In the UCD Students’ Union (SU), the Welfare and Equality position is unrivaled as the most important job in the Union. Regardless if there are four people going for the role, or it is an uncontested election, the members of UCDSU have no room for error when they cast their vote.
The Welfare and Equality Officer is on the front line addressing the main problems that affect students and fighting against inequality that is carelessly ignored by society at times. They are a crucial service that provide a link to students, pointing them in the right direction of services that can help them with their problem, or simply being an attentive and compassionate ear that is there to listen.
Following the lack of interest in last year’s elections in general, it is reassuring that there is still an appetite among students to put themselves forward for these sabbatical positions. It is clear that all candidates for this race are genuine in their intentions to help the students of UCD, however, there is a sense of naivety with a lot of their ideas lacking originality.
A lot of Cian Aherne’s key plans will require a significant amount negotiation with University officials and companies such as Dublin Bus and DublinBikes. With no relative experience for lobbying such entities, it is difficult to understand why they will listen to his suggestions and why he will be the one to ensure that kettles and microwaves are put in each college faculty when it is promised every year by sabbatical and convenor candidates.
Similar to Aherne, Sam Blanckensee has some ideas that clearly need to be teased out further and are possibly unviable. The night bus scheme has been proven not to work in the past and the carpool scheme whereby students will carpool to college seems like an unreliable and possibly unsafe initiative to put in place.
Rebek’ah McKinney-Perry’s ideas, meanwhile, are mainly sourced from issues that she has personally experienced. These ideas include informing students about financial assistance, raising awareness for the lack of disability access, and addressing gender inequality in UCD. These are all issues that she has felt directly affected by and she will be speaking from experience, however, if these issues need to affect her to come to her attention, it demonstrates a lack of awareness of other issues affecting students.
One of Maeve DeSay’s main ideas, the Fee Abatement Programme, would be a useful service for students to have access to, but is based on dealing with University officials who have annually refused to budge on the issue of resit and repeat fees. What could be different about DeSay’s approach that will make the University interested in hearing out students who may be worthy of their resit fee being amended based on an appeal.
With regards to experience that is relative to the role, no candidate specifically stands out as the most qualified. McKinney-Perry has outlined she feels that she is the most experienced person for the role, backed up by her involvement in the Welfare Crew for four years, but both DeSay and Blanckensee have relative experience for the role due to their involvements in the organisation of Please Talk Day and work as the LGBT Society Welfare Officer respectively.
Aherne does have a significant amount of experience with UCD life on a society level and as a member of the Welfare Crew, but none made apparent when it comes to organisational skills.
A key aspect of the Welfare and Equality role that has cropped up is that of visibility on campus. All candidates have made reference to their intentions to boost the awareness of the officer on campus, however, DeSay has firmly outlined a series of targeted methods she intends to use if elected to boost UCD students’ awareness of who their Welfare and Equality Officer is and what they can provide through her Know Your Welfare campaign and bimonthly clinics in each faculty.
McKinney-Perry does outline that she will make it easier for students to make appointments with her, but this is not an idea that broadens the scope for awareness. Blanckensee broadly suggests working tirelessly and allowing students to text him at any stage, feeling that this alone will boost availability. While Aherne also feels offering a public phone number will increase the perceived availability of the Welfare and Equality Officer, he also intends to run drop in clinics in different areas of campus.
As mentioned previously, the candidates for Welfare and Equality Officer have their best intentions at heart. Their overtly ambitious plans are meant to demonstrate to students how determined they are to affect change if they get elected. However, there is a difference between showing ambition and suggesting, as a candidate, that you will ensure and promise populist ideas are definitely brought in.
UCD students have the tough decision to make and even if they don’t feel the SU represents them or don’t think the SU actually achieves anything, the Welfare and Equality Officer actually makes differences in people’s lives. So, pick apart the candidates’ manifestos, question the viability of their policies, and make sure you vote for best candidate whose compassion will make a lasting difference in students’ lives.