Dr Lusk has asked students for their input on the review discussed below. Students are encouraged to reach out to Dr Lusk at firstname.lastname@example.org. They may also pass along their feedback to Hall Committees or Senior Students who can pass it along to Dr Lusk. Dr Lusk intends to submit her review in late November.
Earlier this week The Saint had the opportunity to sit down with Director of Student Wellbeing Projects, Dr Chris Lusk.
The meeting came as a result of a review uncovered by Max Waller for The Saint, which seeks to propose structural reform of the University’s halls of residence.
The key areas the proposal will seek to address will be the roles of Wardens, Assistant Wardens and Hall Committees.
Dr Lusk, who is heading up the review has been at the University of St Andrews since 1992, and has subsequently worked as Welfare Advisor, Special Needs Advisor, and then as Director of Student Services until she departed a few months ago for her current position.
Describing the reasoning behind the move, Dr Lusk said, “sometimes it can be quite frustrating in all honesty doing a job where you feel as if you are fire fighting all the time, where you are constantly trying to catch things before they fall.
“Sometimes you see the same problems coming through time and time again, and if you do that you get frustrated that you should be working upstream to do some work that would be to sort things more in the longer term and look deeper at being able to focus on a particular project.”
Dr Lusk continued, “College Gate and the Principal gave me the opportunity to move on to being Director of Student Wellbeing Projects which would mean I wouldn’t have any staff, I’d just work on my own, but I’d start to tackle some of the issues that are much deeper and much more fundamental than having to be responsive to what’s coming through the door on a daily basis.”
a contemporary approach
One of the larger projects Dr Lusk has been working on in her new role, is formulating the aforementioned proposal to adapt the University’s Halls of Residence.
Her vision for the future of University Halls, she describes as “contemporary”, to adapt to St Andrews’ changing landscape.
“When you take into account the external aspects of what’s going on, so for example the way the NHS has just closed the Out of Hours service, we’ve got to look that the local police station has closed, we’ve got to look at whether the amount of support we have got on offer to students in residence is appropriate and evolving to meet what’s going on outside.”
However, when queried as to what aspect of the current hall system was in most need of reform, Dr Lusk asserted that Hall Committees were a priority for her, describing them as “vulnerable” and in need of “support”.
“When I looked at it, what really worried me was that Hall Committees were carrying an awful lot of liability themselves. If they were running an event and something went wrong with an event, then that student, or that students parents that had been harmed in that event could take a prosecution against the Hall Committee that were running it. And I really felt that there was a level of responsibility on the University to help these students. We have got to find a way to protect them.
“Other universities [had said] ‘we’ve found the safest way, you just don’t have hall committees’. I realised very quickly in St Andrews that that was an absolute no, it’s just not going to work. We need the hall committees, we need them very strongly. They do an immense amount of work.”
In her proposal, Dr Lusk hopes to integrate Hall Committees under the University umbrella to a greater extent and offer them support through establishing new positions such as a ‘ResLife Coordinator’.
This centralised role would offer Hall Committees support with their finances, event management and training on an ongoing basis throughout the academic year.
Dr Lusk also hopes to introduce increased financial support for certain members of Hall Committees through establishing a bursary. She stated the reason for this, “So that people who come to the University, who haven’t got the money to donate as much time to the Hall Committee as they want to, because they’re too busy doing a part time job, would be able to claim a University Hall Bursary to help them towards their accommodation. So that it frees them up, so that its not just bluntly rich people who can afford to be in hall committees.”
a conflicted role
Another key aspect Dr Lusk is looking into was the role of Assistant Wardens.
“There are certain problems with the roles, not the people, the roles. And I would ask people that are feeding back to me not to make it personal against particular people, to make it about the role – ‘what is wrong with the role?’.
“For example, some people are saying that [the] Assistant Warden role is very conflicted. On one hand this person is your peer and your mentor, this person is someone who will be watching television with you in the common room, but the next day this person could be the person you need to go to if you’re in real trouble, and the third day this person could be disciplining you because your kitchen is very dirty.”
Dr Lusk also expressed concern over the long hours Assistant Wardens were working, “We are seeing now that the people who are on duty at night, are having to work all night, very seldom do they get to bed, in some halls they just don’t get to bed.
“We can’t ask people to work all during the day and work all during the night, we can’t do that, it’s against the law apart from anything else.”
One of the ideas Dr Lusk would like to introduce in her proposal is that of a ‘Blue Team’, a group of professionals trained in first aid, mental health and de-escalation techniques, who would be on call during the night.
Dr Lusk anticipates requiring thirteen staff for this service to become viable.
“One of the possibilities we are looking at is hand-picking certain people internally from the University, who’ve already got a certain amount of training [and then getting them more trained] in these high level qualifications and then having them on an on-call basis at night time.
“Wardens would still go out and help, but when they see someone who is in extreme difficulty, they call one of these people.”
Throughout her interview with The Saint, Dr Lusk emphasised that there was a great amount of support for Wardens and Assistant Wardens among the student body.
She further wished to give Assistant Wardens greater job security in her proposal, asserting, “At the moment, [Assistant Wardens are] on a one-year contract, which really gives instability when people are in for a year but they don’t know if they’ve got anywhere to live the year after. So if we can properly tie people in, for say three years and give them a three-year contract, that means that training them would be worthwhile as well.”
Dr Lusk maintained that she was unsure if her proposals would be accepted by College Gate, “At the end of the day, it will go in front of the Principal’s Office and the decisions as to what is appropriate and what isn’t to adopt [will be made]. So all I’m doing is coming up with suggestions.”
Any changes approved by the Principal’s Office could come into effect as soon as September 2019.