Student Action Research Project: Investigating barriers to accessing student support services

Emilie Bolt, a Research Intern at the University of Leeds, discusses the importance of the University’s efforts working towards social equality.

There has been a university-wide effort, under the Vice Chancellor, to tackle racial inequality at the University of Leeds. It has been acknowledged that student success is underrepresented with an awarding gap, meanwhile there has also been efforts to decolonise the curriculum. Within these pockets of work throughout the University there seems to be a genuine desire and commitment to see positive change for students who generally, but unfairly, have to put up with a socially unequal society.

This is why the Student Action Research Project, hosted by the University Wellbeing and Counselling service, in partnership with LUU Advice, is conducting research into their services funded through Student Placements. This project, that I am lucky enough to be a part of as the promotion and engagement lead, is investigating perceived and experienced barriers to accessing student support services from Black, Asian, and ethnic minority students. 

While the support staff are fully trained and no problems have been identified, Jane Harris, Assistant Head of Student Support recognises that in the context of social inequality the University must continue to make additional efforts to seek out the barriers students face that are unknown to them. 

Jane said “The Counselling and Wellbeing and Student Advice teams really want to hear from Black, Asian, and minority ethnic students about their experiences and needs. We want to ensure that every student and PGR at Leeds has confidence and trust that they will receive high quality support. I cannot overstate how important we feel this project is.”

Despite efforts to make them as accessible as possible, the University could be unaware of other barriers to using the services. Do you think cultural competency could be improved? Let us know. Do you put off seeking help because you don’t see yourself reflected in the staff? Please tell us. Whether it’s good or bad, and whether you ended up accessing the service or just thought about it, your responses will shape the University Support Services for future generations of students as well as yourselves, all of whom deserve the best support available. We’d also love to hear of any helpful or positive experiences as well!

This is also a project close to the heart of Sophia Harley, the current Welfare Officer at Leeds Student Union who said “Ensuring all our support services are culturally competent was one of my three objectives for my term as Welfare Officer. Research across the sector suggests there are clear links between the Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic Awarding Gap and the access to culturally competent support while at university. Through The Student Action Research group, we have an opportunity to get to the core of perceived cultural barriers and make the recommended actions to dismantle them.”

Scepticism must be high among students that have filled out, what feels like, the 50th survey this month, and doubts about the utility of sitting and filling out surveys will actually have.  However, it is clear, having worked on this project that the team at LUU and the Counselling and Wellbeing service have a genuine and sincere desire to improve. There is a strong sense of responsibility felt by staff in response to the clear evidence for systemic and structural racism from reports such as the closing the gap report, Jane has said she felt ‘a responsibility to do whatever I can’.

The fact that this research is developed and led by students, (one undergraduate, one postgraduate, and one PHD student) also enables the sincerity of the project. It’s run by students, for students, and we have an inherent drive to help our peers, knowing the whirl-wind that University is.

So, after shamelessly promoting this survey, I wholeheartedly invite anyone and everyone who is a member of a black, Asian, and/or minority ethnic community to take part in this research to identify any more efforts the university can be making in their support services. 

The survey closes on the 27th June…and of course, it wouldn’t be a university survey if we weren’t offering the chance to win £25 amazon vouchers as well. For more info, click here.

Meet the students running this project:

Mary Okeudo, focus group lead: “As a black African student at the University of Leeds, I have experienced limitations/barriers in accessing support at Leeds. These largely stemmed from a disconnection in my unique perspective and available support. I have been unwilling to approach available support services due to a feeling of being judged after feeling invisible and unsupported when I had spoken up. Being a part of this research project that seeks to understand and improve the limitations faced by Black, Asian, and Minority Ethnic students in accessing support services at Leeds is deeply rewarding”

Karyan Au-Yeung, online survey lead: “This project is particularly important to me because I have first-hand experience that allows me to understand just how deeply systemic and institutional racism can affect minority students’ wellbeing, often resulting in a reluctancy to access support. It is so important to facilitate for collective action in order to ensure that the University is listening and responding appropriately to students’ needs. It shouldn’t be on those who suffer from the attainment gap to fix it, especially considering the further impacts of the pandemic – and I believe this project is a step in the right direction. I believe that our intersectional approach through collaborative work will help to enhance and improve the University’s support services.”

Emilie Bolt, engagement and promotion lead: “Having put time and effort into recognising my white privilege and how race affects every area of our lives, I wanted to be part of this project to help work towards social equality at the University. This process has helped me learn further the experiences of black, Asian, and ethnic minority people and I strongly believe it’s not simply up to those groups and communities to address the issues they face. This research has been fulfilling and I’m grateful for the chance to use my skills and experiences to address such an important issue and to help current and future students.”