We have tutor training at Cambridge (sort of). Good, but there is so much more to do.

Originally published on themisanthropope.tumblr

Last night (Monday night), at CUSU Council, it was announced that after years of hard campaigning, CUSU had secured training for Cambridge college tutors, the first source of support for Cambridge students. Given that the problems with the tutorial system as it stands are a myriad of concerns and shortfalls (as I have written about elsewhere), it is genuinely fantastic to hear that such progress has been made. 
Details are fairly scarce at time of writing (the announcement was only made yesterday, and the student press haven’t picked up on it at all) but from what I gather, new tutors will receive a one day training session, which will have input from the University Counselling Service – which means that tutors will, in some small way, be able to get advice on supporting students directly from individuals skilled in mental health provisions and support. Which, compared to the current system, is great.
However, like most things in Cambridge, we have taken a small step forward but not as much as we’d like. Currently, the training is not mandatory. Colleges will be able to decide whether or not to send new tutors along. Additionally, the training does not cover current tutors. It would not be a leap of logic to assume that the numbers of new tutors are not significant (I’ll post some figures if I can find them). This is not to say that we should not be happy about this latest step, nor that we should not commend the efforts of the current CUSU team, but only that we need to be clear that there is further to go towards a better tutorial system. We need compulsory training for new and existing tutors, with refresher sessions, a clear set of parameters of support for them in their role, and an unambiguous understanding of where colleges need to draw the line in the way they treat students – as so much worrying evidence of malpractice has been made public.
I’ve been thinking a lot about another important welfare issue – intermission (that is, taking a year or more’s absence from study). A few years ago, I and some others in the Disabled Students Campaign, ran a major campaign about intermission. The campaign, entitled “Degrading is Degrading,” aimed to change the name of the process from “degrading” to “intermission” but, more importantly, also sought to prevent the University from banning students from living in the city of Cambridge if they intermitted. Considerable progress was made in this area – but sadly, anecdotally I’ve heard of students still being forced out of accommodation, stigmatised or simply ignored by the colleges when they intermit. 
As CUSU Mental Wellbeing Officer, I’ll be running a survey for intermitted students, as well as organising a focus group in order to get information for a report to take to the University in the easter term. In my experience, Cambridge senior figures will regularly be dismissive of ideas and concerns unless they are backed up by hard data. Watch this space, at any rate…
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