13th August 2020
Academically, I love uni. I get to do the things I love doing the most- researching and reading. I am studying English Literature, which I have loved since I was a kid. I’m told by my mum that I made her read to me every night when I was young. In primary school I attended gifted and talented courses for English which I loved (for the most part). I do write sometimes but I think I’ve lost the knack for it as I’ve got older. I wanted to be (amongst many other things) an author when I was younger, but when it came to choosing my degree my choices changed so many times. I originally wanted to do Art, then Law and then my last and final choice was English. I think it was a good choice as it’s a nice balance between the two. I thought by doing this course there would be lots of people I would have common interests with. Turns out I don’t have many friends on my course. In fact, I only have one solid friend Lucy, who is amazing. I met her on the first day of class and we have been friends ever since. I’m not sure I could have got through Uni without her, so thank you Lucy! So, I had always wanted to go to Uni for as long as I could remember, because it sounded amazing. It sounded nothing at all like school, and in a lot of ways it isn’t. But it didn’t turn out into the dream I expected.
I did find first year tough. You have so many other things that you are getting used to that keeping on top of the ridiculous amount of reading gets lost among the other worries that come with moving away from home. I also was shocked at the fact in my course we still had to do group presentations. That’s a nightmare for me. So, from the start of Uni me and my parents got in contact with the support facilities within the uni. I went for meetings, which I had to take my mum to because obviously I’m not going to talk to a stranger about my struggles. At the time, I had only just been referred for an autism assessment, but because I had mental health issues, I was eligible for help from ASDAC (Additional Support and Disability Advise Centre). I had to get a doctor’s letter to prove my mental health issues, and I had a meeting explaining the help I could be offered. The first guy I met on my initial appointment was lovely, and he really made me feel like they could help me. However, the second guy I met I did not like at all. He had a condescending tone and in the meeting, he poked fun at a guy he had an appointment with, who clearly had Asperger’s (even I could just tell from the story, and this guy is meant to be an ‘expert’). He told us that he told the student that he could join a society (wow great advice for someone on the spectrum who suffers socially and probably would never go). He gave examples like the ironing society who make a hobby out of ironing in strange places like ‘under the sea’ (this bit he meant as a joke, but obviously neurotypical people would pick that up straight away). The student replied saying it’s impossible to iron under the sea, which is an entirely valid point. The guy told us this story and laughed, and then proceeded to tell me it would be good to join a society. I don’t know about you but I’m pretty sure I’d rather die than join a society with a load of strangers. I was already having to cope with strangers in my course and my flat, so thanks strange, annoying guy (I can’t remember his name because he’s irrelevant) you weren’t much help. He offered me support which didn’t work because it made me more anxious (this is a common experience in my life). He took me to see a mentor, in a cupboard (turned into an office but it literally was a cupboard in the library), who was an older lady who sounded more depressed than I was. She was there to help me academically despite me telling them that I liked the academic side and cope with it, it’s the social side I don’t cope with. She talked about writing me a schedule for my reading, as if I hadn’t done that already?! So, I saw her like twice and then never went back. I also never went to do my assessment for ASDAC which would assess my needs and give the Uni funding to help me. So basically, they would get money for giving me the support they had already had me try out. The only good thing I got was permission to record lectures. Sadly, I didn’t attend many lectures, so I suppose that also became useless. And I had also told them I liked lectures, but hated seminars because in quite a few of them the lecturers would pick on people for answers. I walked out of a few seminars in the end because it was too overwhelming. So, what did I like about the academic side of Uni? Well I liked the lectures, the reading and the research. And using seminars where I was with Lucy to catch up with her. Apart from that the rest was, well, useless.
I had gone to see ASDAC on the advice of my year tutor. I hated her. She told us in the introductory meeting to contact her if we have any difficulties regarding our wellbeing. Now considering someone later committed suicide in our halls, and I happened to see the body bag, so it definitely did happen, you would think the Uni would take this seriously. We were generically offered counselling, but this was weeks after the incident. Nothing was ever really addressed. I’ve heard that even for the people living in the flat with the guy, were offered different housing, but they would have to split up and they didn’t want that. Universities need to get better at dealing with wellbeing. To be seen by the Well-being team at the Uni, it takes around 3 weeks for you to be even seen for your first meeting. The services are stretched and underfunded, so it’s not okay. I didn’t even bother seeing well-being because I knew that the build-up of 3 weeks would be enough to put me off going. It’s also highly unlikely that I would easily talk to a counsellor. If I didn’t have this problem, then I would have seen a counsellor when I was 14. Anyway, the first contact I had with my year tutor was via an unimpressed email from my first personal tutor who I didn’t bother making an appointment with. He contacted the year tutor Jessica, who emailed me telling me to get in contact. I told her my struggles and she said ‘I know contacting people can be difficult, but it is important that you keep your personal tutor, or me up to date with issues that may affect your attendance, so we can offer you support…. It would be a good idea to contact well-being… please keep in touch with you tutor in future’. I don’t recognise the tone of emails very well, so I thought this was negative, I’m not sure if it was but as someone reaching out for help, I didn’t find this helpful. I was contacting her for help and she told me I have to contact her for help, which I was already doing. Is it just me or does this not make sense? Anyway, the next time I spoke to her, before I had even sought help anywhere else, I emailed her to tell her my concerns for a group presentation. She replied by saying I should contact ASDAC (so passing me on to someone else again) and that ‘many students are anxious about group work, but there is research to show that most students perform better in assessed group work than individual assessments’. OH, IS THAT SO JESSICA. Funny that because my group assessment and presentation marks are very much worse than my individual essays. How strange, its mad that I don’t fit into a statistic? It must be the autism. Or maybe just that individuals are individuals and not statistics? That’s like saying research shows all lecturers are nice. Well they definitely aren’t all nice…Now, you’ve pissed me off Jessica. She also picked on me once during a seminar with her, now I hold a grudge Jessica, so I wouldn’t dig yourself a deeper hole. My problem is that when someone approaches me with that attitude, I turn into the person they think I am. So, if she ever taught me, I would sit there not listening with a face like thunder, because it’s easier to act the way they think you are, than spend all your energy trying to convince them you actually are struggling. I tried this in secondary school and ended up turning from being a quiet little teacher’s pet to walking out of classrooms because I had been told I was just going through a phase and I was put in facilities for ‘the naughty kids’, so that’s what I did. Luckily, I didn’t have to do that so much in Uni because the timetable is less full on, and if I struggled, I just didn’t go. I was also very lucky I got assigned a new tutor, finally, who understood.
