Starting University is a daunting experience for students. The prospect of moving or commuting to a new city, starting a new course, meeting lots of new people and attempting to navigate your way around an unfamiliar campus can be anxiety-inducing for anyone enrolling under normal circumstances, let alone for the freshers of 2020, who are having to adapt to all of these changes during a pandemic.
As York St John Law Society is student-led, we were very conscious of the fact that the new cohort of students joining our course were entering very unfamiliar and uncertain times, and that this was going to be a big change for them. The first-year students are starting University under very different circumstances to how we started two years ago, therefore we thought it was really important to have a support system of experienced law students in place for them.
The aim of our mentoring system is to ensure that the first-year students have a smooth transition into University life. We want to make sure that they know where to access all of the information that they need, whether it be how to find a particular reading list, or where a certain building on campus is. However, as most of their learning is going to be online this semester, we also want to provide support in being able to access and use software such as Microsoft Teams, where most of their teaching will take place.
We also want to get the new students involved with the law school and the society by getting to know us and the staff. We have events planned throughout the semester, such as debates and moots, and we are keen to get the first-year students involved with these to boost their confidence and make them feel included within the law school. We suggested that the peer mentors could attend these events with their mentees, if the students are feeling unsure about attending alone.
What we did
Our mentoring scheme is a mixture of second and third year students. I assigned each mentor around four first year students each, meaning each one had their own small group of mentees. We then arranged individual meetings for each mentor and mentee on Microsoft Teams so that they could talk safely online, on the last day of freshers week. Each of these meetings lasted around ten minutes, mainly just a general conversation between the mentors and mentees about how freshers week has gone, and if they had any questions for us. We asked questions such as if they’d settled into their accommodation, if they’d managed to enjoy welcome week despite the majority of it being online, as well as what they were looking forward to in the upcoming semester.
After speaking to the peer mentors, I found that the initial meetings between them and the mentees seemed to be a very positive experience for everyone involved. Many first year students asked questions about our experience of being a Law student at York St John, as well as showing interest and excitement in what was to come further along in their degree with the module options available to them in second and third year. Some also seemed very interested in our recently launched Law Clinic. The first years have been taking part in a Law challenge, set by the staff, which many students said they enjoyed as it helped them get to know York and get to know some of their coursemates. Another big difference for them starting university this year is that they haven’t been able to meet the majority of their coursemates due to the COVID19 restrictions, therefore we hope some of our events as a Society can bring the course together, even if it is virtually. Welcome week tends to be overwhelming even in normal circumstances, so reassurance that the semester does get easier as the first-year students settle in seemed to be helpful to them too.
During the upcoming semester, we aim to offer support to the first-year students in whichever form they may need. This can be through campus tours, meeting up in small groups for coffees, or guidance on how to use any of the online teaching apps so they are able to access everything they need to study. We hope to catch up with our mentees regularly so that they feel supported and involved with the law school throughout their first semester of University.
The last thing we want is for the first-year law students to feel alone in the new journey they have embarked on, and we hope our mentoring system can ensure that doesn’t happen.
Lauren Kelly, September 2020