Get to know the leaders of ‘Students for Academic Mitigation’
This week, POI sat down with two leaders of the ‘Students for Academic Mitigation’ (S4AM) movement. It is currently gaining momentum in Exeter and across the country. Whilst getting to know the leaders of this growing social media movement, Bella Enoizi and Jacob Myers gave us their thoughts on the campaign and their advice to current students.
Jacob, a final year Politics and Sociology Student, founded Students For Academic Mitigation in November 2020 in response to more lockdowns, uncertainty and disadvantage for students.
Bella is a final year English Literature with Italian student who wrote an open letter to the University in November asking for new mitigation policies to be put in place. It got over 2000 signatures. Both came together and formed ‘Students for Academic Mitigation’.
We interviewed both of them the evening after their #SaveOurGrades initiative, which saw students at the University of Exeter contacting the University across social media platforms demanding change.
What does Students for Academic Mitigation stand for and what are you trying to achieve?
We launched a national campaign for academic mitigation at all UK universities in November, which is at 19,000 signatures. This came after one of our first meetings with the senior team at Exeter made it clear they had no intention of conceding easily. – Bella Enoizi
Why set up Students for Academic Mitigation?
S4AM was set up with three key aims: recognition, mitigation and expansion: recognition that students this year are facing the same (if not worse) conditions as students last year, mitigation to prevent these conditions from impacting our grades, and expansion meaning no student should be left behind, whichever year you’re in and whatever university you’re studying at. – Jacob Myers
What were your reactions to the University of Exeter ‘Head of Education Services’ calling you terrorists?
I can honestly say I was relieved. Finally, the contempt that some members of administrative staff have shown for students asking for help was in black and white for everyone to see. When universities say they are meeting with students, they are virtue signalling. They don’t want to admit that their service this year hasn’t been the same as in previous years. Inviting us to non-committal meetings eases their conscience and helps with their PR. – Jacob Myers
What has the response from the university been so far and what has the government done so far?
The University issued an apology which was all well and good, but the apology stated “supporting our students is our priority at all times” which I found a little ironic. Almost like saying they’ll support us if its support they agree we need rather than listening to us when we tell them we need it – and definitely not when too many of us tell them. Despite that though, S4AM does want to continue a constructive dialogue with the University. Our aim was for as many student voices as possible to show them that we really are representing the majority. The event was intended as a peaceful, online form of self-expression for students, not a militant attack on the University or staff – who we see as our biggest potential allies in gaining support. – Bella Enoizi
Russell Group universities have said it would devalue their degrees. Do you think this is the case?
The way that universities seem to be prioritising reputation over the welfare of their students has genuinely shocked me. The academic standards upon which their reputations rest are only applicable to the times in which they were achieved. Moreover, I would argue that completing a degree this year in itself assigns more value to it given what students are facing while maintaining academic standards. Also, are they happy for us to enter the same graduate markets as students who did receive better support and did better, leading to those universities rising up league tables? Their reputations are as much in the hands of their students as in the league tables. Any business that angers, disappoints and alienates their customers will get bad ‘reviews’. Word of mouth is a powerful thing. – Bella Enoizi
What would you do if mitigation wasn’t granted? And for the students worrying about this, what should they do?
Panic… No, I’m joking. If we’re unsuccessful in gaining any support I would obviously be extremely disappointed, let alone concerned for my grades. I think the amount of time and effort both Jacob and I have put into this shows how passionate we are and how much we truly believe this really is the right thing for Exeter to do. I also hope other students don’t feel let down by us. – Bella Enoizi
What can students do to help students for Academic Mitigation?
Honestly; just follow our Facebook and Twitter. Please share our content with other students and parents – angry parents are a really useful ‘tool’! Also – keep talking about it! Don’t let the conversation around academic mitigation and student struggle die down. Contact news outlets and give them our details, and write to people yourselves like your MP. – Bella Enoizi
Don’t stop talking about it! Things will go quiet again for a while as we go into another round of negotiations and meetings, but the more people that are talking about it and using the #SaveOurGrades, the stronger our bargaining position is! – Jacob Myers
Has this become a national movement, or is this mainly Exeter based campaign?
