John Kerr is a final year Psychology student and current auditor of PsychSoc. He believes that he can bring a level of wisdom and training to the role of Welfare Officer.
In his role as PsychSoc auditor, he gained the experience of “managing a budget, managing a team, carrying a project from scratch to fruition.” “I have been in contact with services such as Jigsaw and Mental Health Ireland about running CBT workshops and mental health first aid workshops, that’s something that I have the practical experience and the practical knowledge to implement.”
Mental health is one of the main cornerstones of Kerr’s manifesto. “As a psychology student, I feel that certainly I have very nuanced views on issues like mental health” and “a multi-faceted approach to mental health.” His plans include holding a Meet Your Student Advisor event at the start of the term and holding Mental Health Week in week 3 so that students “start the year with positive patterns of mental health.” “One thing that I will certainly do in the role is to constantly be a thorn in the side of the relevant authorities to try and get the counselling lists looked after and to try and hire extra counsellors.”
Kerr recognises that “engagement has historically been a problem with Student’s Unions everywhere.” His plans to combat this include “putting up more notice boards, having a seperate Welfare Facebook page.”
Kerr thinks “that this year’s Union, since the impeachment campaign, have done an excellent job in rebuilding the relationship and trust with students” and he thinks that this year’s election will be much less controversial. “I don’t think that the Iona Institute fields a candidate every year in SU races, so I don’t think that it’s going to be that much of a problem next year… student’s largely trust the SU again.”
On LGBTQ+ issues, Kerr is quick to acknowledge his privilege. “As a straight man and a cisgender man, I plan to take the advice and the council of LGBTQ Soc… because i think it’s important to have the relevant expertise.” He hopes “to have more LGBTQ inclusivity in regular campaigns”, such as “to dedicate a day of Mental Health Week to LGBTQ mental health, because from my study of Psychology it’s become clear that LGBTQ mental health is systematically worse off than the general population’s mental health” and “to have an LGBT specific event in SHAG week” because “It’s no secret that Ireland’s sex education system isn’t the best.” “It’s important that we engage with as many people as possible… because the more you know about the LGBT community and the more you know about how you can help, the better.”
On UCD possibly rejoining USI, Kerr said, “I have previously campaigned against UCD rejoining USI. I believe that we have stood well on our own… There’s no reason why we can’t cooperate and stand together on important issues, but I think that we’re doing well both on the local and national level without them… That being said, I’d be open to working with them.”
Kerr’s stance on the 8th Amendment has been a point of contention during the campaign, but he was more than happy to clarify his stance. “In the past, I did express pro-life views. Students in crisis pregnancies need to know that they can count on the Welfare officer. I am pro-choice and I have been for the last number of months.”
What changed his mind? “Engaging with the impeachment campaign did a lot because it was the first time I had to confront it head on. I knew in my heart of heart that it was wrong that President Ascough had disobeyed the pro-choice mandate, once I confronted my beliefs on that, I realised that in real life situations… compassions, care and support is what’s needed. That’s why I’m pro-choice because the main thing in this debate is looking after people… and that’s why win or lose this election, I’m going to be voting to Repeal in May.”
He would specifically like to focus more on post-abortion supports. “I want to work with the Irish Family Planning Association on post-abortion care, because I think we do a great job and a very important job in supporting students through crisis pregnancies, I think what we could focus on a bit more is providing students with support in the aftermath.”
On the subject of consent classes, Kerr would like to hold consent weeks during both semesters and to follow UCC’s idea of offering academic credits for taking modules on sexual consent. “I think that the incentive for academic credits could get a lot more people who wouldn’t necessarily go out of their way to educate themselves on consent”
In relation to the ‘Black Spot’ Disability Awareness campaign, Kerr reckons that it “should be a last resort. I want to engage with estate services before anything else, and I think if we’re aware of issues, there’s not sense in starting off on an antagonistic foot.” He says “that the nature of administration is that things fall under the cracks”, but if the college is slow to come to the support of students with disabilities, Kerr says he’s “not opposed to the idea of highlighting that publicially.”
Ultimately, Kerr believes that he can be the Welfare Officer that can make small steps toward ensuring the welfare of all UCD students. “Little things go a long way to making a big difference, I think there are very few overarching vague statements in my manifesto… It’s why the symbol on my campaign t shirt is a cog, because little cogs in the machine are what makes it turn.”
Kerr comes across as well spoken if a little bit rehearsed. Having been grilled on his stance on the 8th Amendment, it’s easy to see why. If he has been converted to Repeal then we should rejoice as it means well reasoned argument and listening to both sides really does work. His emphasis on mental health could be a big selling point to students, particularly his focus on highlighting the so called “lesser known” mental health issues like bipolar disorder. Given Roche’s inexperience, it seems to be a two horse race between Kerr and Plunkett and will simply depend on who turns out to vote.
Muireann O’Shea with conclusion by Rachel O’Neill