Informative and open conversations around sensitive topics like sexual violence are essential to getting university-wide buy-in into keeping others safe and respecting those that one co-exists with. For Higher Education (HE) practitioners, ensuring students remain engaged in these conversations is a core part of the challenge at hand, which Joy Whyte, Strategic Director for Education and Students at King’s College London, is no stranger to.
She sat down with Kira Matthews, GoodCourse Community Engagement Lead, to discuss reducing sexual violence, opening up campus post-Covid, and the initiatives she’s most proud of.
I’m Joy Whyte, Strategic Director for Education and Students at King’s College London. I’ve got responsibility for Student Success — Social Mobility and Widening Participation right through to Careers and Employability. We cover the whole student lifecycle. I’m also responsible for Student Services, including things like well-being, disability support, counselling and more.
I’ve worked in HE for 20 years — in fact, 20 years today I started at LSE! Before that, I worked in research funding roles, and my final post at LSE was heading up work around equality, diversity and inclusion (EDI). This is the role where I worked closely with the Students’ Union and with students more generally. I moved to King’s to take on a professional services leadership role in the Faculty of Arts and Humanities, and then into my current post in April 2020.
There’s a mixture of policy and practice needed to address it, and also making sure that we consider the impact on different students in relation to everything we do. As an institution, we need to think about what providing an exceptional and inclusive student experience means, and how we can remove barriers to participation, attainment, progression and student satisfaction.
I was on campus a few days ago and it was really great to be there. Covid made us change how we deliver welcome activities, and created a platform for change that made us think about how to change longer-term delivery.
We’ve got a programme called Kings Edge, which focuses on extra-curricular and co-curricular learning and skills development, engaging activities within faculties. We’ve just launched a new King’s app, and my colleagues in Student Knowledge and Information are doing some great work around updated guidance to students — we’ve just delivered some on the cost of living, signposting to a range of information, and increased financial support from King’s.
Opportunities to connect with others are very different on Zoom or Teams. It’s been a challenge, and colleagues at King’s have done an amazing job trying to create those connecting experiences for students, even in online spaces. It’s obviously much easier now we’re back on campus.
We’ve got a programme called Kings Edge, which focuses on extra-curricular and co-curricular learning and skills development, engaging activities within faculties.
There’s a sense of having to practice getting back in a room again, and a lack of familiarity around what that’s like. Those informal social activities are really important to us, and KSLCU do a great job of connecting students through clubs and societies. Staff are really excited to be back too.
We have a pyramid model of support which approaches mental health and well-being really comprehensively. At the top, we have external specialist support services to which we refer students. We also have Counselling and Mental Health Support services based at King’s and online and telephone counselling which has been a recent development during Covid. It’s allowed us to increase our provision too, and thereby ensure that we can see students promptly.
We have a relatively new team of Well-being and Welfare Advisors — they’re based within faculties and can support referrals to central specialist services. That’s been great for support in instances like the recent floods in Pakistan. The team reached out to all students from Pakistan to make sure they felt well supported. We’ve also acted similarly to support students from Ukraine and Russia.
We also have King’s Sport and Wellness — sports clubs and mindfulness activities which students can engage with, in a preventative and protective way, to support their own mental health and well-being. At the base of the pyramid is thinking about the curriculum and assessment in an inclusive way — making sure we don’t exacerbate stress and ensuring there’s a foundation of well-being across everything we do.
Be curious about what other people are doing. Get a good understanding of what colleagues are engaged with, and build connections. At the beginning of my career, I had great conversations with a peer about organising conferences, where we were able to benefit from one another’s experience. Collective energy and knowledge is very important. As a manager, something that really impresses me is when people come to me with solutions for problems. I really trust the judgment of people I work with, people often come up with the best solutions themselves. So trust others!
Professor Evelyn Welch, who just moved to the University of Bristol as VC. I worked with her at King’s when she was VP for Arts and Sciences. She really role models inclusive practice. She asks for contributions from everyone who’s in a meeting and makes sure she gets a breadth of opinion.
It really changes depending on what I’ve read most recently. Susan Cain’s book Quiet is excellent. She talks about extroverted and introverted models of leadership. It gave me a helpful sense of myself, and how colleagues work.