SU Election 2020: Rebecca O'Connor- Welfare

Rebecca O’Connor is a final year English, Drama, and Social Justice student. She is the former Inclusions Officer for Musical Society and Student Leader in Volunteers Overseas (VO), two roles which she feels give her experience to ready her for the role of Welfare officer. As a Student Leader in VO, she was responsible for fellow VO members doing charity work in India, “Making sure they were comfortable, making sure that they were safe, making sure that they were happy in a new environment” She is also a former class representative however she lost her seat due to work commitments preventing her from attending council. She told the University Observer “I did let my class know that I no longer had my seat on council under constitution but I would still fulfill my duties in an unofficial capacity aside from council”.

O’Connor has decent knowledge of the structures of both UCDSU and UCD as a whole, having clearly done her homework on what exactly the role entails, how the Union functions, and what role the Welfare Officer plays in wider UCD management. She says she has been told she is “bubbly”, and clearly enjoys conversation. The one terse answer she gave was when asked what the most important aspect of the role was, she said “people”.

When asked what distinguishes her from Ruarí Power, her sole opponent, O’Connor finds it difficult to say anything negative about him. The two of them have jointly published a “Quarantine Kit” of recommendations for media and activities for the quarantine. However, she does say that her extra year in UCD and roles she has had give her more experience.

O’Connor believes that while the lack of engagement is a “shame”, the solution is to “Reach out me, be more widely available…[be] seen on campus, be seen in the buildings”. She supports the recent protests against the rent hikes by the university, saying she will support further actions regardless of whether she is elected and dropping the “Not a Business” slogan. She says “People should not be worrying about paying extortionate rent and then worrying about all their assignments and the rest at the same time”.

Although unsure of the details of what her budget will be as welfare officer, O’Connor is quite aware of the nature of the time management issues that can come with the role. “I think it can be easy to be sucked into the personal cases...They deserve dedication to them but I also believe for the Welfare Officer’s Mental Health and as well as engagement with the student body that it’s important that it’s not the only dedication”.

O’Connor “Personally disagrees” with the removal of ASIST (Applied Suicide Intervention Skills Training) from mandatory training for sabbatical officers, and in both her manifesto and interview has promise that if elected she will be taking ASIST in her own time.

Speaking about past sabbatical officers she admires, O’Connor said that “I admire all of the Welfare Officers…[Eoghan Mac Domnaill] had such passion for students” She said that the work current Welfare Officer Úna Carroll has done on rapid HIV testing behind the scenes is “important”. However, she also stated that “I personally believe that the welfare officer should be out and meeting with people...she believes that being on the corridor, working on cases, directing people through email is the right way to go”. She qualified this with “I don’t think it’s a failure, I just think it’s a different approach”.

O’Connor’s manifesto is detailed and not overly ambitious, but lacks a lot of the research into individual proposals. She promises to take ShoutOut training (a workshop on LGBTQ+ identities and issues) if elected to help prepare her for the role, but when asked if aware that this training is already mandatory, she nodded her head. When asked what the difference between having an “Open Door Policy” “When I’m free” and her office hours, she explained “I think it’s more flexible than office hours, At the end of the day, if people need [Support from the Welfare Officer], then they need it...It’s especially there for the colleges which are outside of campus or off campus”. On the point of UCDSU having an open plan office making an an “open door policy” unfeasible, O’Connor explained “I haven't been in the Corridor since it was refurbished, so in my brain I was thinking “Okay, the office”, but there is no offices anymore, so it would be a matter of making sure one of the boardrooms was free”. 

On the question of working with UCD management, specifically on the funding of the mental health services, O’Connor states “I believe that just because UCD aren’t listening doesn’t mean it’s worth saying so…[I will try] as much as I can to work with UCD”, but after “looking into all the possibilities [of working with management]’s Strikes, I suppose”.

O’Connor wants to bring in a free STI clinic to UCD, and said “Galway have had free STI clinics so...there must be a way around it...If there is a way of bringing in external people that is definitely something I would be looking into”.

She proposes a very ambitious “database for all local venues and their accessibility level, which students, clubs and societies can use in planning their events”. To do this she proposes contacting the venues themselves, as well as auditing venues who don’t provide the information with the Disabilities Campaign Coordinator.

As a Welfare Officer candidate, O’Connor promises an approachable, friendly, and experienced character to case work and face to face aspects of the role. Her manifesto lacks clear planning and thought in some places, but is overall not bad. She demonstrates a decent understanding of the job and what her responsibilities would be, and if she can overcome the shortcoming of her manifesto over the summer would be a decent, people focussed, Welfare Officer.