Ciara Johnson, a final year Law student from Co. Sligo, is one of two candidates contesting this year’s election for the position of Welfare and Equality officer. Through her work with ‘See Change,’ ‘Please Talk’ and her position as Gender Equality officer, Ciara has garnered a wealth of experience with all matters welfare. She told the College Tribune about her enjoyment of various undertakings relating to welfare and why she thinks she is qualified, “I definitely think I have the passion and experience for the position. I’ve served on the welfare crew for the past three years. It was probably one of the best decisions I ever made in university.”
Her interest for involvement stemmed from the fact that mental health is something that is a widely-experienced factor in people’s lives, “I don’t think there’s any person that hasn’t been affected, in particular by mental health issues or difficulties.” This universal experience is something that Ciara draws on in her manifesto when she promises, “one in every one-hundred students will be ‘Safe Talk’ trained.” She also says that she will ensure that the €1.6 million from the HEA (Higher education authority) is used to restructure the current counselling service by contracting in more counsellors during busy periods. Despite the decision of UCD students to leave USI, which was responsible for appropriating some of the HEA funding, this money has been “ring-fenced because of the over payment of certain staff members of the university so it has been put aside for student services.”
Ciara, through her role as a peer mentor, has found that she has become used to dealing with problems of students and she thinks that this, coupled with the fact that she has been ‘Safe Talk’ trained, has helped her to be a listener and has put her in a relatively good position to deal with personal cases. The training with ‘Safe Talk’ teaches you when it’s essential to refer on…to a higher cause to make sure everybody is safe and I think that that’s an essential skill for anybody going into this position.”
Ciara has planned to introduce a budgeting app with the aim of aiding students to manage their money. While apps are not as expensive as they were in the past to produce they still carry some expense. Ciara said that she has been in contact with a “computer science student” who has said that they would be “willing to [create] the app for free.” Ciara plans to integrate prices from the SU shops, health centre, clever cuisine and student contribution fee into the app.
This year saw the campaign within UCD titled ‘give blood because we can’t’ in response to the MSM blood ban within Ireland. This year Ciara aspires to “step it up a level and I want to take it to a donation not discrimination campaign whereby we’re looking to completely rid this practise altogether.” She hopes to be able to build a relationship with the like of the Blood transfusion board to because she feels that there is “no reason why it couldn’t be overturned as has been done in other countries.”
Ciara wants to be visible on campus through drop-in clinics. She says; “it’s once a week that you take a different location on campus and also I think it’s important to include the Smurfit School in that because I think they’re often left out.” Her aim is to be around campus so that people can ask her about campaigns she is running and so that they can get involved.
Ciara doesn’t want anybody to be left on the waiting list for counselling services however recent reports would show that this occurrence is happening all too often. She commented that “it’s a vital service and when people need it they need it immediately. What I’m saying is that we use that money from the HEA to contract in extra counsellors when they’re needed during busy periods but also that the option be made available to students who are on the waiting list to seek support from an external service and then be refunded.” She is confident that a portion of the HEA money, which is at the discretionary use of the union, can be used to fund these student services.
Ciara acknowledges that the union has been under considerable financial strain this year and believes that “given that they’ve worked quite well.” She thinks that, with the reformation of the Welfare officer position, what we need to ensure is that the campaigns form can “run campaigns with the assistance of the Welfare officer but that they’re not dependent on it.” However, she also wants students to bring forward campaigns that they themselves are passionate about and want to see run. She mentioned, “With an expansion of the role there’s definitely a need for [more delegation].”
The potential Welfare officer commented on her belief that there shouldn’t be cuts to vital services but that various campaigns’ can be run on a shoestring budget. In any event, Ciara thinks that she has both “the experience and the ideas…that can definitely make a difference to the union and the university and that they are all completely feasible. Even if some of them are small, they can make a big difference.”
By Peter Hamilton.
Click here to read about the other Welfare candidate, Cian Dowling.