Silverline Draws Criticism

Silverline Draws Criticism

Students concerned about impact of festival despite positive reviews

A student who attended the Silverline Festival is accusing organisers of not providing enough mental health support for attendees, but Silverline say feedback from their event was overwhelmingly positive.

Last week, Critic Te Arohi reported that the event cost $26,000. The student reached out anonymously, saying that “it’s pretty shocking to see money like that being dropped alongside a shit ton of traumatic stories … and no bloody trained professionals to help.” 

“One of our friends left in tears halfway through Friday night after a speaker spoke touched on sexual assault, with no one outside of the lecture theatre there to look after students who may have been triggered by a topic, and leaving to take a break. Instead she entered a crowd of studying students and caterers setting up food,” they said.  

“There were no constructive tools to handle mental health, no experts in the room to chat to. Instead we were directed to the Silverline office ‘for biscuits and a hug’ if you were feeling down …. Surely this is bloody dangerous.”

In a statement, Social Impact Studio Co-ordinator Sze-En Watts told Critic Te Arohi: “We are really sorry to learn about the student who we didn’t manage to get support during the Festival event despite our plans to prevent this from happening. If the student was willing, we would be happy to get in touch to see how we might plan better for future events where this kind of support may be needed.”

Sze-En refuted the idea that they did not provide enough support for attendees. “Silverline collaborated with R U OK? to provide support for students if needed during the event. On Friday evening, we had stalls with staff from Te Whare Tāwharau, Student Health, OUSA Student Support, Life Matters, and Thursdays in Black to promote the support they had available to students.” In addition, she said they provided content warnings via e-mail and social media prior to the event, and contact details for support services (including 24/7 services) included in attendees’ free tote bags and in follow-up e-mails. 

Rebecca Shepherd, Co-Director of Thursdays in Black, said that "Thursdays in Black Otago are not a support service and were not providing support at Silverline Festival. We were at Silverline to further the discussion about sexual violence on campus and encourage people to wear black on Thursdays to stand in solidarity with survivors." Further, she said that Thursdays in Black Otago "attended Silverline Festival under the impression that adequate support systems would be in place at the festival, given the sensitive nature of some of the topics discussed." 

Sze-En noted that in a survey of Silverline Festival attendees, 80% said they “LOVED IT” while the other 20% said “it was pretty good.” She also pointed to positive comments from attendees, including: 

  • “[It was] a safe space where I was comfortable to talk about sensitive topics,” 
  • “awesome to have an event dedicated to mental health with such open discussions”
  • “when I was at festy the atmosphere was just so comforting and safe that I too felt safe.”

She finished by saying that “Silverline Festival is only possible because of the willingness from others to collaborate and challenge the struggle that can be our own mental health and wellbeing.” 

Updated 2 August 2021 to add comment from Thursdays in Black Otago. 

This article first appeared in Issue 16, 2021.
Posted 4:01pm Sunday 25th July 2021 by Denzel Chung.