Written by: Kate Collins
The Head of Students for Choice’s ‘The Good Cause Project’ discusses the University of Glasgow’s FAQ discrepancies.
**Trigger Warning: Sexual Assault, miscarriage and abortion.
It is upsetting that this article had to be written, but disturbingly necessary. The good cause policy, by definition, exists to make ‘appropriate allowances for unforeseen or unavoidable circumstances.’ Any fair-minded, anti-facist individual would assume that these allowances would take into account the extenuating circumstances that arise out of abortion, miscarriage, and emergency contraception. Clearly, the archaic faculty across UofG are not entirely fair-minded. There have been cases where students have been left unable to access deadline extensions and exam exemptions, whilst they go through the abortion process. Not only have students’ good cause claims been overlooked entirely but in some cases, the students were actually advised to drop out, when they approached the university with claims based on the aforementioned grounds.
Upon hearing these stories, the Glasgow Students for Choice decided to try and identify the inconsistencies and weaknesses that lie within UofG’s Good Cause Policy. The Students for Choice emailed Robert Patridge – the Executive Director for Student and Academic Services – in the hope of achieving some clarity on the subject. The response was as follows ‘I am in no doubt that the circumstances you describe (Abortion, miscarriage and, in some cases, application of emergency contraception) would constitute ‘good cause.’’ The statement offered by Patridge directly contradicts the reality of the Good Cause Policy. A reality that consists of rejected claims, a negligent student support system, and an inconsistent cross-school programme.
Negligence of these issues isn’t surprising, it appears that the UofG support system was created to address a white cis-male crisis. This is not the first instance where student safety and wellbeing has been relegated to low priority. It would be easy to draw parallels with the recent on-campus sexual assaults; where the university failed to inform the students of the apparent threat to their safety, and later, in a bid to protect their reputation, merely increased campus security. This is the absolute bare minimum that could have been done to protect our students, and it should have been implemented instantaneously (not after backlash from the student body). What more could be done, you ask? Well, the university received an annual income of 626.5 million pounds across 2017-2018; money that could have been directed towards establishing a safe university bus route between student accommodation and campus, this would have been both a feasible and fiscally possible option. In this case, the University of Glasgow appears to have placed a price upon student safety.
Unsurprisingly, and unlike the University of Edinburgh, the three examples of mitigating circumstances our university provides do not include sexual assault. Although the Students for Choice survey is largely aimed at pregnancy-related claims, the Students for Choice do not intend to neglect experiences of sexual assault. The hope is that UofG will aim to replicate the positive achievements of other universities, like the University of Strathclyde which operates an anonymous counselling service called The Rosey Project. The Project offers a one-off drop-in counselling session, and long-term scheduled counselling. If UofG could implement a similar project, there would be tremendously positive repercussions.
So, why are sexual assault, miscarriage, abortion, pregnancy, and emergency contraception not listed on the Good Cause FAQs? Robert Patridge, again, insisted that this was not a case of neglect and dismissal. Partridge encouraged students to speak to relevant faculty members on a case-by-case basis. Surely, this is an encompassing response? Unfortunately, this stance fails to take into account the discomfort students might feel disclosing sensitive information to their faculty leaders, and university in general. The university Good Cause FAQS would be an accessible and convenient platform for the university to illuminate useful links and guidance; the FAQS could include links to the Sandyford clinic and local crisis centres. Why haven’t UofG used their platform already? It’s hard to say, especially when they have incoming students as young as seventeen. It is important to remember that new students do not typically have extensive knowledge about the resources available to them or strong local support networks, this leaves them extremely isolated and vulnerable. The university has a duty of care to these students; the UofG absolutely should be held accountable for their students’ wellbeing and safety.
So, where should I turn if I’m struggling with my decision, an assault, my mental health, or university work? The University Counsellors? Just one look at the extensive waiting list for the counselling services confirms why it is not a feasible or accessible option for students struggling with time-constrained cases, like abortion. The university has to do more, they need to fund their counselling services, address student well-being openly, and update official wellbeing policy.
The Good Cause programme needs to be accessible, consistent, and transparent. Accessibility means updating the university website, which is currently relatively uninformative and disjointed, and consistency means implementing a policy across the entire university to prevent any disparity that exists cross-school (of which there is currently a LOT). Transparency is necessary to ensure students have the confidence that their stories will be heard, respected, and addressed, before the university can expect us to confide in them, and for this, UofG must take accountability.
If you have any stories relevant to this cause, please check out the Glasgow Students for Choice survey on their Facebook page. Similarly, if you need any help or guidance the Glasgow Students for Choice are always available to discuss options and support students facing any crisis.