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The team — »We have a student counsellor called Karen. She is a legend.« We heard this from a law student, and so we looked for Karen. Meet Karen Riskær Jørgensen, student and career guidance counsellor at the Faculty of Law
I was standing there with my Santa hat on, serving rice pudding at a Christmas event for students, when someone said to me: ‘Are you Karen? I heard that you are an enabler.’ That’s just great, because it tells me that the word has gotten out that there is a person here that students can talk to if they want things to happen. That was exactly what I dreamed of when I was hired here ten years ago and became the contact person for the study environment: To give the students the experience that they can meet a person that they can confidently talk to – and that their ideas turn into something real. I would rather have them rappelling out of the meeting room window, than holding themselves back.
I’m a huge cliché with a subscription to the [left-leaning newspaper] Politiken, yoga, vegetarian food and all that.
We student counsellors have a subfolder in our mailing system called THANK YOU. Here we store all the positive feedback we get from students, because that is actually what keeps us going. My job consists of one third student counselling, one third developing the study environment, and one third education programme administration. There was someone from one of the student clubs who thought I was full-time at helping the clubs, and this is credit to me: It means that students find that there is someone who is putting real energy into the area. There are now 26 clubs and associations at the Faculty of Law. Some disappear, new ones arise, but it is an upward curve, and I have had to get some support from an office trainee, because I was suddenly bogged down with applications for this and that.
If students and researchers are to shine at the University of Copenhagen, they need a good support system. We know them as technical and administrative staff, and we at the University Post want to celebrate them with this series.
In the associations, you meet students with enthusiasm. People who want to do something for each other beyond the books, the study programme, and the job. They are so sweet and happy. This spring, a couple of dudes in T-shirts showed up and said they wanted to create an alternative Friday bar. One that was more relaxed and chilled out. I met with them in the student area called the Parakaffen, and it was looking so sad and deserted after the corona lockdowns. So there I was with some students who wanted something, and a tired-out café that wanted to get started again, and then along came the Law arts association, which consists of one, diligent, guy who doesn’t like the look of the furniture. My task was then to say: We have three people here who have an opinion about how this space should be used – would you like to join a group? At that time, there was re-start funding for the study environment, so they could also get some money for a draught beer plant and anything else they needed. They have really decorated the room like crazy – it is a mix between a 1980’s passenger ferry and a David Lynch film with curtains all over. It’s really wonderful!
I have set up my own, small-scale, rebellion in clay. All the ugly words I face at the University of Copenhagen (UCPH) — I simply put them into the clay.
They named the Friday bar after a professor that they found cool. They called it the Baumbar after Trine Baumbach, and they invited her as a guest bartender on opening night. Success! We go around saying that we need to interact and listen to students, but we need to do the walk and not just do the talk. And here is UCPH, a big organisation where things often have to go through 17 boards and committees before anything happens. It’s nice as a UCPH employee to have an area where things get done fast. Sometimes, we just need to set up a mountain of sandwiches, then the students will create something that we would not have succeeded with because it would be too resource-intensive. And they can market it to their fellow students in ways that we can never match. It’s just about helping the forces for the good, and offering a hand.
Karen Riskær Jørgensen is 50. Hired as a student and career guidance counsellor at the Faculty of Law since 2012. Has a Master of Arts (MA) in English from UCPH. Her previous work includes being an HR consultant in a pharma company, where she took a coaching programme. This set her off towards her current position – her first job in the public sector.
Many students are lonely or have performance anxiety, and sometimes their best fellow students are not those in class or in their study group, but at the football association or the knitting club. The associations can do something in terms of well-being, which is hands-on. It is not some day out in the future, or something that needs a referral to a psychologist, it is now on Wednesday, and you are welcome, and you will not be measured and assessed. The more we help the different associations, the easier it gets, and we also see other types of students today than ten years ago. Suddenly, associations emerge that are just tired of the rat race. It’s great that it has become visible there are many different types of law students, not just blue shirts and high heels. And they’re all part of a club.
