Tuesday 5 June 2018

10 lessons I have learnt running a Student Minds' campaigns group

Rosie shares how the process of volunteering as a campaigner has been beneficial to her university experience.
- Rosie Steele

When I started my Student Minds group at Liverpool John Moores I had mixed emotions. I was excited about the year ahead and what I would gain out of it, and how many people I could reach with the message. I was also nervous and apprehensive as I was starting this in my third year, the year with the biggest workload and it was going to inevitably divide my attention.

Divide my attention it has but in the best possible way. Here are ten lessons I’ve learnt/ things I have gained through running my campaigns group this last year:

1.    How to put my degree into practice – Transferable skills
I study Media, Culture and Communication and throughout the three years, we have learnt a lot about social media campaigning, marketing and event planning. Running the group has given me the opportunity to put these skills into practice allowing me to solidify my knowledge and understand what truly works and what does not. It has been a real learning curve and taught me more about campaigning than a traditional sit-down lecture ever could. Even if you do not study a communications-focused course the transferable skills gained including leadership, planning and time-management will be invaluable to any CV come graduation.

2. Networking
Through the group, I have found so many people who make the university run and who help make the university experience inclusive for all, that I simply did not know existed beforehand. Although I had used the Student Advice and Wellbeing service personally in my second year, through meeting with them I learnt what they really do, and began to signpost others to their services who possibly were not aware of what they do. I also met with Student Engagement who run out of each school to help all students who may not want to trek their way across to the Student Advice building. I have also learnt about Disability Officers, the role of tutors in wellbeing and even about what student accommodation staff do. It really has made me question the “9 grand for power-points” narrative that often circulates among students.

3. How I’m not alone in the way I’m feeling
Every single person who has attended the group across the year has told me they too are feeling lonely, scared, stressed, having housemate troubles and like they do not fit in. It has helped me to normalise my own experience and realise I am not the odd one out in feeling this way. One in four adults experience mental health difficulties so you definitely are not the only one who is not having the time of their life at university. That is mainly the reason I started the group after all.

4. How to take breaks
Before this year, breaks within my studying were few and far in-between and I would often spend eight hours straight in the library and then extra when I got home. Starting the group meant that once a month, during the socials, I would have an hour where I could not focus on work, but the topic of the evening. Now I find letting myself have breaks so much easier.  If someone came to the group stressed, taking breaks, and not feeling guilty for it would always be my first piece of advice.

5. Sense of belonging
For my first two years, I always felt like I did not belong and like I did not fit in with everyone else. Through meeting people outside of my course, and other societies I felt myself merging in with the wider university community. My only regret at university is not getting involved in a society sooner as it has been such a good way to meet new people and explore my university city through making use of student offers with the group.

6. Importance of peer support
The campaign we really focused on this year has been the Look After Your Mate campaign which focuses on how we can care for our friends who may be struggling with university pressures whilst also caring for our own wellbeing. I always knew that friendship was important but being there for others and them being there for me has taught me to look out for small signs in others and how to be a good support network.

7. Confidence in my abilities
The reaction to the group from members of university staff has been so much more positive than I could have ever believed. Instead of playing down my hard work and dedication to the group I have learnt to accept the compliments and be proud of all the effort I have put in. I have always had really low self-esteem, especially academically, so for me, this has been a breakthrough.

8. Professionalism
I have learnt how to write emails in a professional way and how to hold myself in meetings. As with transferable skills, I feel like I will be able to head into job interviews with a clearer sense of how to hold myself professionally.

9. How to celebrate the tiny victories
When I first started the group, I was obsessed with the numbers. How many people came, how many people joined as members on the SU website, how many people wanted to come back. I then realised that it was about so much more than that. It was about helping people, making their university experience a little bit better, about campaigning, whether that be to one person or one hundred people. When I started looking at the small details, of how this was our first year and we were doing well did I really start enjoying running the group. I can now relate this to other areas of my life, look at the smaller details and see just how much you have achieved.

10. Friendships
I started the group alone over the summer between second and third year when I knew I needed to make a change. I then roped in two of my best friends to help me. Although I possibly would not recommend this as sometimes committee meetings and socials would veer slightly off course with personal dramas it gave us a space to nurture our friendship away from alcohol-centric environments. I feel like even though in a few weeks we will be split across the country we will remain friends for life due to how we have allowed ourselves to be vulnerable and open in front of each other in ways we may not have been if we had not started the group.

Tonight, we had our last social with our current committee. I am beyond proud what we have achieved in a single year. When I started the group I never thought we would get as far as we have. The highlight for me has to be talking on a panel at a Let’s Talk Disability and Mental Health event with Rosie the CEO of Student Minds about peer support and the role of student volunteers. As I sat on the stage I thought of my younger self who could barely manage five lessons a day, now sat in a room full of people talking about the importance of student mental health.

If your university already has a Student Minds group or similar campaigns group I would definitely recommend looking at how you can get involved. I have learnt so much but also had so much fun. It truly has been a year I will never forget, and I have got to help others along the way making it all the more valuable.

Rosie is a soon to be Media, Culture, Communication graduate from Liverpool John Moores and has run their Student Minds campaign group for the last year. 

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