Hometown: Lucan, Dublin
Course: International Relations and Irish
Maeve DeSay is a candidate for the position of Welfare and Equality Officer that is no stranger to being involved with campaigns that focus on promoting positive mental health. She intends to focus on fulfilling the basic requirements of the Welfare and Equality Officer, but aims to stand out by bringing a new approach to tackling these issues.
Outlining her passion for the role, DeSay reflects on her first week in UCD, where she saw an opportunity to raise awareness for services in UCD that facilitate students who have issues with mental health. When she was 15-years-old, DeSay organised 1,000 cards the size of credit cards to be distributed in schools in her local area that had contact details for mental health services on the back.
DeSay felt UCD could also benefit from such an information campaign. “On my second day in UCD, I marched up to [the Welfare Officer at the time] Mícheál Gallagher and said I want to do this in UCD. I know how to get the funding, I know how to run a campaign, and I know how to get people involved in it. Later I had 10,000 of these cards distributed for the students of UCD. They were distributed and they will be given out on Please Talk Day.”
Determination is a key personal skill that DeSay feels shines through in her ability to see through such a campaign. She also thinks this trait is complemented by others crucial for the role of a Welfare and Equality Officer. “I know how to budget, I also think I am a very approachable person and very compassionate, which is also very important for the personal cases that come through your door as Welfare and Equality Officer.
“As Welfare and Equality Officer, I think it is vital for students to see me as the most approachable person on campus if they have any issues whatsoever. They need to know that my door is open.”
DeSay is adamant that she can improve on the presence of the Welfare and Equality Officer on campus through some targeted initiatives. “I will run bimonthly outreach clinics in various faculties in UCD, so that students first and foremost know who I am and if they want to come up to me and talk about any personal issues they are having or if they have any questions about the Welfare and Equality in UCD.
“I’m also going to be running a Know Your Welfare campaign in the first week in UCD. I’ll be very active during orientation week and ensure that my face is what first years see all the time and to introduce them to the other support services here on campus and let them know that I am a link between the support services and the students.”
Last year, due to a constitutional reform, the role of the Welfare Officer was redefined to incorporate equality. DeSay feels due to this redefinition, there is no single issue that can be perceived to be of paramount importance anymore.
“I don’t think that there is a single most important part of the job. I don’t think that you can put one thing above another…I think the mental health of the country is affected as a whole and obviously I am very much an advocate of mental health and looking after somebody’s mental health. So, that is a massive issue affecting UCD students.
“Finances as well, they are so important. It would break my heart to see any student leave college because they can’t support themselves financially. It is also really important for the students of UCD to be treated equally. Equality of access and equality of opportunity.”
After mentioning equality as a major issue affecting UCD students, DeSay focused on a campaign she would like to introduce that aims to increasing gender recognition in UCD.
“One thing I stress on my manifesto is the Think Outside the Box campaign. I think it is really important for the University to recognise that all students don’t fit under the binary male or female terms and I would like for a box titled ‘Other’ to be introduced. The reason for the title other is that gender is a spectrum and should not be a titled put on this.”
Other unique initiatives that DeSay feels she can bring to the position include the Fee Abatement Programme and the Accessibility Blackspot campaign.
Elaborating on the Fee Abatement Programme, she says, “At the moment, the resit fee or repeat fee in UCD is €230. It is remarkably higher than our fellow universities. The Fee Abatement Programme is not to support students that are failing exams. It is there for students that are suffering financially and for those who have extra pressure on them, therefore their academics are suffering even more.
“[I intend] to lobby the University and to set up a panel to listen to the students and to let them propose their problem, and I will advocate on behalf of this student to have their [resit] fee either fully abated or partially abated.”
Also expanding on the Accessibility Blackspot campaign, she says, “Have you ever seen someone in a wheelchair try to get into the Newman Building? Yes, they have those buttons… they don’t work.
“We have many students with a disability, whether it is invisible or visible and it is important for other students to know where there are blackspots in UCD so they know where students with disabilities might need help with a door and so UCD knows that a change needs to be made.”
At 20-years-old, DeSay is a young candidate who could be perceived as inexperienced and too young to take on such an important position in the SU. However, she is insistent that she is under no illusions about how difficult the job is and that she is going for the position for the right reasons.
“Some people have asked am I terrified and the answer is always ‘No’. I’m not oblivious to how difficult an election is and am aware of how tiring and how intense it is, but it is nothing compared to what I will face next year. Any candidate entering an election campaign, specifically a Welfare and Equality campaign, who thinks that the election is the most difficult bit, is maybe entering for the wrong reasons.”