Chief Executive Officer of the Dublin Rape Crisis Centre and alumnus of University College Dublin (UCD), Noeline Blackwell, has been appointed to the UCD Governing Authority. On Wednesday afternoon Minister for Further and Higher Education, Simon Harris took to Twitter to announce his appointment saying the decision was a signal of his “intent to ensure issues regarding harassment and promotion of gender equality are represented at the highest levels within our institutions.” 

The UCD Governing Authority was first established under the ‘Universities Act 1997’ and is the primary governing body for the university. Its purpose is to guide the strategic direction of the university, determine policies, quality assurance and control, among other roles. 

Ms Blackwell is the CEO of the Dublin Rape Crisis Centre, which works to prevent the harm and heal the trauma of sexual violence through education training and awareness raising campaigns. Speaking to The Irish Times, she said that she is “extremely honoured” by her appointment and happy to see the Minister’s intention to promote gender equality and to end tolerance of sexual harassment in third level institutions.

The appointment follows UCD School of Mathematics & Statistics Assistant Professor, Dr Aoibhinn Ní Shúilleabháinn’s decision to speak out about the two years of harassment she experienced from a colleague at UCD. Speaking to The Irish Times, Dr Ní Shúilleabháinn said that she wanted to draw attention to the harassment of female academics and students on university campuses in Ireland. 

Speaking on this, Ms Blackwell said that Dr Ní Shúilleabáinn’s case revealed that “little is understood in UCD as well as other colleges” who previously believed that the “system was good given how few reports of sexual harassment the colleges showed”. She added: “our perception in the Rape Crisis Centre is that it is a very damaging malfunction within university society and it is damaging to those who have been abused, the institution itself, and to all of us as a society.” 

Last June, results from a national survey of college students found that 29% of female, 28% of non-binary and 10% of male students had experienced “non-consensual penetration by incapacitation, force or threat of force” while attending college. Whilst Ms Blackwell acknowledges that it will take a lot of thought, time and resources to instigate a true zero-tolerance approach to sexual assault and harassment she insists that “with the backing of the Department, who are pushing this, we could see a much healthier college culture for all students and staff and all those who are at risk of power abuse in colleges.”

Emma Hanrahan – Reporter

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