A growing awareness of and attention to supporting the mental health and wellness of UWC students worldwide, helped inspire the recent globe-encircling travels of Pearson College UWC Faculty member Libby Mason.
During the past academic year, Libby worked at and supported no less than four UWC schools around the world as well as the international office in London.
“The ‘inciting incident’ (a term used in screenwriting) came about when Larry (Richard Lamont – then head of UWC Red Cross Nordic in Norway) said he needed someone to teach theatre and TOK for half a year and to help the school move forward in terms of their policies, protocols and pastoral care; I guess you’d call it, a pastoral care consultancy”, said Libby, a Theatre and Theory of Knowledge teacher and former dean of students at Pearson.
Libby and Larry co-led the 2016 UWC International conference on pastoral care that was hosted on the Pearson campus. “We had also connected a number of times before that and, on a previous leave, I had visited UWCRCN and loved it! I felt very at home there.”
Libby said she was grateful that her (unpaid) leave was generously supported by the Pearson leadership in the spirit of encouraging others to take similar academic and professional development opportunities
“Everyone worked very hard to get someone to fill my position for the 2017-18 academic year!”
@ UWC Red Cross Nordic
“I was very fortunate to have a good balance at RCN,” said Libby. “The majority of the time I was teaching courses that I knew really well. The consultancy was more demanding, I’d say, because I was both adapting the Pearson health, wellness and safety policies and giving UWC RCN advice and assistance to enhance their wellness infrastructure.”
Libby noted that UWCRCN systems and procedures in place were already strong, but they faced challenges related to the campus’ relatively isolated location.
“There are many excellent systems in place at Red Cross Nordic. For example, they have a check-in system called Connect, and there is a weekend on-duty rotation involving four adults who do a sweep of the campus at night and on weekends.
“They do however, face challenges in attracting and keeping health and wellness staff – not through a lack of desire – the challenge is due to its remote and rural location.”
Every UWC school faces unique challenges but the sharing of information, practices and real-life experiences is one of the keys to the movement’s accomplishments in building – and growing – a network of educational institutions devoted to sustainable, global education on supportive campuses.
“At RCN, I was fortunate to leave the college with (health and wellness-related) policies and suggestions, borrowed from, or adapted from, Pearson – all the respectful campus policies, incident protocols, everything…connected to pastoral care, where appropriate.” Libby added these supplemented RCN’s existing foundational policies and that the school administration would adapt updated policies and procedures to ensure they were appropriate to the campus and adhered to Norwegian laws.
@ UWC International
For several weeks before moving from a UWC school near the Arctic Circle to UWC Mahindra near Pune, India — a few degrees above the equator — Libby worked at the UWC International Office in London, U.K. There, she provided advice and consultation on mental health support and the UWC refugee task force.
The International Office is working across the UWC movement to support all aspects of student mental health. The breadth of schools, cultures and regions encompassed by UWC schools makes this a particularly interesting challenge.
@ UWC Mahindra College
Libby credits the opportunity to work with UWC Mahindra, as well as later stops at UWC Changshu and UWC ISAK, to both the appetite to strengthen mental health and wellness support across the board as well as to Larry Lamont’s word-of-mouth recommendations about the advice and support an experienced UWC faculty member and former dean of students could provide.
“What Pelham (Lindfield Roberts – current head of UWC Changshu, former head of UWC Mahindra) needed from me was some support with systems, protocols, policies — so I was both helping create those, as well as attending meetings and making suggestions.”
Libby’s brief-term tenure at Mahindra shortly preceded Roberts move to take on the leadership at UWC Changshu, China and the assumption of responsibilities by the new incoming UWC Mahindra Head, Soraya Sayed Hassen. Her work helped to support and minimize any disruption the school’s work to enhance mental health and wellness supports and structures on campus during a period of transition.
“As it turned out, I had the opportunity to provide moral support for two women (Hassen and Head of Student Life Aparna Ramchandran) who were stepping into leadership positions at Mahindra,” said Libby. “I spent a lot of time in meetings, talking to people informally, connecting with the health centre and checking in with leadership at the college to share my thoughts.
She added, “India, as a democracy is a very interesting country. There are some very liberal things and some quite ‘repressive’ things. The school was working very hard to conform with Indian culture and law while developing and implementing appropriate campus policies and protocols to serve an international student population.”
@ UWC Changshu China
“UWC Changshu is new (2015) and very, very well supported by the community and the government. It was two UWC alumni who had the idea to start a school in China, made the connections and built this very well-equipped school with more than 500 students – I mean, it was an extraordinary feat.”
Libby observed that while the idea quickly became a bricks and mortar reality that — together with an initial very rigorous focus on academics — meant that some catch-up was needed on the full development of a mental health and wellness policy infrastructure.
“They are working to create a supportive pastoral care system and they have many good people on campus, but they are (in relatively early stages),” she added. In addition to the construction of the physical infrastructure racing ahead of the building of the psychological infrastructure, China, like many countries the world over, has wrestled with a lingering historical societal reluctance to access mental health support services.
While that stigma is rapidly fading, it is being replaced by a more robust societal demand for accessible mental health support services and that is reflected in schools, among other institutions.
“I appreciate and respect that China as a society has ancient healing traditions. I would simply say that they reached out for, and I was happy to offer, support in helping to set up structures, systems and protocols and providing feedback on their existing material.”
She noted Changshu is fortunate in having a very experienced new head in Lindfield Roberts who is bringing to the new school great determination and a real desire to build a community. “I’m very interested to see how things develop.”
Located at the foot of a mountain in a rural/resort area northwest of Tokyo, the unassuming campus presented yet another example of how UWC schools react with and complement their locations.
“At ISAK, I really admired the emphasis they put on leadership skills and UWC values. I feel they really try to live the UWC philosophy. Lin Kobayashi (YR 18/1993, Japan), co-founder and current ISAK Board Chair had a big influence on the importance of those values.
“At ISAK, there was also a mindfulness thread: they’re doing leadership skills, simple entrepreneurship – the glimpse that I had of that was very impressive.
“Again, they were right at the beginning (of becoming a UWC school) so I was helping them in giving some feedback. They were in the midst of team-building – that’s normal (with a young school) – and, the nature of Japanese culture embraces it.
“Overall, I think the spirit there is very optimistic – and that was very pleasant!”
Libby’s “globetrotting” last year reflected much more than an unparalleled opportunity to visit a variety of school and colleges in utterly unique parts of the world. The journey also underlines how UWC schools and colleges – and the movement as a whole, builds capacity and competence through the sharing of knowledge, experience and expertise.