Is Your Estrangement Valid?
I was mentioning the upcoming events for Estranged Students Solidarity Week (ESSW) to a friend recently, and she went very quiet for a moment before saying, “I haven’t spoken to my Dad since I was 12. Does that count?”
Another friend messaged me saying, “I’ve re-established contact with my Mum, recently, so I guess I’m not estranged.”
Then someone messaged me with a sentiment that hit really hard:
“I have to keep in contact with my parents because I need the financial support to get through University. Can I still come to the events this week?”
I wish that ESSW had been a thing in Exeter in my first and second years at University. These lovely people could have found out much sooner that there experiences are not only valid, but they are very real forms of estrangement.
Cutting Contact As A Student
My situation is quite typical: I do not have any contact with either of my parents. But for my first 2 years of University, I hesitated to call myself “estranged” because I still got a monthly text message from my father. I wish I had known that it is okay to seek support even if you’re not “officially” cutting contact yet.
This is a fundamental characteristic of being an estranged student, rather than simply an estranged adult. Especially in first year, you’re likely to still be a financial dependent. Not to mention that at 18, you’re still figuring out who you are and what you want to do with your life. Heck, I’m still working both of those out at 20. Doing this without parents can be exceptionally difficult, and so who can blame you for keeping a bit of contact, for your own survival?
How The System Invalidates Us
Questions of whether your estrangement is valid or “official” are not helped by the systems we have to navigate at University. For instance, Student Finance England often requires you to be Means Tested for loans, which requires you to divulge parental income. I personally cannot survive on anything less than the maximum loan, and so every year, I had to contact my parents to get them to fill out and send off forms. I then had to declare and prove my estrangement.
But how could I? What qualifies as proof of that? I asked the man on the phone. I could feel his awkwardness as he realised there was no real system in place for people like me. So you want me to contact them, putting myself in danger, to prove we’re poor. But you also want me to prove that I haven’t contacted them in over a year, and thus don’t receive financial support? What do you want?
He went quiet. Then he mumbled “We’ll get the maximum maintenance loan sorted for you, Miss. Morris.”
Ha. I won: but at what cost? Retraumatisation once or twice a year, no biggy.
Furthermore, there’s UCAS. Universities tend to offer support to students who declared their estrangement during their UCAS applications. But what if, like me, you officially cut contact during University? Well, then, the help is never advertised to you, and you go about your academic life thinking you’re completely alone. Thinking it will always be this hard.
As it happens, there is support for estranged students at Exeter: that is what this first ESSW is all about. Raising awareness of the resources available across campus, so that no student has to feel alone in their estrangement again.
So: I want you to know that Estranged Students Solidarity Week is here to see you. Even if your situation isn’t “typical” estrangement. If you have one parent, we see you. If you have minimal contact, we see you. If you have full contact, but you’re unsupported, we are here. You are welcome, at all of the events this week, and I hope you find peace here. Your struggles are valid: and they will no longer be fought alone.