Why is Bristol Uni putting out awkward Twitter videos without asking if we’re okay?

‘Why did they not think to tell personal tutors to reach out to their tutees to ask how we are coping?’

The news of Olisa’s death hit the whole Bristol student community hard. Students dropped everything to help with the three day search. From sharing information online, putting up posters and joining search parties, we did all we could do to help his friends and family find Olisa. In the days since, as friends we’ve reached out to each other to talk about how we feel. Every society and group chat I’m in has reached out and offered support. If only the same could be said for our university.

Bristol Uni were focused on their social media image. They announced Olisa’s death in a tweet and an Instagram story. It took until Thursday afternoon for the university to email us with any mention of the news. They dedicated a small part of the May newsletter to “Looking after yourself and each other”. However, this same newsletter dedicates as much space to the fact Senate House will now serve “freshly cooked pizza” as it does to Olisa, who they don’t even have the decency to name.

They also failed to mention Olisa in the video message they tweeted on Thursday evening. The university dedicate 40 seconds in a video that is so scripted, its stilted delivery fails to make an impression. What is clear is that Bristol Uni has spent a long time crafting their response. With all that planning and thought, they didn’t think to email us students. They didn’t think to ask if we were okay?

Screenshots of the May newsletter sent to all students on Thursday

After police announced Olisa’s death, Bristol Uni tweeted: “Support is available to all students and staff affected by this news – please contact our wellbeing services for help, as well as seeking support directly from friends & family”. This statement was followed by a link to their wellbeing services.

Why is it the responsibility of students whose mental health has been affected by the news to reach out to support services. Bristol Uni are perfectly aware of the poor mental health of its students. The university’s own 2019 wellbeing survey found that 45 per cent of students had “moderate to severe depressive symptoms”.

On the university’s wellbeing pages, they describe signs that someone is struggling with their mental health as “withdrawing from friends” and that “they might not open up or ask for help at first”. By their own admission, they note that struggling students find it difficult to ask for help and yet at the same time, they expect those same struggling students to reach out for support.

Independent of the events of last week, Bristol Uni know their students are struggling. Why did they not think to tell personal tutors to reach out to their tutees to ask how we are coping?

It is very likely personal tutors will not have had enough time in their schedules to meet with all their tutees last week. However, rather than just accept this, the university should have been proactive in temporarily employing additional counsellors so that students were supported. It is not enough to simply tell students support is available.

I will admit that it’s not easy to deliver a video message acknowledging the death of a student. But, what I can also tell you is that 40 seconds and a purple heart is not enough. As stilted as Sarah Purdy’s delivery is, it felt like she’d been placed in the firing line to protect VC Hugh Brady. It has not escaped any student’s notice that our Vice Chancellor was absent, his silence over Olisa’s death has been deafening.

The only official address to students from the university has been that awkward tweet. In emails seen by The Bristol Tab, the university imposed a “social media pause” on departments and staff from Wednesday until the video message was posted on Thursday evening. Even now the ban has been lifted, departments who wish to repost the video with any comment must run that comment past the university’s head of Marketing.

If the university were looking for an example of how to address students, they could have followed the lead of Professor Aydin Nassehi. The head of Mechanical Engineering, Olisa’s department,  wrote to his students on Thursday in a manner that was the complete opposite of Sarah Purdy. He spoke with integrity, he spoke with honesty and he communicated with his students in a way all students should have been communicated to.

Email sent to all Engineering students on Thursday

Following the death of Sarah Everard in March, the university emailed all students directly. This lengthy email went into detail to explain and lay out all the different ways student could access support. There has been nothing like that since Olisa’s death. All we’ve got are tweets and Instagram stories. These public messages are not just intended to reach students but also present a public image of the support the university is providing. Behind that all however, it is hard as a student not to feel as if the university have put protecting their reputation first and students’ welfare second.