Lancashire Times
A Voice of the Free Press
3:30 AM 22nd January 2022

How Joining A Society Can Change Your Uni Experience

Sarah Meyer is a postgraduate student at Leeds Beckett University where she studies journalism. Here she writes about the benefits of joining a university society.

For many young people in the country, going to university after school is the first step into a more independent life and is awaited with excitement. But being away from home and having to face a completely new environment brings its own challenges that often prove to be more difficult than expected. Then, it can be helpful to join one of the many societies to find likeminded people.

Because I felt the exact same way when I first started uni years ago, I recently became part of the committee for one of the many societies at Leeds Beckett University - the Equals Society. Equals Soc wants to give LGBTQIA+ students a safe, inclusive and fun space where they can just be themselves and know that they will be accepted for who they are. We host a range of events such as game nights, virtual movie nights or bar crawls and even won Society of the Year in 2016/2017.

In my role as welfare and equality officer in the current academic year, I try to ensure that the society is accessible and welcoming to everyone, but I am also there to support members in difficult situations. Whether it might be a mental health issue or conflicts with family or friends, I want to be someone that they feel comfortable talking to and opening up to whenever they have problems. If needed, I can also support members in getting further help, for example refer them to student services, which is a step that can be daunting by yourself. Sometimes you are so stuck in your own head that it helps to talk to someone that is not necessarily in your close circle, as they can give you a different perspective on things - that is what we as a society are for, too.

I often get asked why I joined a society not only as a member, but even as a committee member, and I honestly never get tired of answering that question because it is so important to me. Societies can be such a crucial part of someone’s uni experience and can help massively with making friends and finding likeminded people, even beyond the original topic of the society. Just to name a few examples, Equals Soc had a trip to New York planned, and we have a Discord server where people can play video games together. As exciting as the new chapter in life is, uni can be quite scary and overwhelming at first, so it helps to have that one place you can go to where you know you will be understood. Societies are also beneficial because they give you a sort of structure with the different meetings and events, or even just with something as small as a group chat where someone is always likely to be online and able to reply to your message.

Without a doubt, my own experience played a big part in my decision as well, though. I grew up in Germany but spent a year in Nottingham at Nottingham Trent University during my undergraduate degree, where I really struggled at first. I felt like I did not fit in with the people on my course or in my accommodation, so I joined a society, and while I remember being super anxious before the first meeting, I quickly made friends I am still very close with to this day. It felt like finding a home away from home. Those positive experiences even motivated me to move back to England for my postgraduate, so when I came back I wanted to play a part in giving others a similar experience. I wanted to give them that feeling that they belong somewhere.

Image: b52_Tresa / Pixabay
Image: b52_Tresa / Pixabay
When I first came out at 17, so only shortly before people are usually off to university, I did not have anyone to talk to or even anyone I could relate to, because I was the only person in my town that was part of the LGBTQIA+ community. Especially as a young person, this can make you feel extremely alienated, lonely and misunderstood - a mindset that no one wants to have, particularly not when you are just about to start a new chapter of your life away from old friends and family. Looking back on it now, I know that this time really affected me and took a toll on my mental health, so when I had the opportunity to apply for the role of welfare and equality officer in Equals society, I immediately knew I wanted to go for it. I was keen to use my own experiences to prevent others from having to go through something similar, or at least to be able to offer them a safe space at university, even more so if they did not have one before.

While mental health is an important part of someone’s overall health and wellbeing, uni can unfortunately impact it a lot. You might be living alone for the first time, adjusting to a new city, surrounded by completely new people, and you have the added pressure of deadlines. All of this is difficult enough to deal with on its own, so we as a society want to be that one small thing students do not have to worry about, because we will always be there, no matter what might happen on the course, with flatmates or back at home.