All experiences matter: Reasons to be cheerful

Sian Avery 12 February 2015

Well, it’s been depressing recently, hasn’t it? This column I mean? Someone quite legitimately pointed out me that the issues I deal with about welfare problems at Cambridge hardly make the most comfortable or pleasant reading.  I guess I didn’t improve that track record by doing a bit about death threats last week. Perhaps more depressing were the comments on the TCS website where several people suggested I deserved to get death threats. I also published the piece on my blog, and in an example of parody that only the internet is capable of, someone sent me a death threat for, um, writing about death threats. Go figure.

So I thought this week I’d shake things up a bit and take a positive look at welfare. When I called this blog “All Experiences Matter” it’s because I mean that. At Cambridge, some people fall through the gaps of what should be an excellent support system. Raymond Williams put it well when he said in his essay 'My Cambridge' that, “We read golden reminiscences of Cambridge so often […] I have to include this other kind of fact: Cambridge can break you up, to no good purpose: confuse you, sicken you, wring you dry.” That being said, it would be wrong to say that progress on welfare problems wasn’t being made. That, if nothing else, gives me a reason to be cheerful.

I’ve been at Cambridge a while now. A quarter of my life, actually. I arrived when I was 18, and I’m now 24. One thing I can say is that things have improved since I matriculated back in 2009. For one thing, we have made a rudimentary step towards tutor training. For those who may have missed the status quo, college tutors received minimal training for their role as welfare providers. Some training did exist, and it was optional. Anyone who’s had a skim over the testimonies on Cambridge Speaks Its MInd can see a recurring theme of tutors being unable to provide proper support, or even be capable of dealing with students.

Given the importance of the tutor’s role in student welfare, it seemed absurd that tutors didn’t get decent training and support. For years, a long standing CUSU campaign for tutor training banged its collective head against a brick wall until, last year, it succeeded in a first step. It was announced, to surprisingly little fanfair, that new tutors would receive a training programme, incorporating support from the Disability Resource Centre, the University Counselling Service, and other support networks. Note that it’s only new tutors who will be trained; existing tutors won’t be. But it still gives me a reason to feel hopeful. It’s a foot in the door and suggests that the University and colleges are open to a broader discussion about improving the welfare system, and that’s a definite positive.

We should be under no illusions. More work needs to be done to bring the Cambridge welfare system up to the standard which students deserve, and to correct the inconsistencies that cause so many people so many problems. But progress is being made, even at a glacial pace. Its a step, however small, in the right direction.