Debrief of Students Association discussions with the Neurodivergent Students Network

The OU Students Association logo on a dark blue background.

Leaders of the Neurodivergent Student Network and senior staff from the OU Students Association met on Monday, 21 August to discuss the recent events that had caused some friction between the two and led to some distress for a number of students.

It became clear during the conversations that while there had been some miscommunications and mistakes made on both sides, there were clearly changes that the Association could make that would mean that these issues are avoided in future.

Although a proposal had been made to merge the Disabled Students Group (DSG) and the Neurodivergent Student Club, miscommunications meant that the Student Leadership Team (SLT) were unaware that this was a proposal written as a last resort and were missing the other proposals. The decision to go ahead with the merger was made believing that, as the proposal came from the Chair of the Neurodivergent Student Club, that it must be something that the members wanted. We have of course since discovered that we didn’t have the whole picture and in order to avoid this happening in future, we will ensure that the authors of any proposals to the SLT or Trustee board will be in attendance to present such proposals themselves in future.

We have listened and heard that this decision gave the impression that we did not believe Neurodivergent students could run a Support Group, and this couldn’t be farther from the truth as we have seen the Neurodivergent Students Club thrive in at least the last 12 months or so. As the SLT have not managed to come to a consensus on what conditions are needed to create a new Group (something we are still working on) there is still an option to merge with the DSG to ensure that the voice of Neurodivergent students is being amplified through the right channels, but there was never any expectation or insistence that this take place and the Club close. The DSG are eager to reassure Neurodivergent students that they are welcome in DSG spaces, with many of their members identifying with neurodivergency.

The OU Students Association recognise that there is still much to do to support our Neurodivergent members and will continue to work hard to achieve these goals. During the last Equality, Diversity, Inclusion and Accessibility Steering Group meeting, one of the priorities set was to “Create an Action Plan to improve support for Neurodivergent Students at the OU”.

Although it’s clear that we have started on the wrong foot, we are determined to right our mistakes and get back to the task at hand, ensuring our work is evidence-based. We are grateful to have opened conversations on this, and appreciate the support offered by students to ensure we can do this.