Almost every student at the University of St. Andrews stays in halls at least once, meaning that most of them have experienced the way halls function. Recently, the Stand was given information about the university’s plans to change the current wardennial system. Keen to find out more, I spoke to a current warden about the situation.
The warden said that the short-term plan is to remove wardens and head wardens, replacing them with a combination of ‘halls-life coordinators’, night porters and critical responders. Halls-life coordinators are supposed to provide the daytime support of current wardens, as well as organise social events for students, but will be spread across three halls and work predominately in the daytime – thus reducing the amount of immediate support available for students.
When turning to the students to try and gauge their reactions to the switch, the first thing I found was that the majority of them were very much unaware that a change was going to take place. This seems quite sneaky, considering how the change could directly impact them, especially as students currently in halls are more likely to be the ones re-applying than those currently not. It also makes one question how aware prospective students are of the change. With the switch away from wardens potentially impacting their wellbeing and safety, one would think that not only should the students be notified, bearing in mind that the wardens were told in February, but that their opinions should be taken into consideration on the matter.
That being said, many students did not have too much to comment about the switch, stating that all of their wardens seemed nice but that they hadn’t had much contact with the team. One student even remarked that they genuinely did not so much as know the names of their wardens, whilst others said that they saw the wardens as being there primarily to enforce rules (like no candles in rooms). I know that, especially for me, being in halls last year mid-Covid created an Us vs. Them atmosphere as it fell on the wardens to enforce Covid restrictions. Although this only added to potential negative views around the wardens’ jobs, it’s important to note that, if there were no wardens and only halls-life coordinators, it would have been much harder for the university to enforce government guidelines.
Student wellbeing was one of the main concerns for the warden I spoke to. One student stated that, when they needed support, they simply contacted the school’s wellbeing officer, although the idea of night porters did seem essential for safety. That being said, I do think that, whilst it may be more efficient to have night porters and then hall-life coordinators, streamlining the wardens to do everything creates a more personal atmosphere for people who have faced difficulties – especially if something happens at night. Having the same person who helped you at night be available to speak to during the day in your halls seems like a bonus and, therefore, not something we should be getting rid of. Moreover, whilst many students will only have had minimal interaction with the wardens, for those who have received support from them, it may be worrying to see a potential change in pre-existing support systems, especially when the future restructuring will not offer anywhere near as much support as they have been given.
One student I spoke to felt that simply knowing that the wardens were there within halls had been helpful, especially when acclimatising to not just a new school but a new country. Whilst the student also remarked that they’d enjoyed getting to know the wardens and had a lot of respect for them, they acknowledged that a lot of students don’t take the opportunity to meet or even talk to their warden. The student went on to say that they deemed wardens as mentors, not babysitters, with many of them being past undergraduates at the University themselves. From this point of view, it seems that perhaps the wardennial system has a lot of potential and that simply replacing them with halls-life coordinators, who will be spread across multiple buildings, will not benefit students, making it harder to ask a casual question let alone build a relationship with these people.
As well as the undergraduate student body’s reaction, it is also important to consider the issues created by this change in structure for the wardens themselves. With wardens currently living in the halls, so as to provide as much constant support as possible, their redundancy will mean losing their home of potentially many years. I was told that, for some wardens, their hall is the place in which their children are being raised, bringing added stress to the relocation process. The situation is only made worse by the fact that the wardens were only informed of the university’s decision in February, which does not give them long to find new accommodation – especially when you consider how students start looking for housing at the end of Semester 1, ready for September, and these wardens are starting searching in February, ready for the end of May. Wardens should have been told much sooner about such a drastic change to their living situation.