UWE Student Advocate for Neurodiversity, Breanna Garbett-Davies
The COVID-19 pandemic provided people, especially young people, with more free time than we could have imagined. It came as no surprise that social media usage shot up during those quiet months - and although that tends to set alarm bells ringing, it wasn’t all bad. Young people started paying a lot more attention to how their brains worked, how they were different to others, what seemingly simple tasks they struggled with and what more complex tasks they found to be strangely easy. Suddenly, TikTok and Instagram were heaving with content all about neurodiversity - how to recognise it, how it might affect individuals without them even noticing, and how to manage it and thrive with it - and it was wonderful to witness.
Neurodiversity has gained a lot of attention in the past few years, which is why we believe our role is so vital to ensure that young people can continue to thrive in university. We currently have a modest team of five student advocates whose role is focused entirely on offering support to UWE’s neurodiverse students in whichever form is best. We hold drop-in sessions, attend university events like our Differently Abled Action brunch on Frenchay campus in November, and speak directly to staff to create real change. We also recently attended an incredibly informative talk by Lucy Smith at The Students’ Union on navigating employment with a disability, and we’re hoping to hold a lot of similar talks in the future.
Our role is extremely flexible, which allows for each advocate to focus on projects important to them. We’re currently working on numerous projects focused on increased accessibility throughout the university for neurodiverse students. The issues that we’re working on resolving have all been brought to us either by students seeking assistance or by each other, and we all agree that being in a role that allows for immediate action that creates real change is a very fulfilling one. It’s what makes us want to work that much harder.
We have also recently set up a Teams site in response to students explaining a need for an online space to share resources and ask for help and advice between our meetings, which ran fortnightly in term one but which we aim to increase in frequency in the near future. We’re very thankful to Ghizzi Dunlop who kindly offered her help in setting up the site, working closely with our advocate Rhianwen, and to Alisha Airey for offering her assistance too. We’re hoping that the site becomes an online hub for students not only to ask for advice from us as advocates, but also to ask for and offer advice to each other.
Our team of advocates work closely together to create a safe environment for both students (and for each other!) to share their insight into navigating university as neurodiverse individuals. As well as being incredibly proud of the work that we’re doing, it’s always nice to get to work in a team where everyone gets along. I consider it a pleasure to work alongside the other advocates; it’s wonderful to be in a team where everyone is working towards the same goal.
I’d like to close with some words from one of my fellow advocates on their experience of being an advocate. We - myself, Chris, Lily, Veronika and Rhianwen - have all thoroughly enjoyed our first term of advocacy and are looking forwards to coming back to our work in the new year - we have some exciting plans in the works, so keep your eyes peeled and your inboxes checked!
“Being a ND student advocate is such an honour and pleasure but also a big responsibility. Often ND students feel at a loss when facing difficulties, be it of academic or personal nature. In my role as a ND student advocate, I’d like to ensure that I am approachable at any point and am able to communicate students’ concerns or signpost them to services that are set up to help ND students. I’d like to think that everyone in our fab team has the same goal as me, which is making sure that ND students have a level playing field and can achieve their very best as a result.” - Veronika Dutfield-Valeckova
~ Breanna Garbett-Davies