The aim has always been for this to be a national campaign, and we’re coordinating with amazing student groups across the country, as well as NUS in order to achieve that. The response to our national petition has been very strong, with almost 20 thousand signatures already. However, this isn’t something to celebrate. We noticed that our signatures skyrocketed every time the government failed to give guidance to university students, and every time a university said “no” to the people they claim to care about. The signatures are not an achievement, they’re a sign of our collective exasperation. – Jacob Myers
What have you managed to achieve so far?
Getting into a meeting with the people actually in charge of our degrees I think is an achievement in itself. Then to have them go from “absolutely nothing will change” to “we’ll consider it” is another win. We’ve worked our way up the food chain, gained endorsements from the Guild and NUS, received almost 20,000 signatures on our national petition and we’ve barely started! – Jacob Myers
How do you feel about having to set this up and fight the University while struggling with your own university work? Must be incredibly frustrating?
I don’t think it is right or fair that we have had to do this. We are told to reach out when we are concerned and despite doing so the University hasn’t presented us any alternatives. It shouldn’t fall to the students to suggest alternative academic policies to the experts. I never thought it would take this long to be heard and I definitely didn’t appreciate how much extra work it is. – Bella Enoizi
Somebody’s gotta do it right? The university relies on us being too stressed and busy to fight for things like this, but I couldn’t sit back and watch our futures go down the drain. Bella and I often joke that we’ve written more about academic policy than we have about our degrees. – Jacob Myers
Some students are scared about standing up to their University. Should they be?
We know that some people may feel apprehensive about this but we want to reassure you that voicing legitimate concerns to your university in a polite and respectful way is completely within your rights. You can also email staff you know personally to open up a dialogue this way. You have the right to speak up, and we at S4AM and anyone campaigning at other universities really needs as many student voices behind us as possible. – Bella Enoizi
Tell us the story of how Students for Academic Mitigation started?
I started S4AM in November 2020 as a response to the lack of mitigation policies after what had already been a disastrous two months for students. I didn’t think the situation was going to change any time soon, and I was worried that universities would be too slow to react and save our grades. Sometimes I wish my prediction wasn’t right! – Jacob Myers
What do you plan on doing after this? Personally and as a campaign?
I am looking at further education, but I have actually been asked to stand as next year’s VP for Education at the Exeter Guild (shameless plug – please vote for me). As a campaign, I think we will both try and help other universities obtain policies and I’d like to continue sharing students’ stories in the media. – Bella Enoizi
I’m looking at a range of options after graduation, but in the long term, I want to work in frontline politics. Who knows, maybe I’ll be Universities minister one day! S4AM will continue working until we have protective policies nationwide, or we’re charged as cyber-terrorists, whichever comes first! – Jacob Myers
POI’s Reactions to the Movement
Neglect and PR stunts will not silence students – A Labour Response
Jacob mentioned PR and the easing of consciences – this sums up this whole debacle perfectly. Universities are trying to do the bare minimum to silence students and to avoid further scrutiny. In reality, it will be a much greater PR issue if they continue to underestimate the student voice, condemning them as “cyber-terrorists” and the like.
Written by Chief Labour Writer, Abi Clargo
The sacrifice they are making is truly inspiring – A Liberal Response
The one thing I think most people have not yet realised about this movement is the sacrifice organisers are making. Having sat down with Bella and Jacob, you can clearly see the time and dedication they have devoted to this organisation. They are potentially sacrificing their university grades on behalf of students across the country. Whether you agree with what they are asking for or not, you should at least be able to appreciate the sacrifices they are making.
Written by Senior Liberal Writer, Max Anderson
“Universities are sat twiddling their thumbs due to a lack of guidance” – A Conservative Response
The government simply have not provided universities, university bodies and student organisations with enough guidance. Jacob and Bella have voiced important points such as the university telling students to “reach out” but they simply do not have the answers. The comments made by the university staff member was a huge mistake on their part. At least the University has apologised, but that will simply not stop this movement. The campaign has formally been endorsed by NUS UK and a petition has been put together on Change.org with over 20,000 signatories.
I urge the government to provide universities and student bodies with greater guidance to ease students’ consciences. Universities need to see the light and provide greater support under these strenuous circumstances.
Written by Junior Conservative Writer, Max Jablonowski