Students expressed disappointment and frustration at UCDSU SHAG Week events that took place on the 13th and 14th of February. (Yes, don’t let the word ‘week’ confuse you, the events lasted two days).
The Tribune contacted Welfare Officer Melissa Plunkett for comment. Her explanations were reasonable and raised more questions about the effectiveness of the Union’s campaign engagement strategies rather than Plunkett’s planning of the SHAG events.
When asked which sabbatical officer takes the leading role in the planning of SHAG events, Plunkett responded, “As Welfare Officer, I am responsible for SHAG. The other sabbatical officers can contribute their ideas at any point and the students’ union staff are integral in the organisation of the event itself.”
The most prominent complaint was that SHAG week took place over only two days. Plunkett explained, “I don’t think it is a good idea for the Welfare Officer to take an entire week away from student cases in order to run a week of events. I also have tried to spread the SHAG events across the two semesters instead of a week of events. I think having events throughout the year could be more beneficial than focusing solely on one week.” This is a justifiable excuse for planning the events over two days, in fact, SHAG events have been a two-day affair for a number of years now. The aim of providing consistent events on sexual awareness throughout both semester is somewhat acceptable, though it could be argued that a series of singular events have considerably less impact on the psyche of UCD students than an entire themed week.
To further complicate student perception of SU events, SHAG and Rainbow Week were held during the same week. When asked about this overlap Plunkett said “Rainbow week was planned by Niamh Scully our LGBTQ+ Campaign Coordinator and the LGBTQ+ society. Niamh met with me to discuss plans and to discuss LGBTQ+ events that related to the SHAG event such as the HIV talk.” She further justified it by saying, “I ran SHAG on the week of Valentine’s, this coincided with the Rainbow week.” It may have been an innocent overlap of events, but optically, it appeared as though the SU wanted to separate sexual awareness and LGBTQ+ awareness.
In fact, there was no collaboration between the SU and societies during the most recent SHAG week. Though, in semester one, Plunkett was particularly good at coordination with societies in organising collaborative sexual awareness events. UCDSU held a Lil’ SHAG back in October that did feature events in coordination with Consent at UCD, UCD LGBTQ+ and UCD Students for Sensible Drug Policy. Sexual awareness events have been somewhat consistent throughout this academic year; Jade Sophie Wilson, the SU’s Gender Equality Campaigns Coordinator, organised a panel on the topic of ‘Ending Violence Against Sex Workers’ in December. The recent SHAG events were made up of just three features. The Bush Tucker Trials were games, such as Willy Toss, Bra Pong, Condom Olympics and Pin the Genital. Some students felt that these were an immature and ineffective way to promote sexual awareness, “The games (bra pong etc) are not as cool or funny as the SU always think they are, just boring.” Another student commented that “The only guidance seemed to be based around different ways to laugh at dildos.”
Plunkett responded to the criticisms about the apparent lack of awareness and guidance within the SHAG events, by citing the difficulty in getting students to engage with sexual information and guidance, “I tried to have more educational aspects to SHAG so each game had some learning point to it. Bra Pong had info on breast cancer and how to check for it. Willy Toss had info on Testicular cancer and how to check for it. Condom Olympics was to allow students that had never seen or touched a condom to learn how to use one in a safe no pressure environment. There was info on STI’s and Contraception available where the doughnuts and condoms were. SHAG is difficult because you want to educate people but you also want people to engage with the topic.” Another SHAG event was Crazy Cabernet, that was, apparently, a night out, that many students and class reps couldn’t understand it’s connection to student sexual awareness. Finally, there was a screening of the recent Netflix show Sex Education.
When asked if there were plans she had for this semester’s SHAG that didn’t come to fruition, Plunkett commented that “I hoped to have a panel discussion this has been moved to Mind Body Soul due to scheduling conflicts of the participants. I had invited more organisations to have a presence at SHAG but unfortunately, they were unable to be there.” Ultimately, Plunkett had reasonable explanations for the less well-recieved aspects of these most recent SHAG events. It is also often the case that those who speak out against the inadequacy of SU events like SHAG are not the students that are in need of awareness and guidance. Though this apparent SHAG misstep raises some larger questions; should SHAG be under the jurisdiction of Campaigns and Communications rather than Welfare? Does the union need to be more wary of scheduling conflicts, especially with their own campaign coordinators? And does the SU need to completely rejuvenate their approach to engaging students in sexual awareness campaigns?
By Muireann O’Shea – CoEditor