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Policy proposal for men's health network met with controversy

Photo Credit: The Blue Diamond Gallery

In the latest set of YUSU policy proposals, one proposal, concerned with the creation of a Men’s Health Network, has been met with a large amount of controversy and criticism.

The student who proposed the creation of the Men’s Network, Joe Williscroft (the VC Wellbeing for Vanbrugh College),  said that he was “surprised that there wasn’t already a similar position, network or campaign around male mental health.”

Williscroft argued that there is a “pressing need to verbalise and normalise support for male mental health.” The proposed network’s aim would be to lobby in the interests of male mental and physical health, as well as supporting and signposting for male students.

Joe Williscroft was firmly resolute that the main objective of this network was to address and provide support for mental health. Williscroft said: “This isn’t going to be a ‘meninist’ network; and it isn’t about the liberation of male rights. It’s about trying to allow men to speak out and trying to improve the social stigma around men and their emotions. This just isn’t being addressed; male suicide is a national epidemic.”

Mental health is already officially covered under the Disabled Students Network, as per the DSN Terms of Reference. A student in DSN commented: “The addition of an entirely separate network only in the service of men seems not only redundant but also counterproductive.”

Gemma Card, the LGBTQ+ Officer, added that “to ignore this is not only incorrect, but feeds the stigma around disability and mental illness as a whole”. She said that “mental health services have existed for a long time, the problem is partially rooted in getting men to speak out. This doesn’t require a network and an officer, it requires campaigning.”

Chloe Hann, the Disabled Student’s Officer and Gemma Card, disagree with the proposal because of the fracturing effect it would have on mental health support. The DSN have been working on setting up a Mental Health
subnetwork for DSN this term, which is launching in week 10. Their  argument is that making an individual network
entirely for men risks the further fracturing of mental health services at York/YUSU. Replying to Nouse, Hann said: “it realistically would further fracture the efforts of mental health representation and activism at York.”

This is in keeping with the current stance of the Liberation and Welfare Network, who believe it’s better to have a centralised mental health network that represents all students with mental illnesses at York. Among other concerns over the plans for a Men’s Health Network is that the YUSU networks are primarily concerned with representing underrepresented students. The current secretary of the LGBTQ+ Network noted that “The proposed policy shows a
fundamental misunderstanding of the purpose and function of student union networks: as a voice of representation for those often underrepresented. While men’s mental health is indeed a current crisis, men are not an underrepresented

Alternative options were also suggested. James Mortimer, ex-VP Wellbeing for Halifax, suggested that the Men’s and Women’s Networks should be restructured into a Gender Equalities Network. Mortimer said that it also raised the issue of segregation, “A possible solution to this issue is to consider renaming and restructuring the Women’s Network to become a ‘Gender Equalities Network.’

“This was carried out in Halifax last year when it was noticed that there was a growing desire for a Men’s Officer. Instead of creating that separation, we renamed Women’s Officer to Gender Equalities Officer to ensure that the officers could focus on a wide range of issues related to gender across the spectrum”.

The current YUSU Women’s Officers, Sophie Meehan and Nadine Smith, are very opposed to the idea, and said that while they acknowledge the major issue of men’s mental health, “the policy proposed is under researched, misinformed and will go nowhere to help the issue of men’s mental health. The proposer  as little to no knowledge of the liberation networks and what we do and therefore does not comprehend the insult within their proposal.”

Before the policy was submitted, Williscroft carried out a survey which he submitted to a range of pages online including his personal Facebook, the liberation and welfare pages, and the Vanbrugh College group. 31 people
filled in the survey on Google Docs, 97 per cent of whom expressed support for the proposal.


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