Student leaders in residential halls at the Australian National University say they are burning out, forced to do more with less under perceived cost-cutting from university management despite a recent review calling for extra resources.
On Saturday, instead of throwing their usual Open Day events, many halls will close their doors in a "strike" over a long-running dispute about living conditions with university management.
A large number of ANU students are housed on campus and its halls have come under scrutiny as the university works to reform campus responses to sexual violence.
In 2018, an independent audit of ANU's halls called for better staff support and remuneration for students acting in pastoral care roles, who can suffer vicarious trauma while juggling their own work and study.
Those leaders told The Canberra Times they were on the front line when a crisis happened - often the first to respond to drug and mental health incidents or hear disclosures of sexual assault.
But the presidents of the ANU's 10 residences say many halls have suffered from apparent cuts to their budget despite recent hikes in rent.
"We're paying more but getting less services and they're not transparent about why that's happening or what's going on," said Bruce Hall president Callum Dargavel.
Both Bruce and Fenner halls have lost their full-time deputy head positions this year, while new halls Wright and Wamburun opened without this staff role.
At the same time, despite a commitment by the university in 2016 to keep ratios of student leaders - known as senior residents - at one for every 25 students, many halls reported those targets were falling well short.
At Wamburun Hall, senior residents Yasmin Potts and Eleanor Cooper said they were looking after more than 80 students between them and at halls run by UniLodge many students said the ratio was closer to one to 50.
"In O Week especially, the pressure gets intense, I'd be calling ambulances for different people late at night," said senior resident India Brown. "You can't do it alone."
President of Wamburun Adam Grossenbacher said he was sometimes forced to skip class so he could help out students in need.
Jade Lin, president of Wright Hall, said student committees were now paying for activities they understood once came out of the hall's budget, including a recent drug forum and free condoms for O Week.
"And we've got less people now to refer up to, so we're sometimes doing the work of a full-time counsellor or a manager," she said.
"We're burning out, we're hearing disclosures and there's no clear policy on what to do, we're spending so much of our time on advocacy."
But an ANU spokesman denied there had been budget cuts to halls and said the deputy head positions had disappeared in some halls when responsibilities for the head role were reduced.
The university had heard from students this new trial model was not working and would review it, he said. Student peer support ratios also included roles beyond senior residents, he said, and all were given a wide range of training including in responding to sexual violence and mental health incidents.
At a meeting with students earlier this month, senior ANU management conceded the pastoral care model was falling short and would be overhauled as part of a "roots and branch" review.
Chief operating officer Chris Grange said he was disturbed by feedback from students but later said he did not think resources were inadequate and there was "no one size fits all" model for pastoral care.
He stressed there were six mechanisms for students to report sexual assault and harassment beyond telling a student leader as major reforms continued on campus to improve responses.
Hall presidents said they understood many disclosures would unavoidably be made to fellow students and they did not want the peer support model itself to go, but stressed leaders needed more trained staff on hand to help them carry the load.
The ANU's student association ANUSA echoed concerns from hall presidents about current pastoral care resourcing, saying it placed an unfair, unsafe and unsustainable burden on students.
Increased hall rent was now pricing more students out of living on campus, they said, which flew in the face of the ANU's commitment to help more students into university accommodation.
But the ANU said it had reviewed its hall fees and they remained cheaper than Sydney or Melbourne universities.
The university had heard concerns from students and was committed to working with them on improvements, the spokesman said.
"[The ANU] is now considering how to supplement pastoral and academic care in residences and will present its recommendations back to a student forum on 11 September," he said.