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Welfare at Christ Church: GCR welfare

Written by Christoph Siebenbrunner and Alannah Jeune, posted on Thursday, May 17, 2018

14th-20th May is Mental Health Awareness Week. University can be stressful at times, but there are plenty of sources of support and advice within college and the wider University that can help to alleviate some of the stress. In this post Christoph Siebenbrunner (former GCR Welfare Officer) and Alannah Jeune (current GCR Welfare Officer) talk about their roles and the ways in which members of the graduate community at Christ Church can find help and support.

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A GCR welfare teaFour terms of being a welfare officer – surely that should give you some stories to write about? Well, it does indeed, but spilling them here would very much run counter to the idea of welfare. So instead I’m going to write about my own story as a GCR welfare officer.

As many people, I’ve been drawn to welfare because I’ve been made aware of the importance of mental health through own experiences. Fortunately, however, welfare is about much more than dealing with emotional or other crises. In fact, my, and hopefully most people’s, first encounter with welfare in college was on a highly positive note, by attending a welfare tea. Those teas are a staple in welfare services, usually organized weekly or fortnightly, and are one way in which college provides a social space inside the university that offers a different affiliation and sense of belonging from your academic discipline. In fact, a lot of the activities of a GCR welfare officer are about creating an enjoyable environment for everyone in college. This can mean having gingerbread cookies during Oxmas season, ice cream pic-nics in Trinity, smoothies after a bop, getting out of the bubble on an outing, or just enjoying a good evening with lots of chocolate. We generally aim to provide an environment that is also welcoming to people who don’t feel like they want to party all night, but of course you have freedom as a welfare officer to bring in some of your own passions, such as organizing dance events in my case. Mindfulness trainings are by comparison more directly aimed at mental health, by building resilience against destructive thought patterns. Physical activities can be highly conducive to welfare as well, and we usually try to offer Yoga classes inside the college, as well as other mindful movement practices. Other aspects of welfare that were less prominent in the GCR but to my knowledge have been addressed in the JCR are sexual health, financial difficulties, responsible drinking, among many others. The most important role of a welfare officer is and remains, however, to be available to listen to and help with anything that someone feels they need to share in confidentiality.

This may sound like a lot of work, and I can testify that it is, but more importantly I can assure you that it is a worthwhile experience for anyone considering filling this role in the future. As with all things in life, you get more out of college life the more you put in, and welfare is both an important and immensely rewarding way of getting involved. As with all GCR committee roles, standing in an election is by appointment only, so if you get to even ask yourself whether you should do it then it means that there is someone in college who believes that you can do it.

 

Christoph Siebenbrunner

Former GCR Welfare Officer

 

Food for welfare teaThe Graduate Common Room serves the need of the roughly 250 graduate students at Christ Church, providing both a physical space and an opportunity to meet and socialise. The Committee is made up of officers dedicated to various aspects of college life -including welfare. Every term the GCR elect Welfare Officers who organise fun events for all and provide a confidential listening ear for any student who needs to chat. Because we can have different officers every term there is a constant supply of new ideas and initiatives alongside well-loved staples. This is my first term as one of the female welfare officers and I was drawn to stand for the role after attending welfare events in Michaelmas and Hilary and seeing what positive and welcoming experiences these gatherings were for all students, and I wanted to be able to contribute to that in some way! 

Welfare officers take on the all-important job of keeping the GCR kitchen supplied with coffee and a variety of teas, and the biscuit tins stocked with sweet treats for those mid-study sugar cravings! We’re fortunate to have both study and social space in the GCR giving students the chance to have a cup of tea and a chat when taking a break from work. Regular welfare teas give students from different disciplines the chance to meet and get to know each other over cake and biscuits, and these events always have a lovely laid-back atmosphere – the perfect antidote to the hectic pace of life in Oxford.  

Preparing drinks for welfare teaWhile tea and cake feature prominently in welfare events, we like to strike a healthy balance with a bit of exercise! Weekly yoga sessions have proved to be popular, with a dedicated core of students going to every session, but with a good mixture of levels so everyone can be involved from complete beginner through to the more experienced. One of my favourite events this term was a new venture – swing dancing! A was class organised in conjunction with the Vacation Officers and led by Frank, one of our GCR members – it’s amazing what hidden talents our graduate students have!

Welfare events are wonderful way of enriching life in Oxford, forming connections with our fellow students and allowing us to take a bit of time out from our busy schedules, but they don’t function in isolation. There are many welfare resources available to graduate students at Christ Church. Student life can be stressful and there are always times when we could do with a bit of extra help – and we’re fortunate to have, among others, the college Nurse, Chaplain, Graduate Tutor and Wardens there to provide assistance when needed.

 

Alannah Jeune

GCR Welfare Officer