Battling for the role of Welfare Officer, we have Melissa Plunkett, currently an informed union coordinator, John Kerr a society auditor with a good understanding of the union, and Kylie Roche, the outsider to this race.
It is Roche’s lack of knowledge and experience with the union which could cost her the race. Her understanding of the role of Welfare Officer is solid, and her intentions are good, but her manifesto and ideas lack planning. Roche wants to improve the main areas associated with welfare: mental health, LGBT+ issues, and consent, but she has no solid ideas and her inexperience within the union could be a drawback to her achieving anything.
Roche’s main focus appears to be dealing with student cases and while this is important other more political issues should not be avoided. Roche does appear approachable and friendly but it is unclear how she could deal with counselling waiting lists or student protests. It is helpful that she has, as stated on her manifesto, already experienced applying for grants and extenuating circumstances but this experience may not be enough for the role.
Roche and Kerr both offer slightly misguided approaches to helping LGBT+ students on the UCD campus. LGBT+ issues take up a significant amount of space on Roche’s manifesto. Roche’s wish for SU nights out to the George and Prhomo might attract students who are not involved in the LGBT+ society and could help LGBT+ students feel more a part of their union. Nevertheless, like other campaign promises it does not quite feel like enough. Kerr, on the other hand, appeared to make a large effort to engage with LGBT+ issues but the way he discussed them showed his distance from them. Some of his ideas about making LGBT+ people more accepted on campus focused more on the feelings and knowledge of cisgender straight people than on LGBT+ people. Also, people who are not already informed about LGBT+ issues are less likely to engage in LGBT+ events, even if they are targeted at them.
While Punkett says less about LGBT+ issues, unlike Kerr, she sounded like she has LGBT+ friends and was not simply attempting to sound educated on the issues, and unlike Roche, she had more ideas about inclusion and showed more interest in working with the LGBTQ+ society.
Plunkett and Kerr have extensive manifestos with clear planning and full of ideas, even without considering union experience, this gives both candidates the edge in the race over Roche.
Plunkett is mature students’ coordinator in the SU and is also a mother of two young boys. From this position Plunkett sees the need to reintroduce financial assistance for childcare for parents looking to return to education. Plunkett is vague on how this can be achieved however, although she mentions that it would happen somehow through the Affordable Childcare Act.
Plunkett’s idea of utilising online resources to combat the waiting list for counselling services in UCD has the potential to work but is dependent on the system being monitored to ensure providers have the necessary credentials. It is also unclear how exactly those services would be accessed through the union as opposed to students simply googling ‘free online counselling.’
To make feminine hygiene products, dental dams, and condoms available in on campus residences after hours is a good idea, but it is questionable whether students would be likely to contact RAs to access such products.
As Kerr is auditor of PsychSoc, it is no surprise that mental health is one of the key areas Kerr wants to target. He wants to host a variety of mental health focussed events throughout the year, but has not talked to any of the organisations he wishes to collaborate with, so it is unclear if workshops such as Cognitive Behavioural Therapy sessions are a possibility.
Making consent classes into a 5-credit module seems unlikely to be possible, and unlikely to engage students who might need the classes most, i.e. those for whom consent is not an issue and see blurred lines.
It is Kerr’s switcheroo stance on abortion which could be difficult for voters to stomach. The timing of his declarations of being pro-choice coincide a little too nicely with the elections, and his assurances that his change of view has nothing to do with the campaign might not be sufficient to persuade voters of the integrity of that viewpoint. That he chose to wear a ‘Repeal the 8th’ t-shirt to his interview with the University Observer does little to help persuade anyone that his stance is not a campaign tactic.
Ultimately, the race for Welfare Officer seems to mainly be between Plunkett and Kerr. Their management experience and awareness of campus issues, and ideas on how to target those issues give their campaigns a level of professionalism which Roche does not have. Unfortunately for Roche her campaign appears more like a spur of the moment decision when compared to her competitors.