We spoke to those behind the protest outside the VC’s office
A group of students protested outside the Vice Chancellors in the wake of the fourth death at UEA this year
This article contains a photo that may be distressing later on in the piece.
Last Friday three students protested outside the Vice Chancellor's office between 1pm and 6pm. This took place in the wake of the fourth death on campus in the last 10 months. As of yet we have not received confirmation as to the cause of Theo Brennan Hulme's death, however the atmosphere on campus following three suicides in ten months has resulted in increased activism relating to mental health issues.
The protesters held signs that read "I tried to die at UEA. Ask me anything" and "#Notsofuckingwonderful" whilst speaking to passers-by who stopped to talk to them.
Flora Wheeler, a student who took part in the protest said they chose to take this action because they "wanted to speak to the UEA community as a whole, see how people are feeling in the aftermath of these losses, ask them what they want changed and what would be helpful for them."
When asked why they chose to protest outside the Vice Chancellor's office Flora told The Norwich Tab: "We chose to stand outside of the VC's office because we had been advised that the rock-laying in the square was a place for people to grieve for Theo specifically, and we didn't want to upset those who knew him personally. We also chose the VC's office because we were aware of the fact that he accepted a pay rise last year, even after Jonathan Walker's suicide."
Trigger warning: the picture below contains mentions of suicide
After about an hour of protesting, David Richardson and Sue Lawson, head of Corporate Communications came outside to speak with them. Flora told The Tab: "Speaking to the VC in person made it clear that he is genuinely upset but he seemed overwhelmed as to what to do, mainly speaking about the additional funding that has been put in place."
"Both he and Sue were empathetic, kind, and Sue in particular really engaged with us. She brought other members of staff to speak with us, including Claire Pratt, Head of Wellbeing. From our conversations with the VC, Sue, and others it became clear that they are keen to hear our opinions but are hamstrung by bureaucracy."
However, she notes that the Vice Chancellor provided "no answer to [their] questions regarding the appropriateness of receiving a raise after a student suicide, especially considering the additional funding for this year is £250,000 while his salary is £291,000."
Amongst the things they would like to change at UEA, Flora included "the lengthy wait times for counselling, the limit of counselling to six sessions, poor communication between administration and students, feeling isolated on campus and lacking a sense of community, the lack of clarity as to what services are available for staff and students, feeling pressured to intercallate when suffering mental health issues, the invisibility of those of us who attempt suicide, and the frequency of self-harm and suicide on campus." She also notes the "need for better training of staff regarding complex needs."
When questioned on the timing of the protest so soon after Theo's death, Flora said: "Theo's death has deeply affected all of us on campus. We are all waiting on confirmation for the cause of death, and we hope it was not related to mental health, but three confirmed suicides of students is still fundamentally unacceptable."
Aaron Hood who also took part in the protest said: "We received an overwhelming amount of support and love from everyone who walked passed. A few people made it clear that they wanted space to grieve in their own way and that's totally valid and fine and we were more than willing to be respectful."
He emphasised: "Whilst we do deserve better there is help and support out there, it took me a long time to realise I wasn't alone but there is something out there."
Aaron noted: "I'd like to see better funding and more counsellors at the SSS, they do an amazing job and they have personally helped me through some really dark times this year, but I feel everyone needs to come together to establish a community here. everyone I've spoke to, staff, lecturers, students is feeling the pain and one of the biggest themes I noticed is people felt isolated and lonely, which is deadly for mental health"
Finally Aaron stated: "Obviously we don't have all the answers and we want to work with anyone else whose willing to combat such a complex issue in a multitude of ways."
Norwich Nightline is available between 8pm to 8am every term time night on 01603 597158. The Samaritans helpline can be contacted on 116 123. The UEA Student Support Services can be contacted on 01603 592761 and [email protected]