A vigil against gender-based violence was held on Thursday, the 20th of January in front of O’Reilly Hall on University College Dublin’s (UCD) campus. Organised by the Students’ Union and UCD staff, the vigil was attended by UCD chaplaincy, students as well key UCD figureheads representing the University. 

These UCD figureheads included Deputy President, Professor Mark Rogers; Dean of the School of Engineering and Chair of the Dignity and Respect Oversight Group, Professor Aoife Ahern; Professor Jason Last Dean of Students and Catherine Tormey, Senior Dignity and Respect Support Advisor. Also in attendance were UCD’s Chaplaincy Team, Fr. Brendan Ludlow, Scott Evans and Fr, Eamonn Bourke. 

The vigil was supported by UCD TradSoc who played in memory of Ashling Memory who was a Trad music enthusiast. The majority of those in attendance respected social-distancing and face-mask guidelines that were posted by the Students’ Union on Twitter. 

Sombre and mellow, the atmosphere of the vigil captured the Students’ Union hope that the vigil would be a “safe place for students to grieve”. Catherine Tormey and UCDSU President, Ruairí Power both spoke at the vigil against gender-based violence. Power thanked UCD figures who attended for their presence at the vigil and said “we all have a responsibility to tackle gender-based violence”. 

He went on to state that “not only do we need a culture of respect and dignity but we also need to create a hostile culture against misogyny” and commented that “all of us men should pick up on this behaviour because solidarity is not passive”. 

Catherine Tormey, Senior Dignity and Respect Support Advisor also spoke at the vigil and told the College Tribune afterwards that she ‘was heartened to see so many of our community members at the vigil standing together against gender-based violence. 

The new UCD Dignity and Respect Support Service have been established to ensure that any student, employee or UCD community member who is impacted by issues of bullying, harassment or sexual misconduct, including sexual violence, has access to confidential and proactive support provided by trained and experienced  Advisers. She added ‘I would urge anyone who has been impacted by these issues to reach out to us by dropping into our office on the 5th floor of the James Joyce Library Building or emailing [email protected] to make an appointment.’

Attendees were reminded that UCD offers a bystander intervention module for anyone who would like to do more and intervene in escalating situations. 

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Speaking to the College Tribune at the vigil, the UCD chaplaincy team said that “it was really important to hold a vigil to give students a reassurance that they should feel safe here on campus and that there is absolutely no justification for feeling in danger physically or because of the words of others”. 

Fr. Ludlow further commented that “reflecting on the last few days, I think one of the things we’ve learned is that so easily we can stand by when others even use words that are offensive without speaking up and calling people out.” The Chaplaincy team would like to remind students that “we’re always available here on campus and happy to listen to students. The chaplaincy is a safe space and we are always anxious to be available”. 

Students who were in attendance spoke to the College Tribune and commented that “we are really grateful that the vigil was organised for the women of the University. We are all around the same age and it could have been any of us”. Some students noted that Power’s words that “solidarity isn’t a passive act” were particularly impactful. 

When asked if they feel safe walking on campus at night, the students commented that “the University could do more” and that it is “pitch black when leaving the library around exam season or coming home from somewhere so we could have more security on campus”. 

They also urged for the UCD Walk Safe Service to be advertised better around campus. This service is provided by campus security who can escort students from one campus location to another on request. 

The vigil was announced by the President’s Bulletin on the 18th of January where UCD President, Professor Andrew Deeks encouraged “any of you who are on campus to come along and stand in solidarity against bullying, harassment, sexual violence and gender-based violence”. He stated in the bulletin that “this appalling crime places a spotlight on these issues”. 

Deeks encouraged students to make use of UCD’s Dignity and Respect Support Service in the same bulletin. The service was launched on the 14th of January and the email through which students can get in touch is [email protected]

Ashling Murphy, a 23-year-old primary school teacher was fatally assaulted in Tullamore, County Offaly while out for a run at 4 p.m. Her fatal assault has resulted in a nationwide call for a more refined strategy to counteract gender violence in Ireland. 

Mahnoor Choudhry – Co-Editor