The Mandala Project is a service to support students who have experienced sexual or domestic violence.
The project has now been shortlisted for this year’s British Universities and College Sport (BUCS) Take a Stand award which recognises institutions who make sport as inclusive and accessible as possible for students.
Natalie McKeown, Student Welfare Policy Officer and Emilie Fairnington, DMUsports Project Coordinator are the driving forces behind the Mandala training sessions which are delivered to student sports clubs to educate them and encourage them to make better decisions and become active bystanders.
Alongside Natalie and Emilie, the workshops are also assisted by Andy Morris, Employability Mentoring Manager and members of the DMUsport development team.
(Back row) Andy Morris and Natalie McKeown (front row) Ryan Carty, Emilie Fairnington, Grace Morgan and Henryk Smolinski
When asked how he feels about the award nomination Andy said: “This work matters, and with or without awards we’d do it anyway.
“But it is great to see, as this work celebrates co-creation and it celebrates students contributing towards a massive agenda.”
The workshops involve practical elements where students have to discuss difficult topics with their peers and challenge each other on their views to ensure that they can make informed decisions.
Natalie and Emilie will both be leading a session at the upcoming BUCS conference, where they will discuss the Mandala Project and share their best practice with universities across the country, which then culminates with the award ceremony on the final day.
We spoke to Natalie and Emilie to find out how they were feeling about the nomination and how the Mandala Project has grown over the past few years.
How do you feel about being shortlisted for the BUCS Take a Stand award?
Emilie: “I feel very honoured and overwhelmed to have been shortlisted for this award, but for me it’s about the students and how it recognises their hard work and their commitment, this award isn’t for us, it’s for them.”
Natalie: “We didn’t know this project would be sustainable when we first started out, so it’s been an absolute privilege to see the student involvement grow and the cultural change happen and to see my colleagues develop over time, and now other universities are now asking for advice makes me feel very proud.”
What would it mean to you to win the award?
Emilie: “It would mean that all the late evenings, all the planning and getting over my fear of presenting would all be worth it.
“Sometimes myself and my colleagues who run the sessions come out of them and think goodness that was hard, because it isn’t always an easy topic to discuss, but if we won, it would all be even more worthwhile and it would be something for the students and it’d be far better than ever winning one fixture.”
Natalie: “We are a service that supports sexual and domestic violence, so the fact we have managed to flip that into something that people are actually proud to be associated with, even with so much stigma around talking about it, it’s a start, and that takes leadership from students themselves.
“So, it would be so amazing for DMU to be recognised for that work.”
How has the Mandala Project changed and grown over last few years?
Emilie: “It’s been a challenge as our main target was to get the students on board, when we first delivered the sessions it was tough because we were talking about difficult topics and the students hadn’t really been challenged in that way before.
“But all of the students have been so eager to make a change that now they credit the Mandala Project for really helping to start a culture change within their clubs, so they’re now the driving force, which is really powerful.”
Natalie: “When we first started it was all about zero tolerance, which was the idea behind the ‘is it ok?’ campaign which is another strand to Mandala because we knew we needed a realistic starting point.
“The project has grown now because we co-create with the students, when we deliver the sessions we get feedback from the students and that shapes the way we deliver the sessions in the future, that’s so powerful because the students are empowered.”
How are you feeling about presenting at the BUCS Conference and sharing Mandala and best practice with other universities?
Emilie: “I’m excited but also nervous to present at the BUCS conference, obviously it’s in front of my peers within sports at different universities, but I am looking at it as a chance to develop myself and connect with other universities and inspire them with what we do here at DMU with Mandala.
“But what makes me the most excited is for us to be able to talk about our students and how amazing they have been in pushing Mandala and sharing that with everyone.”
Natalie: “It’s going to be so interesting to hear about what other universities are already doing as well as talking about our project, so it’s a chance for us to learn too.
“We are going to get them to take part in some of the activities which we use during our Mandal sessions, which I think is important as they can then take something practical away.”
Emilie and Natalie added: “We are so grateful to everyone who has supported us with Mandala, not just the staff who run the sessions or support them but also the students, because without them and their engagement it wouldn’t be where it is now.”
This academic year Natalie and Emilie have consulted with the sports panel, a group of student representatives, who look at ways of enhancing sport at the university. The main area of discussion was initiation within sports and student union societies.
This is an issue affecting universities across the country which DMU have stood firmly against for a number of years. BUCS have recently changed their policies regarding initiations and the university will be further raising awareness among past and present students throughout the next academic year that initiation will not be tolerated at DMU. The team will be working on collaborating with students to co-produce a guide to alternative events which promote team bonding safely and inclusively.
The BUCS conference runs from 9 to 11 July with the awards ceremony taking place on the evening of 11 July.
Posted on Friday 5th July 2019