity to have a direct role in running [projects like] Stress Free Study Week.”

Although she does not have any experience on the VUWSA Executive, Summer believes that it is important to have new people and viewpoints within VUWSA.

“I have lived in a molding damp flat and have struggled with mental health issues, and university hasn’t necessarily helped me with that. So I think I bring my personal experiences to the table.”

Beth Paterson is in her fourth year of a Law and Ecology degree, and has been the VUWSA Wellbeing and Sustainability Officer in 2017. “After a year in the same role you feel like you want another challenge, another step up,” she said. “I think I’m ready for some more institutional responsibility.”

While Summer saw her “fresh viewpoint” as an asset, Beth has publicly endorsed the policies of fellow Executive members running for candidacy, including presidential candidate Marlon Drake. When asked if she was “running on a ticket” in the election, she said, “No. On a personal level, [Marlon and I] share similar ideas and come from similar places. It made sense for the mental health policy because we’ve been in the same kind of conversations with the counselling staff. We came to the same conclusion on our own. It would make more sense to show that we share this vision, so regardless of who is elected, both of us are committed to making it happen.”

Summer and Beth both consider mental health the most pertinent issue for the WVP role.

Summer wants to “increase the amount of counsellors” available through Mauri Ora, although was unable to comment on the financial details of this policy. “The most important thing is to campaign and just make people aware because mental health is such a big issue right now. […] It doesn’t have to cost money, it’s more just getting the message out there. Similar with Thursdays in Black, it’s making people aware that’s the most important thing, and then you worry about money later on.”

Beth is seeking structural changes to the services available.

“We can’t just keep asking for more funding for counselling each year, because we did that this year and got one more counsellor and it’s still not enough.”

She proposed a “support student” system, where students are trained through Mauri Ora to provide over-the-phone assistance to students experiencing academic stress.

“They maybe need a letter to support an extension or something like that. Then they can carry on with their lives, and it will free up the counselling resource for people who are in serious distress or who need more than one appointment.”

When asked whether students would be qualified to complete this role, Beth was confident that the training provided would be extensive, and that safeguards would be in place.

“The student [staff member] would listen, empathise, direct them to practical services if they need to, but not take on emotional labour. It’s important to keep that protection of both the person who needs help and students who have their own stresses in life.”

Summer and Beth had slightly different views on what VUWSA’s overall role should be. For Summer, VUWSA should be about representing students and campaigning for student issues. “Who else would run these campaigns, like Fairer Fares? […] You don’t just want the Vice-Chancellor to be the only person representing students. ”

For Beth, VUWSA requires balance between being advocates for students, and providing services.

“VUWSA is an independent organisation, even though we have some funding overlap. It’s important not to lose that independence.”

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