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October 15, 2018 | by  | in News |
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Halls: More Student Come Forward

CW: attempted suicide, mental health
*Names of students have been changed to protect their privacy
Several more students have come forward with their own stories of being asked to leave halls of residence.
Anna* was asked to leave Katharine Jermyn hall towards the end of 2017 following what was perceived to be a suicide attempt. She said her head of hall used the word “evicted”.
“They gave me four days in the hall and at the end of the four days I had to leave.”
At that point there were only three or four weeks left in her contract with the hall. “Part of me was like if i can stay four days what’s the difference to staying three, four, weeks? Like there’s just as much risk in those four days as in the three or four weeks of something happening.”
At the time, Anna asked her Residential Life Manager not to contact her parents. She had not been in touch with them for two years, as there was a history of verbal and emotional abuse from them. Her parents were unsupportive of her mental health, going as far as banning her from seeing her counsellor in high school.
She said. “I just remember being really upset and scared because I knew if my parents were coming they were gonna tell me I’m just being stupid.” Her Residential Life Manager said that the matter was out of her control.
Rainsforth Dix, Director of Student and Campus Living, said that “Students nominate an emergency contact person when they enter a hall and this is almost always a parent or parents, or another close relative.” She added, “on occasion, we may contact parents against the student’s wishes, because of the severity of the risk to the student.”
Anna then asked if her chosen support person could be involved. Her Residential Life Manager replied “no”, as “we don’t discuss things with people outside this hall”.
In a statement to Salient, Dix said that “students are able to involve an independent support person, who does not have to be a family member, in the decision-making,” adding, “but there may be occasions for a range of reasons when the person they have chosen as their support person is inappropriate”.

Anna said that at the meeting where she was asked to leave, she felt blamed for the situation. She said that she was told her staying there wasn’t fair on hall staff. “I felt like I was in trouble for something that was pretty much out of my control.”

She remembers saying to the hall “I’ll do anything to stay”.
She said in her hall, she was “surrounded by my friends, by the people who were supporting me”.
“They were taking me out of that supportive environment where I was comfortable, and where I felt safe.”
Gerard Hoffman, Head of Student Counselling, said that he believes halls are an unsuitable environment for a student in the aftermath of a suicide attempt. “For some students it’s not safe and supportive… there will invariably be some social pressure going on.”
But where is a student to go when they are asked to leave a hall? Most students we talked to went back to their family. Hoffman believes that staying with family would be better for a student’s recovery, as “a family system would be more mindful”.
However, that wasn’t what happened to Anna. After she left the hall, she stayed with her friends’ family. “My parents, they don’t really care, they were just like ‘go wherever’.”
She felt guilty for imposing on her friend, as “it was a big ask” to look after her.
In the end she moved in with her grandparents who lived out of town. As a result of constantly moving around, Anna couldn’t sit her end of year exams. “It was very stressful,” she said. She applied for aegrotat, which she said was “not the ideal”.
“Preferably I would have liked to sit them,” she said. “I had just done all this hard work all semester.”
“It’s not a nice way to explain. You got a G, why? Ah you know, got kicked out of my hall for my mental health!”

Anna said that when she was asked to leave, she wanted to speak out against what happened but at the same time she “felt ashamed”. She said that the hall’s actions made her feel like she “was a bad person”.
“After i heard about this other girl i realised it was okay, we can’t help it. If someone was really sick in the hall, had the flu, would you have kicked them out?”
“I think they handled it very badly, and it sends a bad message to other people.”
Gerard said that if students are feeling silenced, the University needs to come up with a strong message, saying “it’s okay to ask for help, it’s positive to ask for help, no one’s gonna be evicted from a hall for having mental health needs”.

Janice* was asked to leave Cumberland Hall at the end of 2013, with four weeks left before the end of the year. She says she understands the reasons for being asked to leave, and looking back, she could see she was not safe at the hall.
However she believes “the way they handled it was really bad”.

She said that she wasn’t given any notice.
“It was less of a meeting and more of I was going there and picking up my stuff and [the head of hall] just talked to me in the office briefly, and was like sorry you can’t stay here anymore.”
She said she wished that it had been a conversation between her and the hall rather than a one sided decision. She said she felt “pretty hurt,” when her Hall Manager told her she had to leave. “It didn’t feel like they really cared about me, it just felt like i was an inconvenience.”
She said she was “lucky” she could go straight home to her parents. “Other people might not have family environments that are very safe for them and that was something that Cumberland didn’t really care about.”
She contrasts her 2013 Cumberland experience with her 2008 Weir experience. She said Weir “worked really hard to make sure I felt part of the community and I felt welcome and I had the support that I needed.” At Weir, their live-in manager would check in on her regularly, as would the Student Support Coordinator (SSC), who worked for that hall full time.
Cumberland 2013, on the other hand, did the “bare minimum, if anything,” in terms of supporting her.
Currently, the SSCs look after around three halls each.
Janice believes that having one SSC per hall would be beneficial for students, and “within the scope of what the University could do”.
Rainsforth Dix said the SSC model, which is unique to Victoria, “is considered to be operating well”.
Blaise* was asked to leave Helen Lowry at the end of 2013. He hadn’t attempted suicide; however he was depressed and self harming.
He was given two week’s notice. He said he felt “absolutely terrified” about having to find somewhere else to live.
“I didn’t know what I was going to do or where I was going to go.”
He agreed that getting out of the hall environment was ultimately good for him. However, he felt like his situation could have been “better handled”.
Blaise said his parents weren’t contacted at all. “They had to hear it from me calling them and telling them I’d been kicked out.”
He said he had disclosed self harm to Student Counselling, who then told his hall. He said he would have preferred that Student Counselling had contacted his parents, who were his emergency contacts.
Anna and Blaise were both given a refund after they or their parents requested one. However, Janice wasn’t given a refund.

“I was unwell anyway so I had bigger things on my mind, but it was pretty shit of them [to not refund me].”
Dix said “The University does provide refunds where requested, dependent on the circumstances and time of year”.

Gerard Hoffman, Head of Student Counselling, defended the University’s decision to ask suicidal students to leave halls of residence. Allowing students to stay in halls, he said, is “highly dangerous, highly irresponsible”. He said that being in a hall, around the same triggers, might make students continue to be suicidal.
“For some students the hall is a very lonely isolating pressure inducing place.”
“I think it would be a very poor decision if someone had tried to kill themselves and was discharged from hospital and went straight back into a hall. I would be more angry with the university if they allowed that.”
He said halls don’t have the resources to deliver the service to care for suicidal students.
Salient have requested to view the Hall of Residence Critical Incident Manual, which details the hall’s policies surrounding a suicide attempt. However our request has been denied, as the Manual is currently “under revision”. When we asked if we could review the latest copy of the manual prior to the revision, we were told once again “that it is under revision”.

Dix said “we are deeply concerned that these individuals feel something went wrong in their interactions with the University and we invite and encourage them to come and talk to us. We are willing to listen and learn.”

Where to get help:

Free call or text 1737 anytime for support from a trained counsellor
Lifeline – 0800 543 354 (0800 LIFELINE) or free text 4357 (HELP)
Youthline (for youth) – 0800 376 633 or free text 234

Suicide Crisis Helpline – 0508 828 865 (0508 TAUTOKO)

Depression Helpline – 0800 111 757

Anxiety New Zealand 0800 269 4389 (0800 ANXIETY)

The Lowdown NZ (for youth) — free text 5626 or visit thelowdown.co.nz

New Zealand Police 04 381 2000

Victoria University Counselling 04 463 5310

Outline (LGBTQIA+) – 0800 688 5463

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