Currently serving as the Disability Rights Coordinator for the Students’ Union, 28-year old Hannah Bryson is a stage 3 Computer Science science student. She is also a member of the university’s Equality, Diversity, and Inclusion Board, and is involved with the Fix Our Education campaign. Bryson has previously served as the auditor of UCD’s Disability Inclusion and Awareness society. She hopes to use the skills and knowledge she has gained in the capacity of Education Officer. Above all, she maintains that her personal experiences make her the ideal candidate for the role.
When asked what the role of Education Officer entailed, Bryson said that while the majority of the role revolved around casework and working with university management on education policy, it also entailed being involved in organising the Union’s campaigns and events.
A lack of affordability continues to be one of the major concerns among students across Ireland. To help alleviate the financial burden on students, Bryson proposes setting up a discretionary fund for students who find themselves facing unpremeditated costs. She envisions about a third or fourth of the money raised via the SU’s charity initiatives to be set aside for this purpose. The funds would be dispersed through an anonymised application process, to be adjudged by the UCDSU Executive. According to Bryson, what distinguishes her idea from the Student Welfare Fund is the very strict criteria that apply to the latter, which prevents many from availing the same. Creating a web page for advertising on-campus jobs also features in her manifesto. However, the issue of repeat and resit fees is conspicuous by its absence.
Bryson was also critical of the lack of clarity about academic information, and overworked support staff. Speaking about the poor quality of services provided for disabled students, she described the staff at the Access Centre as being “very dismissive” of students’ queries. Additionally, the procedure for obtaining necessary accommodations from faculty places the burden to “explain and justify why they need the supports they do” entirely on students. This, she says, can often be a demoralising experience, besides being detrimental to students’ ability to keep up with coursework. If elected, she hopes to continue campaigning for better disability support services.
Bryson is appreciative of the radical moves taken by the Union in recent weeks while adding that the SU should have adopted this approach from the beginning. She believes that until recently, the Union has been “soft”, and this has contributed to the lack of engagement among the student body. She is also complementary of Stephen Crosby (Education Officer, 2018/19), who she saw as being proactive in his role and gave one “the feeling that he was fighting for your case.” However, she was somewhat critical of outgoing Education Officer Brian Treacy: In her opinion, Treacy was “not very present outside of his office.” She went on to say that the issues she has brought up with him, in her capacity as the Disability Rights Coordinator, “have gone nowhere.”
With reference to improving student engagement, Bryson praises the efforts of current sabbatical officers Katie O’Dea and Thomas Monaghan in promoting the Union’s activities on social media and hopes to continue “building on that.” She emphasises the need to work towards getting the Union’s perspective across to students but offers little in the name of tangible steps to be taken to this end.
Bryson reckons that UCDSU should rejoin USI, given that it can serve as an important avenue for sharing information and “know what is going on in other universities.” She added that USI could provide UCDSU with the opportunity to be a part of nationwide campaigns, alongside additional support for voicing students’ demands.
Bryson expressed concerns over the lack of information on how the SU elections will be conducted this year, in light of the COVID-19 pandemic. Moreover, she has worries about the visibility of her campaign and felt that online voting would put her at a disadvantage. She states “ I don’t think students know who I am” and online voting implied that students would “either just select randomly or just not vote.”
While her platform suffers from a lack of detailed or innovative ideas, Hannah Bryson has a demonstrable history of engagement with the Students’ Union. Through campaigning and advocacy for disability services and disabled students, she has acquired a strong understanding of which issues affect the everyday life of students. This aspect works to enhance her approachability, which may prove to be an important asset for her, if elected as Education Officer.