‘We want to stop the pressure on women to ‘Stay Safe’
Meet JMSU’s Vice-President (Education), Charlotte Clayton-Hayes
Charlotte, tell us about the job?
This role used to be called Academic Quality, and it means I represent students in education matters. I work to ensure the student voice and student feedback is heard and acted upon by the academic staff. I’ve just been interviewing for course reps and doing their training and I attend the education committee and the faculty quality assurance committees. It’s all channelled what student think about the university offer into the processes of course and quality management. Sometimes student perspectives can be missed, so it’s really important to build it into the system.
I would certainly be a course rep if I was an undergraduate again. Course reps have real sway, they are listened to and can make a real difference, in small or big ways, from improving the way a lecturer communicates to access to resources, to matters of unfair treatment.
Academic process often moves without full consideration of the impact on students. For instance, recently reps got involved to reinstate a module, which students really wanted to study but was removed just before term. They said it was not acceptable.
What are your objectives for this year?
I was thinking about what I would have liked to see when I was a student, and campaigned on three points; boost student volunteering, tackle burn-out culture, and raise awareness of invisible illnesses.
Volunteering is all about employability and acquiring transferable skills. I’m naturally quite shy but being in this job I’ve had to learn to be more assertive. I volunteered with Liverpool Cares; which was really fulfilling.
It’s actually really easy to find volunteering opportunities just go on the JMSU website there’s a whole range of things, some require a fair bit of time, others just a little. Liverpool Cares really appealed because it matches old people with younger people to combat loneliness, it’s fantastic! Any positive experience is a real win, and every piece of volunteering looks good on a CV.
My thoughts on burn-out came from my experience of going home for winter break and while my parents thought I should relax, I couldn’t because I had assignments and uni work. We need to push back the January assessment deadlines so that people get some time off and recharge their batteries after a long term. Post-COVID, we have an opportunity to reassess how things are done and how we look after each other and with this issue the university needs to be more flexible. Everyone has been receptive on this issue, but it’s a question now of finding the right mechanism to change it.
Related to burn-out culture, I’m also concerned about issues around personal circumstances because we all have our different challenges. And by that I mean having to have things like doctors’ notes to prove you have certain illnesses or mental illnesses. We need to be more considerate with people.
I’ve struggled with mental illnesses myself, like most people do, and my mum has fibromyalgia and a form of arthritis, which most of the time you wouldn’t notice. There are many invisible struggles that people don’t see or appreciate and what I’m asking for is greater awareness and more compassion. At the moment, the onus is on the student to prove they are struggling, so I don’t think we’ve quite got that balance right.
Universities like LJMU are trying to be less corporate, more student-focussed. But we have a way to go. People don’t just come here to get their degree, it’s about the whole experience.
Tell us a bit more about yourself …
My mum and dad are from Liverpool, which is why I chose to come here, although I was born and brought up in North Wales.
I studied Politics, History and Art at A Level and applied here to do History, which was simply my favourite subject. I really enjoyed it and graduated with a First. It’s funny, you tell people you did History and so many say they wish they’d studied History too.
How did you get involved in the Student Union and what comes after it?
I was an NUS activist in first year and joined some societies - Feminist, History and Pole Fitness.
That was the extent of my engagement. I studied History alongside Ambar, (VP Community) and she encouraged me to get more involved. She thought I’d be good at it. She knows I’m quite activist-driven, I want to do more volunteering and work with NGOs and such. It’s seems a good fit working here.
I’m driven by fairness and equality and I really care about education; it’s the most valuable thing.
I want to do a Masters in International Relations and hopefully work in something that makes a difference, NGOs or maybe diplomacy.
Are you happy in your new home at SLB?
Yes! We’ve been trying to put all our activities and events on here; we want people to be aware of where it is and once they’ve had that first experience in the space it registers and it’s easier to be here and hang out. I ran an event here on sexual violence and spiking and it was good to get people coming in and having their say.
Tell us more about that …
We have a sexual violence working group which is a big part of my current focus. We want to stop the tired message about ‘Stay safe’ because you can do everything you can to stay safe but it doesn’t make you safe. It puts the onus of responsibility on the women or victims rather than the perpetrators. We’re working with other student unions on these issues.
Another important campaign is Decolonising the Curriculum. I’m also on the working group for that and I want to get to a place where students have more diversity in teaching. I’d hope we can influence the lecturers to review their reading lists and course leaders to reflect on what they are teaching and from whose perspective. The future is about a more global history rather than just a white, European narrative.