Be the change you want to see at university.
In October last year, I was diagnosed with a health condition which meant I had to completely change my whole lifestyle. My diagnosis meant that I had an incurable endocrine disorder which left me vulnerable to long-term complications and conditions such as diabetes type 2, heart disease as well as always controlling my weight through a gluten-free diet.
I was left with a thousand questions and it was something I really did not need at the start of what would be the most challenging year of my degree.
What do I eat? How much am I supposed to eat? Where do I buy it from? How can I fit in more exercise around my already busy schedule?
Why did this happen to me?!
There were so many things running through my head that it completely distracted me from my work, and so I decided to not hide away from the situation but instead use it to my advantage and change things. So I booked a tutorial and informed my lecturers of the circumstances, and thankfully they showed both support and encouragement, and the feeling of isolation which came with my diagnosis automatically declined a little.
I also challenged the Students’ Union at the University of Derby in their lack of a free-from range, and what products they already had in stock at their Union outlets. Whilst I felt guilty for challenging the people who I worked with for the past three years, I decided that after searching for 20 minutes and only finding a restrictive range of gluten-free snacks that things needed to change. The stigma of free-from foods, the choices available to those who don’t really have a choice in what they should eat and information available to them needed to be addressed, and so again I arranged a meeting with the President of the SU (who is a lovely woman), and a change in SU policy was set in motion.
Working with the programme reps for my course, we were able to compile information and suggested improvements, which included selling free-from foods at cost price to improve inclusivity within the Union.
The policy was passed on February 13th 2014!
It was the confidence boost that I needed, knowing that this policy will improve the choices of those with a cultural background or a medical condition that means they need to follow a specific diet. It will also mean that when someone else is diagnosed with a life-long condition, they hopefully won’t feel as isolated as I felt.
In a small amount of time, I have accepted what is to be in the future but I won’t be defined my condition. Change is a powerful thing and it is an act which can be used to empower both yourself and those who surround you who may be confronting their own personal battles.
I have learnt a few lessons in my third year, and they are the lessons which will always stay with me.
I believe that change is only possible if you make the first step yourself, and it is this life lesson that has given me the confidence to run in the Student Union elections in March – something I most likely would not have contemplated before.