Source: University of Otago
Member of Hold On To Your Friends, Hannah Van Kampen.
A new student-led group aims to figure out what students can do to help work towards achieving the promises of the Sophia Charter and making Otago’s student culture safer, says a representative.
The wheels of the group Hold On To Your Friends (or HOTYF as their bright orange sign initialises) were set in motion by Sophia Crestani’s best friend Otago graduate Megan Prentice.
The charter was established by Sophia’s parents with stakeholders in the North Dunedin community following Sophia’s tragic death at a flat party in 2019.
It aims to increase the safety and wellbeing of students in North Dunedin.
Prentice, and her peers Olivia Karavias and Elise Streat, all of whom have now graduated, felt at first that there was a disconnect between the large-scale infrastructural work being put into place by the University, and what tauira hear and understand about the message of the Charter.
In answer to this they came together to create an organisation which supports the message of the Charter, but is ‘by students, for students’.
The aims of the group include promoting a safe student culture without stopping the fun of undergraduate life.
Its members are also intent on making sure that as time passes the mahi to prevent any more tragedies from happening continues on the ground, with messages about safety effectively reaching students.
Representative of the group, Hannah Van Kampen, says that Hold On To Your Friends aims to figure out what students can do to help work towards the promises of the Charter.
The North Dunedin Clean Up day in 2022.
The first major event Hold On To Your Friends is involved with is the annual North Dunedin Clean Up, which will be held on Friday, 24 March.
The event will take place with the support of The Social Impact Studio, OUSA, Property Services, Waste Management, the Sustainability Office, the Proctor’s Office and Campus Watch.
The Clean Up aims to support the Sophia Charter by promoting a respect for flats and the surrounding areas, on the understanding that clean flats are one crucial step towards safe flats.
If tauira, kaimana or members of the community want to take part in this year’s clean up, they can come and meet the team at 12pm at the Marsh Study Centre on Castle Street.
Hold On To Your Friends would be thrilled with the support, Hannah says.
She runs the group with other Otago tauira Ben Prentice, Bede Brown, Louisa Mason and Niamh Orr Walker.
These undergraduates come from courses across the university, from PPE to physiotherapy, but have one major thing in common: they don’t want the important messages about safe student culture promoted by the Sophia Charter to become less relevant to their peers as new cohorts of students who didn’t know Sophia arrive on campus.
Hannah explains that the high student turnover at a university means many students only stay in Ōtepoti for three years, which is causing concerns amongst Sophia’s hoa about the relevance of the message being lost.
Hold On To Your Friends aims to keep the message relevant and at the forefront of student’s minds, planning ‘flat chats’ for second years who are just beginning their flatting lives, building community connections, running events such as the aforementioned North Dunedin Clean Up, and working to promote safe flatting and a balance between fun and safety.
Hold On To Your Friends is an autonomous group and they are not for profit.
The group has been running for eight months, and will continue to focus on foundation building and making connections for the remainder of its first year.
So far members are working with the Student Health Service and the Social Impact Studio, with plans to expand their links as they grow and develop.
The message that Hold On To Your Friends want tauira reading this to take away is that they’re not trying to stop the fun, they are just trying to make sure there is support for students who need it and that real progress is taking place to make student culture safer, says Hannah.
If you want to join their venture, or simply follow along with the amazing work they are doing you can email them at firstname.lastname@example.org, follow them on Instagram at @HOTYF.Otago, or keep up with their Facebook page Hold On To Your Friends.
Members of HOTYF with Sophia Crestani’s Parents, from left to right: Niamh Orr-Walker, Louisa Mason, Ben Prentice, Elspeth McMillan and Bede Crestani.
Kōrero by Alice Billington, Internal communications staff writer.