On April 8th, myself and UCD Students’ Union (SU) Welfare Officer candidate for 2020 Rebecca “Bex” O’Connor, a final year English, Drama, and Social Justice student, had a chat about her aspirations if elected for the role. She is no stranger to the SU, having volunteered for Fresh Fest back in her first year, when the likes of Barry Murphy, Katie Ascough were still knocking around. “People don’t use their Union until they need it”, she tells me; her manifesto aspires to change that. I sought to learn more about O’Connor’s vision for the role should she be elected. O’Connor is a former SU Class Representative and has been involved in UCD Volunteers Oversees and Muscial Society. We have interviewed O’Connor and all other SU Election candidates, grilling them on their manifesto promises which can be found on social platforms online.
The majority of O’Connor’s manifesto focuses on improvements of facilities or initiatives already in place in UCD. If elected, she aspires to boost student engagement with the SU, run two Welfare campaigns on a monthly basis (one on mental health and the other on disability awareness), spice up SHAG week and re-introduce free STI clinics during SHAG week to “give it a little flip.” The latter point had been a key theme of Declan Kelly’s campaign for UCDSU President in 2019, which he eventually lost to current President Joanna Siewierska. Numerous stumbling blocks have made this a challenging promise to fulfil in the past, not least the cost and implementation of the idea.
A key aspect of her manifesto is to make the SU more visible and widely available to students across campus, a job primarily under the remit of the Campaigns and Engagement Officer. The most prominent feature is to host events outside of “the corridor. […] I think it’s very important that a ‘Sabbat’ Officer is out with the College Officers so that their faces are seen so that it isn’t a stranger” to students. Other SU Officers have tried this in the past to no avail, but O’Connor is confident that she will implement it successfully.
Coming back to her idea of having two monthly Welfare campaigns, O’Connor aims to implement these around the themes of mental health and raising awareness for UCD’s population with disabilities. Focusing on the former, O’Connor admits that this year’s Welfare Officer, Úna Carroll, as well as previous tenants, have done a great job reducing wait times for mental health services. The Tribune has been unable to verify these figures. O’Connor hopes to continue this trend, as well as further promoting off-campus counselling services. As someone who has availed of this service, she believes it “makes it easier to separate from college life.” O’Connor wants to gather testimonies of students who have availed of this service so that the student “voice is heard and not just [a] number’’. She did not provide a suggestion for how this could be achieved.
Her second Welfare Campaign revolves around improving services for the UCD community with disabilities, by working closely with the Officer for disability access and creating a database to track issues. The Access Centre and Lifelong Learning service already offers this amenity. “What the Access Centre offers is fantastic; this would be an addition to that.” By liaising with other parties and making it her business to follow up with people who reach out to her, she hopes to improve on the service. “Hopefully it would only be one issue per week, but obviously you don’t know what you’re going to get.”
UCD students’ ongoing struggles with the 12% rent increase was brought up, which has culminated in numerous protests and demonstrations. The topic is mentioned once in her manifesto, where O’Connor pledges to continue to support the movement. “Just because UCD aren’t listening, doesn’t mean it’s not worth saying.” The rationale behind it not being a prominent focal point, she explains, is that the actors currently involved are doing a fantastic job. If elected, she vouches to play her part and keep the ball rolling but did not elaborate on how the position of Welfare Officer could enable her to do this.
O’Connor’s plans are certainly admirable. However, with the UCDSU’s 2020 budget for the Welfare Office decreasing some 44% since 2019 (with a mere €12,450 on disposal for the year), O’Connor was pressed as to how she aimed to implement her targets with this seemingly restrictive budget. “A lot of it, shouldn’t be that expensive”, she replies. For the tea and coffee gatherings, which for many is the only contact with SU they’ll ever have, she hopes “there’ll be no money spent on single use cups or spoons or anything […] people would have to bring their own cups.” This would represent a change from the current events, where KeepCups are merely recommended. Poster campaigns, another expense, have also occurred to her. “There would be costs to print the material if there was a poster campaign. But, from being on a committee I know the costs of posters, I know that if it was to happen more than two weeks in a row one of the biggest things to reduce waste, as well as save money on printing, is […] to go down on a Wednesday evening and take them down […] to put them back up on Thursday morning.” The SHAG bags, which would have informative leaflets, sanitary pads, condoms, pregnancy tests and other items, are also expected to be a sizeable cost. Though O’Connor has evidently considered financing, she did not mention projected figures for each of her plans.
Since day one in UCD, O’Connor has been involved with UCDSU in multiple capacities, both formally or simply just to help out. “I am a people person. I love working with people and I love doing what I can to help people.” Perhaps then, the decision to run for Welfare Officer, despite stiff competition from Social Democrats Auditor and Fix Our Education Co-Chair Ruairí Power, was a natural one to make. For anyone wondering what motivated her to join the gruelling SU election race, O’Connor states that “UCD has given me so much, and I would absolutely love to give something back.”
Alex Lohier – Deputy Editor