Profile: Aimee Rhead
Aimee Rhead, Student Disability and Welfare Advisor, is a key part of the welfare and academic teams at Univ. She is also responsible for the day-to-day implementation of reasonable adjustments for students with disabilities, including alternative exam arrangements.
How did you come to Univ?
I’ve always worked in education and done lots of different things within that. I was a Humanities Research Assistant in a university library at one point, a secondary school teacher, and a university programme coordinator. A linear career path has never appealed to me and I like the freedom to able to take up roles that interest me.
Before working at Univ, I spent many years working for the Open University and my last job there was as a Student Services Manager for complex student casework. Much of the role involved working with individual students who were facing challenges with their studies as a result of personal circumstances, health issues, disability, or an intersection of these. All of life can be found at the OU and, along with many students who were successfully juggling full-time jobs and families with study, I also worked with students who were doing so while managing severe and debilitating mental and physical health conditions, homelessness, and time in secure environments. They were all amazing and I found the role very rewarding. When my current job was advertised at Univ, the opportunity to explore ways to support students in a different setting appealed to me and I hoped that some of the skills I had learned would be useful here.
What does the role of Student Disability and Welfare Advisor involve?
On the disability side of things, I make sure that every student who tells us about a disability has the opportunity to access support. So, when the University’s Disability Advisory Service make recommendations for reasonable adjustments to support our students, I make sure that those recommendations are implemented and I’m there to try and resolve any issues that might arise. I ensure that our admissions candidates have the adjustments and support that they need to fully access our admissions process each year. I also run familiarisation visits to Univ for offer holders whose disabilities mean that they would benefit from a supported transition to university.
On the Welfare side of things, I’m one of the people in College who students can talk to about anything that’s worrying them. I’m part of the wider College welfare team and it’s important that students have a choice when deciding who they feel most comfortable talking to. I’m there just to listen or to help students explore their concerns and how they might start to address them.
Are there particularly rewarding or challenging aspects to the role that come to mind?
The most challenging aspect is also the most rewarding. When working with students who are managing the most difficult situations, it can be hard to see people struggling. Knowing that I can offer a calm space for students to explore their situation and how they might want to respond to it, and then see them make progress to achieve their goals is incredibly rewarding. It’s not that I’m making a difference, it’s that I’m part of a process in which someone begins to feel able to make a difference for themselves, and that’s the joy.
Do you have any advice for current students, especially during this strange time?
For anyone who has been bereaved or who is coping with difficult circumstances at home, I would simply say that we’re thinking of you and that the welfare team is here if you need to talk.
For anyone who is struggling to adjust to the current restrictions, it’s important to recognise that we’re in unfamiliar territory and that it’s okay to find it hard at times. Emails were sent to all students at the start of Trinity Term offering information and advice on all aspects of remote working, including welfare. Those emails can now be found on the COVID-19 Advice page of the College’s intranet so that students can refer back to relevant resources.
If I were to offer one bit of advice, it would be to invest time each day in looking after yourself, both physically and mentally, even when you don’t feel like it. It really does help. If things are going wrong, remember to be kind to yourself and to ask for support if you need it.
Are there any myths about Univ or the University that you would like to dispel for prospective students?
I think the idea that Oxford is only for the privileged is one of the most misleading. When I studied in Oxford as an undergraduate from a non-privileged background (at a different college), I was very aware that the students with accents like mine were heavily outnumbered. Returning to Oxford twenty years later to work at Univ, I see much greater diversity and students arriving because they’re really good at their subject, and for no other reason.
If a prospective student is worried that Oxford isn’t for them, I would encourage them to think again and to look at the initiatives that the University has invested in to encourage applications from students from a wide array of backgrounds. One of those initiatives started at Univ and, now that our Opportunity Programme has evolved into Opportunity Oxford and encompasses the whole University, I’m looking forward to seeing diversity continue to blossom here and hearing lots more accents around the place.
What’s your favourite part of Univ?
All Oxford colleges are full of designated and restricted spaces. The Fellows’ Garden seems to me to be a very democratic place, filled with Fellows, staff and students working or relaxing, and it’s all the better for it.
Describe Univ in three words.
Open, supportive, evolving.
You can contact Aimee by email.
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