A seminar on design and mental health, organized by and for students
‘Eine Krise bekommen – Design und psychische Gesundheit’ is an open 3 day seminar organized by and for students in the field of art and design, aiming to discuss their neoliberal and often toxic working environments. Besides narratives of overworked and therefore successful designers that seemingly legitimatize our self exploitation, there are many institutional realities that we don’t want to accept any longer. Feedback on our projects that is too personal, curricula that are barely doable, and exclusive, even discriminating contents are things that make up a normality, just hidden very well under the image of a desirable university title. Contrary to this power imbalance we were seeking to open a safer space that avoids pressure to perform and creates a collective atmosphere instead. As we found the perfect environment for that at the Floating University, we could take a step back from our familiar setting and create many occasions to rest, take a walk in the low water and get to know each other while we shared meals and especially respected our capacities every time we worked together.
The mornings we spent online, starting with a check-in round about the state of everybody and followed by an input by one of our guests:
Lisa Baumgarten and Mara Recklies opened a discussion from the teaching perspective and pled for a less competitive and more appreciative design teaching. They were also stressing out that the contract condition itself sometimes prohibits an appropriate student-teacher relation.
Rebecca Stephany read a part of the new publication ‘Glossary of Undisciplined Design’ and gave us insights on her dealing with obedient and clean design ideals.
Another morning we invited a student collective called ‘In the Meantime’ from Hamburg that started a similar initiative at the HfbK to allow more vulnerability and solidarity between the students. With their self-made fortune cookies we split into groups and had personal exchanges about moments when saying ‘No’ felt productive or how self-care could look like.
Martina Hügli introduced us to the very alarming survey ‘wiegETHs’ done at the ETH Zürich which was inquiring the mental situation and well-being of the students there, also in relation to the pandemic. With these insights in mind we gathered at the Floating University in the afternoons and developed approaches on how to change these structures. How can we stop teachers from overstepping our boundaries? What can we do to make toxic working conditions visible? And how can we encourage each other to voice and watch our capacities and develop more healthy design environments?
We also had to learn how to give each other space – even if it meant that the original plan for a seminar day turned out not to be fitting to what was needed at that time. Instead of presenting finished projects in the end we met for a long brunch and collected our experiences from the time between the meetings. ‚In the Meantime’ invited us to write a personal letter to our first-semester-self, thinking about what useless ideals we could leave behind right away and what to take care of instead.
In the end these three days encouraged many people to speak up about unjustifiable behaviors and the pressure in their studies. Some students of the FH Potsdam teamed up to criticize these realities in their institution and opened an autonomous student group as well. Others reversed the power imbalances at UdK Berlin and spread a Zine with caricatures of situations with professors we experience every day. Hopefully they will recognize themselves in it! All these things wouldn’t have been possible without the help of our inspiring guests and the – likewise student-organized – network ‘Interflugs’ who supported us financially, structurally and emotionally.
However the ‘Krise’ is handled in the future, it was empowering to see how a more solidary and comfortable frame changes the way we meet, work and interact with each other. We can already see student-initiatives connecting Germany-wide and are definitely looking forward to end exploitative, discriminative and toxic university structures.
Eine Krise bekommen – Design und psychische Gesundheit
A hybrid seminar as a part of Studium Generale „Körper in der Krise/Bodies in Crisis“ in 2021
organized by Destina Atasayar, Katharina Brenner, Luisa Herbst, Lucie Jo Knilli
Illustration by Sarah Böttcher / @sarahboettcher_