I don’t want to sound big headed or superior, but I’ve always learned better by myself through research and reading. My attendance in my school from about year 10 onwards has been well below average. It continued that way at Uni, I would often get emails telling me my attendance was too low. What frustrated me that during A Levels I had poor attendance and still got 3 A*’s, so this attendance and grade correlation crap has always bothered me. In fact, I think I’m the other way around, the less I go, the less stressed I am, the better grades I get. So, shove that where the sun doesn’t shine Ofsted. (Rant over). Eventually I had to have a meeting with my tutor. At this point I felt myself falling back into the school system. I had been told Uni would be different, they treat you like adults, yet all I had been faced with was the same old school stuff. Luckily my tutor Diane was amazing. Without her I wouldn’t have got through uni. She helped me immensely and immediately understood me. When I expressed my concerns about the group presentation, she offered me a number of things they could do (see that’s helpful Jessica). For my first group presentation, she agreed with my lecturer that my group could go last and after everyone had left so, we would only be doing it in front of my lecturer, which was so much help. I told my two other group members and they were happy. However, as time went on, they were never in contact and didn’t appear to be doing work. We hadn’t even agreed what we would do. So, I started doing a presentation by myself. In the end Diane arranged for me and my lecturer to facetime over summer so I could do my presentation alone. This was only really allowed because my Dad had cancer. During my second year I also had to do a presentation about my dissertation proposal. This one I had to do because after emailing my lecturer she said I wasn’t allowed to do it to her only. Because it was on my own, I was willing to do it. Having said that, it was awful. I went bright red the whole time, I read as quickly as possible and once I left the room I cried and phoned my dad. I don’t do presentations, I don’t like that many people looking at me.
I think the lecturer you get really can influence how well you do on a module. For example, in the modules I had lecturers I didn’t like, and who picked on people including me (despite my tutor emailing all the lecturers telling them not to pick on me), I did a lot worse. I remember one I had this year. I turned up to a grand total of 1 seminar and maybe 3 or 4 lectures. The only seminar I went to I sat alone. He put us into groups. I turned around to my group and they started talking amongst themselves. I’m awkward, I don’t cope with situations like that, so by this point in my life I gave less of a damn and turned around and worked on my own. The lecturer came up to me and told me to work with them. I said yes turned around to them, and then when he returned to his desk I turned back round. This pissed him off, he spent the rest of the seminar staring at me and directing questions at me and ‘my group’. I never turned up again. However, in the second term of this year I had my tutor as a lecturer. She was amazing, I was fully engaged and was barely anxious in her seminars. I got a 1st on her module and I’m glad I did, because it’s all thanks to her. Also, unlike most of my lecturers, she actually cares about my well-being and often sends me emails throughout the holidays to check up on me. I can’t thank her enough for what she has done for me. She made my Uni experience so much easier.
So, despite a crappy start, thanks to my friend and tutor helping me, I feel more positive going into my third year. I think with Uni it depends on how well you get on with your lecturers. I had a few lecturers who I really liked and going to their seminars made it a lot easier. I do think that the education system needs to change. The pressure is enough to push anyone to the edge. And when you have students taking their own lives at Uni, you need to take a step back and look at why, and what’s gone wrong. I love learning, I should be the perfect person for education because I just love learning. Yet I hate the education system. Isn’t that enough to hint that there something wrong with it then? That’s because it’s no longer about learning, its about grades, statistics, meeting the correct standards, aiming to be the best school or uni. It’s about teaching us to be ‘successful’ so that the institution you went to can use you to advertise. When I got my A level results (I had been predicted ABC and told to lower my Uni standards when choosing the Uni’s I wanted to apply for), I was approached by a teacher who suggested I could go to better universities than Portsmouth, even to places like Cambridge (bit too late considering you need entrance exams), because wouldn’t it look so much better if their top pupil had gone somewhere ‘better’ than Portsmouth. Yes, Portsmouth isn’t the best, but considering I found it hard at Portsmouth, do you really think I would have coped with Cambridge? I don’t think so. There’s too much pressure on kids to achieve, the rise in mental health should be enough to make everyone stop and wonder if these kids are too stressed. Even now, I worry about getting a good job, so I can get money, so I can get a house, because it’s been drilled into us since we were young that that’s what we need to do. But is that really what would make everyone happy? For someone like me, the thought of even getting a ‘simple’ job terrifies me, so when I look forward and listen to all the emails I’m sent from Uni about careers, and getting a good career, I go into meltdown because it feels too much. Its overwhelming and it needs to change. The mental health system needs funding, and the education system needs restructuring.