Phil Bakstad is one of those staff members at LJMU who consistently puts students at the heart of everything he does. He’s a regular face volunteering to help out at graduation each summer, leads the march through the streets of Liverpool for Pride every year and his door is always open to support students who may be struggling.
Phil originally joined LJMU almost 17 years ago, when an opportunity came up to work on an interesting new project here, while progressing his career at the same time. Since then, he's never looked back.
He said: “I think our university really does have a great community feel to it. Our students tell me that we always feel like a friendly place, which I definitely agree with.”
Originally studying BA French and English at the University of Liverpool, Phil spent a year studying abroad in Paris before returning home to Merseyside.
As Student Inclusion Lead within the Student Advice and Wellbeing Team, Phil has seen the attitude within society towards mental health change a lot over the years, which in turn has seen more students getting in touch for support.
“The growing focus on diversity and student mental health is a real change from when I started here. The entire service has expended massively since I joined the university.
“I work with diverse groups of students, particularly those who are care-experienced, estranged from their families, young adult carers and LGBTQ+ students. They may have faced some particular barriers to getting to university but also bring their own unique strengths, perspectives and qualities to our LJMU community. My role involves both 1-to-1 advice and guidance work, but I also work across the university to develop and embed effective support structures for students from these groups.”
On the highs and lows of his job role, Phil said: “I love my job, but it can be challenging. Particularly when I can’t resolve an issue a student is facing as quickly as I would like. One of my proudest moments happened last year though when LJMU was awarded the National Network for the Education of Care of Care Leavers Quality Mark, the first university outside of a pilot study to achieve it.
Part of Phil’s current role as Support and Inclusion Lead is Supporting Care Leavers and Estranged Students at LJMU. Phil said: “I believe that higher education is transformative, and I want to make sure that every member of our LJMU community is able to benefit from the experience as fully as possible.”
“Phil has helped me immensely during my time at LJMU. He’s always compassionate, empathetic and no problem is too big or too small. He’s one of a kind and I’ll always be grateful for his impact on me and my time while studying at the university.”
- Joe, a recent graduate of LJMU who received support from Phil throughout his studies
Phil didn’t always dream of working in the education sector though. “I wanted to be loads of different things, none of which remotely align with working in higher education. Most left-field is probably a forensic scientist because I really loved the X-Files as a kid.”
Although Phil never expanded into the area of forensic science, his role at LJMU has recently evolved when he was offered the role of Associate Dean Diversity and Inclusion, one of six new roles across the university, with him leading in Professional Services. Part of this work includes getting more colleagues from across Professional Services engaged with LJMU staff diversity networks, making sure colleagues feel valued, recognised and celebrated and also supporting gender and race equality work such as Athena Swan and the Race Equality Charter.
As well as promoting Diversity and Inclusion within his day-to-day role, in his own time Phil has led on organising LJMU to join the Pride March in Liverpool, over the past 13 years.
“Liverpool Pride, in particular the Pride March, came about as a response to the homophobic killing of Michael Causer in 2008. Our staff LGBTQ+ Network wanted to show our solidarity with the wider community in Liverpool.
“Only a few staff members took part in the initial Pride March in 2010 but we wanted to very clearly state that this was somewhere we were able to be ourselves and also be visible as ‘out’ staff to our LGBTQ+ students.
“The Pride movement definitely has more visibility these days but it’s important that we continue to represent the university in the March as it sends a message to our students, staff and the wider community that this is a place that values and recognises everyone.
“Plus, coming at the end of the academic year, it’s a great day to meet other colleagues, students and friends to celebrate. What started as a few members of staff joining the March 13 years ago, was over 130 staff, students and alumni this year in 2023. It felt amazing to be part of it.”