By Jack Robert Stacey | Editor-in-Chief
“Last year was an amazing experience, but there wasn’t very much going on in-person,” Hannah Doe said. “I definitely feel like there’s a lot that, you know, people have potentially missed out on… even if people have had a good experience in some cases, it’s not been necessarily what they expected.”
Reflecting back on her own experiences as “a student in ‘normal times’”, Doe expressed that she missed being “around students” and having the freedom to “just walk around campus” where “there would be things going on at the Students’ Union” and other parts of the city before the COVID-19 pandemic.
Doe added that, during her time as the former Vice President of Education, “we were so fortunate that so many societies and sports completely transformed the way that they delivered activities,” but also highlighted that “at the same time, we have definitely seen that limited amount of opportunity that students haven’t been able to go and meet in-person all the time or come to our nightclub events.”
According to a report published by the Office of National Statistics, approximately 29% of students reported feeling either “dissatisfied or very dissatisfied” with their ‘student experience’ during the autumn term last year; with just over half of respondents also reporting to have been “dissatisfied or very dissatisfied” with their overall social experience.
What will Freshers’ Week look like this year?
Since the events of last year, Doe said that the SU Sabbatical Team have been cautiously working towards resuming a range of in-person events this year. With many students now seeking to return back to campus this September, we asked Doe what her preparations were for the upcoming Freshers’ Week.
The SU President told Gair Rhydd that she remains optimistic that the experience of “being back on campus” will provide a welcome change and reintroduce a sense of ‘normality’ to student life this year. The Sabbatical Team, Doe continued, are all committed to “getting the student experience back and running and making that students: feel comfortable to come back to campus, but also that their experience is what they want it to be”.
With large-scale indoor events and in-person teaching also expected to resume within the next few weeks (providing that Wales’ COVID-19 guidelines remain at Level Zero), Doe said that this year is “almost like what we needed: the opportunity to meet new people [and] come together” as a student community.
In addition to holding the usual night-time events, Gair Rhydd asked Hannah Doe whether the Students’ Union was expecting to run a number of smaller-scale, daytime activities and ‘Give it a Go’ sessions for students seeking to experience Freshers’ Week at their own pace.
“One thing that I really wanted to do at Freshers’,” Doe said, “is making sure that we have accessible events for all students who might not want to go to nightclubs” and “to provide almost like a quieter space” for students to chat with others or even “sit and eat cake” if that suits them.
Despite the vast variety of in-person events available during Freshers’ Week, it is also critical for us all to recognise that some students may understandably be apprehensive about returning back to in-person activities and teaching. The mental health charity Mind recently suggested that 21% of young people “do not think they will enjoy school, college or university without restrictions” – An aspect that the Sabbatical Team have addressed as one of the key challenges facing life at Cardiff University this year.
Doe acknowledged that, in addition to this, many “students are also away from home and some students last year might still be with us remotely, so we’re dealing with the normal barriers that Freshers’ face as well as students coming back.”
In her preparations for Freshers’ Week, Doe said that she is focused on also “delivering events virtually” this year whilst “constantly checking government guidelines and doing as much as we can within that remit and just making sure that it’s a safe campus”. “Every day,” she continued, the Sabbatical Team are “making decisions that directly impact students,” so will be aiming “to make sure that the experience lives up to their expectations” even if students are uncomfortable with attending any in-person events.
What does the Sabbatical Team plan to focus on this year?
Moving on from Freshers’ Week and onto the Sabbatical Team’s plans for the rest of the year, Gair Rhydd asked what specific areas of student life Hannah Doe would be focusing on during her time as the SU President.
Apart from the obvious difficulties of keeping in-person events in-line with Wales’ Coronavirus guidelines, Doe raised that one of her key priorities will be ensuring that students are aware of the work that the Sabbatical Team is doing for them. She told Gair Rhydd that championing student achievements through social media and “being transparent” about their day-to-day activities “is so important” for the team moving forward.
“It’s also important,” she continued, that students know that “we’ve got [their] back”. “We’re here to represent students,” Doe said, but as “our hardest critics (as they should be)”, students need to “actually know what we’re doing” for them” this year. In addition to this, she maintained that another one of her key focuses “is making sure that we’re sustainable: whether that’s environmentally sustainable, financially sustainable, whatever it may be”.
Focusing on the experiences that any students returning back to Cardiff in September can expect, Hannah Doe told us that she was “excited to see students enjoying themselves at Freshers’ events and seeing what we [the Sabbatical Team] can offer” everyone at the university this year.