How to be an Ally to Estranged Students
Leah shares her experiences of being a student at uni without the support of her family, for Estranged Students Solidarity Week.
An estranged student is somebody who studies without the support of their families. This is not simply “not getting along” with their parents; it is being out of contact with them irreconcilably.
Estrangement can occur through several ways such as parental loss, disownment or it not being safe to contact their parents.
Many estranged students find navigating university difficult. Estranged students are nearly twice as likely as other students to drop out of their studies, and a lot of these students feel under-represented at university or subject to stigma or judgement. As peers, friends, and allies it is important to support estranged students in the best ways we can. This is why the university has signed the Stand Alone Pledge which offers university support. There are ways that students and staff can further support estranged students.
Normalising Estrangement and Education
Some people may find it difficult to connect to their estranged friends due to a lack of understanding or in fear they may upset them. Finding the balance between trying to be helpful and coming off as patronising is sometimes difficult, which is why education around this topic is important. Reading information from charities such as Become Charity or Stand Alone will aid allies understanding of estrangement. Normalising and spreading awareness are crucial to removing the stigma.
Being aware of language can make estranged students feel included. For example, asking “are you going home for Christmas?” may put an estranged student in a very uncomfortable situation – some estranged students may feel like they will make the conversation awkward if they were to answer honestly. For many estranged students, university is their home.
More inclusive language will allow all students to partake in conversations. Asking questions about family is done in innocence, but we can all make efforts to be inclusive. If you say the wrong thing by accident or notice someone is uncomfortable, simply apologise and move on without making things awkward.
Offering to talk to estranged students about their experiences may be welcomed, but everyone’s situation is different. If an estranged student wants to talk about their situation, listen and try not to compare their situation to somebody else’s. Assure them that you are there for them and consider ways you can help them through difficult times.
Estranged students may be alone during the holidays, so offering to celebrate with them can help. Be sure to check in on them (and all of your friends for that matter!) to make sure they are doing okay and ask how you can help.