As I come to the end of my first term as a mature (and disabled) student at the University of Essex, I thought now might be a good time to write a little about my thoughts and feelings on the subject, so here goes…
Essay submission apart, it has been on the whole a positive and stimulating couple of months. I’m still here, I’m still finding my way around the campus and finding little gems hidden around as I go. I have yet to venture into Frango’s which is a matter of finding disabled access – not immediately obvious and I’m afraid there is no way I am going to attempt the metal staircase up and then whatever steps await me on the inside of the door to go down into the restaurant. That is a voyage of discovery for another day I feel. It seems a shame as the rest of the university campus has been largely simple to navigate even given my inability to use steps and staircases. The lifts are well placed with only one small niggle – that of the split floors 5A and 5B in the LiFTS Department. As that is the area I spend most time in, I have had to find a workaround or brave the half flights of stairs to get up or down. When the corridors are quiet I can take the stairs, with trepiation and a lot of time but when there is a heavier footfall around me, it’s off to find a way around the lifts.
Looking at academic life from the viewpoint of a woman rapidly approaching the age of 50, it has been a mixed bag. The university itself has been most supportive, as have Student Services who deserve a highlighted mention for all their fabulous staff and the work they do. The negatives are really based not on academe itself, but on the wider student life such as the Student Union. The ‘SU’ in Essex is not terribly oriented toward entertaining or supporting mature students. As one other such student said to me last wee – ‘we really don’t want to go to “Foam Parties”, we’d rather something a little more grown up.’ Perhaps if the SU could address this, the huge number of mature students studying at Essex, would, like me applaud their efforts. We wait and watch with baited breath the Student Representative Forum this week and see if they will support the efforts of the current Part-Time, Volunteer Mature Students Officer and his partner in crime the Part-time, Volunteer Postgrad Students Officer, as they go in to bat for what amounts to 1 in 3 of the current student cohort who have little appropriate or proportional representation at the Essex Student Union.
I for one would love them to take me seriously and see me for what I am – a well-past forty woman with one hell of a lot of life experience, a gaggle of kids and a grandchild, a home to run and a passion for learning. I could do with the support of my peers on all those fronts…please! (This week’s SRF is on Thursday at 6pm in LTB 8 – please attend if you feel the same way I do and let your voice be heard.)