Eithne Dodd speaks to senior Residential Assistant, Jessica Quinn, about the difficulties that they face.
AT SU Hustings last month, Dylan Quinn McMahon, a senior residential assistant (SRA) of UCD residences highlighted the issues that SRAs have to regularly deal with on the job when he put the following question to the presidential candidates: “As one of six senior RAs responsible for the mental health throughout the night of 3,500 students and having sat with people coming back from Vincent’s Hospital through mental and physical trauma, I just wondered are you going to continue to ignore that or do you intend on introducing a counsellor or some actually qualified people to deal with the 3,500 students left completely alone except for me and five others between 6pm in the evening and 8am the next morning?”
“In terms of Dylan’s question, I think all the presidential candidates blew it off, but she [President Elect Katie Ascough] blew it off the most” said Jessica Quinn, one of the five other SRAs in UCD residences.
Six senior residential assistants (SRAs) are responsible for the thousands of students who live in a UCD Residences. SRAs work every third night. If something happens to one of the over 3,000 students they are responsible for, they will get a phone call. “Most of the job is fairly grand and there are some nights where nothing happens” says Quinn.
“SRAs are dealing with bigger issues that the RAs aren’t authorised to deal with so that’s first aid, anytime ambulance or fire brigade or Gardaí are called to Res… If there is a student experiencing first aid issues such as mental health or physical health we usually show up and take over because we have done a first aid FETAC course and Assist training,” explains Quinn.
“It’s not uncommon for me to put my personal safety at risk”
Quinn also gives examples of incidents she’s been called to including someone who jumped over the fence to get into Res and fell and broke their ankle. It was an open fracture and Quinn had to wait with the person until the ambulance came with nothing more than basic first aid training. Another time, a student came back to Res covered in blood and couldn’t say what had happened to them.
“They could have just got torn going through some bushes or something might have happened, and you have to make that call,” said Quinn. “There is no decision-making training”.
Quinn, along with many other RAs, don’t feel that they have adequate training for the decisions they have to make, and of the training that SRAs do receive, only 50% of them are still working. The other 50% that were brought on later in the year don’t have the advanced occupational first aid training their peers have.
“It’s not uncommon for me to put my personal safety at risk” said Quinn. “There was an incident where a student was experiencing a psychotic break. It was quite frightening. I felt unsafe…. My options were to leave and let that person do more damage or to stay and help them even at my own expense”.
Quinn has been a SRA throughout the current academic year and spoke to the Observer about the issues that on-campus life faces. Regarding Ascough, Quinn felt that she did not want to hear her concerns though she felt this year’s SU “have been fantastic”.
“Is someone going to have to die before we’re taken seriously?”
Katie Kilgannon, the newly elected UCDSU Res Campaigns Coordinator, has stated that one of her main priorities for next year are adequate mental health training for Ras. Kilgannon said that if UCD Res won’t organise it, then incoming welfare officer Eoghan Mac Domhnaill and the welfare crew will have to invest time and funding into it.
However, the mental health of residences is not the only concern of UCD’s RAs. UCD Res have recently announced the decision to increase the amount of RAs and to give the RAs subsidised accommodation rather than free accommodation. These changes will be brought in from next academic year 2017/18.
Kilgannon believes that the increased number of RAs planned for next year will be a good thing: “RAs this year seemed to always be overworked and tired. I don’t think this helps their relations with residents, especially if certain residents regularly cause problems. SRAs frequently bring sick or injured students to A&E. Hopefully with an increased number of RAs, this duty will not have to fall to SRAs who are needed on Res.”
However, Quinn is concerned that this will make RAs care less about their work as they will see the accommodation subsidy as the university devaluing their work. She raises the issue that the subsidy is the same, even though some accommodation blocs cost more than others.
“To live in Glenomena is eight thousand something and [living] in Merville is six thousand something so if you were to divide their working hours technically the Glenomena RAs would be getting paid more than the Merville RAs for the same amount of work, for the same amount of hours” said Quinn.
This year, the SRAs have been working with SU Education Officer Lexi Kilmartin and C&C Officer Luke Fitzpatrick. Kilmartin and Fitzpatrick have been bringing the testimony of RAs to their meetings. However, Quinn is worried that the SU does not have enough power to make all of the changes necessary.
The SRAs have never had a face-to-face meeting with the people who make the decisions about UCD Res. Right now, there has been no clear plan given to the RAs on how their jobs will be different next year due to the increased number of RAs and no information regarding further training for them.
This is something Quinn feels very strongly about: “What’s it going to take? Is someone going to have to die before we’re taken seriously? I’ve said before that the only thing that UCD would care about is if someone died and there was a newspaper article about it in The Irish Times. It would be an absolute national scandal if people found out that UCD, who charge the most expensive student accommodate, are putting the lives of your children in the hands of people who aren’t qualified and aren’t supported”.