Here’s why enrichment week wasn’t helpful

Elizabeth Meade on mental health, and why a week isn’t enough

Elizabeth Meade
11th March 2021
Image: Jordan Carr via Newcastle Uni Students' Union on Twitter
Santa, Threatin’s musical career, my landlord saying they’ll replace my boiler ‘soon’. The world is full of lies. However, none is greater than that of Newcastle University’s enrichment week, and it’s not clever.

Despite the week’s intention to allow students to review studies, professors are not required to stop teaching new material, or at least aren’t reprimanded for continuing. Professors are also allowed to set assignment deadlines during enrichment week. This hardly helps with the week’s emphasis on being able to take a breath and stop worrying about assignments.

The undercurrent of enrichment week – the idea that it is supposed to be about student mental health somehow – is laughable. There is no enforcement of it being a no-assignment, no-new-material week. It’s clear that the University doesn't take the stress reduction or mental health angle seriously. It honestly feels like an attempt for the University to tell people they are doing something about student mental health while ignoring larger issues.

One week simply doesn’t give students who are dissatisfied with the existing mental health policies and services any of the reforms that they want. Most students struggling with mental health want more flexible PEC policies and better services from Health and Wellbeing for serious problems. One week of reduced workload won’t give them that. The affair leads one to wonder if university staff actually know anything about mental health beyond corporate buzzwords designed to placate employees to reduce rightful, vocal discontent.

Despite its prevalence as an issue in our society, we are never educated about mental health in curricula, even when it is relevant. For instance, my Medicinal Chemistry course often discusses psychiatric medication, but never the illnesses it supposedly treats, patient experiences or the surrounding controversies. Societal factors such as work environments or social issues in chemistry are also glossed over. It’s as if we will somehow be living in the world of numbers and diagrams and thereby immune to these factors.

The lack of human experience and ethics reads like something written by someone who thinks they are smart because they’ve seen Sherlock and VSauce. If, that is, these were written by educated adults who have lived in the world they are so keen to evade, who are undoubtedly aware of the mental health crisis in academia. When even experienced professionals tell the next generation that the issue doesn’t exist, how can we expect anyone to take it seriously?

Ultimately, there is no magical solution to student mental health, and the University must not pretend that there is. Instead, they should seek to open up a conversation about the issues and embrace change. This remains the case even if this means radical restructuring of policy, services, scheduling, instructional styles and curricula. If the University does not take this seriously now, they will likely have larger issues on their hands in the future.

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AUTHOR: Elizabeth Meade
Science sub-ed and Chemistry major. Avid reader. Chaos theorist. Amateur batrachologist and historian. Rock fan. Likes cybersecurity and cooking.

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