I have to be the employee at the entire university who has the coolest job. I have one leg in the classroom without having to juggle all the teaching obligations and research funding that the lecturers have to. And I’m part of the administration, but I have student contact. I think I’m in a nice place in the middle. I also have a reasonable balance between working life and private life, apart from the periods around the start of the semester. When you are dealing with volunteers, you have to be ready to meet them when they have the enthusiasm. And I have spoiled them a bit, I can see, because if I take a couple of days off, students will remind me to reply to an email that they sent yesterday.
I have a project to create a more inclusive party culture where you take better care of each other. It is together with the Law Discussion Club, which is responsible for the big Friday bars. I was inspired by the alternative club environment in Copenhagen, which works with safer spaces and zero tolerance for harassment. When there are people out there who succeed in communicating guidelines to an audience who are completely plastered and on their way to a pop-up party in a hangar — well then I know that they know what they are doing. I can be inspired on ways that I cannot be in a UCPH forum.
I’m a huge cliché with a subscription to the [left-leaning Danish newspaper, ed.] Politiken, yoga, vegetarian food and all that. It’s terrible, and it’s only going to get worse! I’m more and more into nature and silence, and in ten years time I probably have goats in my garden and a loom on the floor. When you are doing a process job, where you use lots of energy just sitting, and talking, and listening, and acknowledging — then it’s great to come home and do something concrete, like preparing food that you eat afterwards. My husband, who is a psychologist, does the same. We live in a house in Taastrup, which he have been doing up the last 16 years. I also try to do some gardening, because I want to be good at it, but I tend to kill all of the plants. I have started to go to ceramics, which is pretty much my segment.
I have set up my own, small-scale, rebellion in clay. All the ugly words I face at the University of Copenhagen (UCPH) — I simply put them into the clay. They are words like ‘strategy implementation’ or ‘inappropriate enquiry behaviour’, and on the first clay jar in my series there is ‘benefit realisation workshop’, which has to be the ugliest phrase in the whole world. You stumble upon many ugly words at University of Copenhagen meetings. I take them and put them into the clay, so they can live there.
Sometimes I can think: Wow! What am I doing here? The worst is when things come to a standstill. I have just celebrated my 10th anniversary, and you get to see things going around in circles. Ideas that you’ve tried out, turning up again. And you don’t want to be her, the grumpy person who shoots down all the ideas. This can be a struggle. And we need an overview of this huge public organisation. It is a mystery to me why we cannot display an organisation chart showing which teams we have, and which managers they refer to.
We go around saying that we need to interact and listen to students, but we need to do the walk and not just do the talk.
I talk to the students about what is stated between the lines when they educate themselves. There is so much happening in their formative years, and I would like to show them that it is not the most important thing in the world whether they take company law or advanced tax law. It can take the pressure off these choices if they can get a new perspective on them, and I hope that I can help widen their point of view. At the same time, they are also unique years where you get the chance to immerse yourself within a university bubble. To take a course that was dead boring, or to fail an exam. There has to be room for you to experiment, and maybe it’s actually really cool to be on the annual Law variety show. It can be a bit weird, myself a humanities graduate, sitting across from someone who is almost guaranteed a job when they are finished, talking about the antics I had to go through myself. My first job was to write for the ‘Who Wants To Be A Millionaire’ TV show.
Many of my best friends are men. Heterosexual men that is. Sometimes I feel a bit man-like. I like to read Anthony Beevor’s military history books on World War II, drink dark rum and whisky, and I like draught beer. There is a direct way in which men speak together that fits well with my temperament. I have just been fourteen days in the US, where I have been studying the American classics and feeling the beautiful, real USA. Not Trump, but Walt Whitman, the Declaration of Independence, Henry Thoreau, things like that. We were a week in New York with the teenage children, then they flew home and my husband and I walked the woods of Vermont for a week afterwards. It was so cool.
I would like to have dinner with Morten Meldal, who has just been awarded the Nobel Prize. I always get so enthusiastic when researchers talk about their work. And how cool is it that we’ve got a Nobel Prize winner? Respect! I watched a short film about him, where he said he had built his own guitars and had failed some courses. And I thought, yes, let’s share this story.