We’ve all seen the amazing Humans of New York stories. Some sad, some happy. All inspiring. In fact, so inspiring that I decided to embark on a journey to do the same but with the students at the University of Hertfordshire. However, the creator of Humans of New York, Brandon Stanton, according to an interview he gave with CNN, did not originally set out to tell people’s stories:
“The approach to the concept started out purely as [a] photography blog. In the first year, I was just taking pictures without captions.”
However, he goes on to say that he, “started having interactions in streets” and that interaction were so meaningful that it got, “to the point where now I can’t call it a photography blog because the storytelling is so vital”.
It is Stanton’s storytelling and his focus on telling stories that were untold by mainstream media, but still mattered and needed to be heard that made his project so popular.
The concept of telling stories that are not being told was largely what inspired me to start ‘Students of UH’ because I think that student’s stories are largely untold, or if told, discussed for a bit, and then dismissed. We’ve all seen countless articles about how students are suffering under the current system. Students have to juggle university, having a social life, often working a part time job and worrying about a crippling amount of debt. It’s no wonder that according to YouGov, 1 in 4 students suffer from mental health problems.
Despite this, no change is happening. Fees are set to increase even more this year. The government has already set out plans and started the process to start selling off the student loan book to private investors. Bursaries for student nurses are to be abolished this year, and unsurprisingly applications to nursing and midwifery courses have fallen by 23% due to this decision.
I think it is a fair assessment that UK students are in trouble, and that maybe, just maybe we should start listening to them and their stories of what life at university is really like.
So here is one such story…
Name: Callie Watling
Postgraduate Student (her Undergraduate degree, however, was not at the University of Hertfordshire)
Currently studying for a Masters in Journalism and Media Communications
“My mental state was not a good enough reason to have extenuating circumstances.”
Picture by Callie Watling
First year of Callie’s undergraduate degree
“My first year was alright, it was a bit dull because Student Finance didn’t give me enough money to live in London, and so I had to go live in Watford with my aunt. So I had to commute an hour and a half every day to university. And I couldn’t do anything after university because I had to get back. And didn’t really make any friends, and that kind of stayed throughout all 3 years really. I made like two friends.”
It was in Callie’s second year that the issues she had regarding her mental health at university started for her:
“My second year was hard because I had issues with my mental health. From October, so right at the beginning, all the way through to June/July. So really the whole year. Basically, I just became depressed and anxious. And I didn’t go to university anymore. Didn’t do my work. I couldn’t be bothered. I couldn’t be bothered with anyone. I didn’t talk to my family for like a month. I didn’t see anyone from university. Those friends I was just telling you about I didn’t talk to. I would try and avoid my boyfriend. And get him to not come and visit because I just wanted to be alone. So it was pretty bad.”
So bad in fact that it almost lost her place at university:
“And then I nearly got kicked out of university because I wasn’t putting in any effort and I just ended up plagiarising because I would take things online and submit them. Just because I had to submit something. That was it. I knew perfectly well that was what was going on. I just didn’t care. I didn’t care to check over it. I didn’t care to quote or anything. Then, I nearly lost my place at university and got in quite a big bit of trouble. So I went to my course leader and and explained everything with what was going on and quite frankly he wasn’t very useful. He listened to me, which was good. And understood where I was coming from, but when it came to actually sorting out the issue at hand, I got a couple of links. One to an extenuating circumstance form and another one to the mental health team. That was it. And I didn’t go to see the mental health team because it was daunting. I’d have to travel an hour into university to speak to these people that I didn’t know, and there wasn’t any other guidance or help offered. Also, I filled in my extenuating circumstance form, and had to get a note from the doctor to prove that I did have mental health issues, but then my form got rejected because apparently I didn’t get a note early enough to actually cover when I was feeling very low. So I had to retake the essay, which was good that I got the chance to but the grade was capped and it meant that my mental health state was not a good enough reason to have extenuating circumstances.”
Callie is not the only student dissatisfied with the mental health services