Welfare Officer: Melissa Plunkett

 Currently in her third year of midwifery, mature student Melissa Plunkett wants to introduce online counselling services and bring SHAG week back to basics.

Melissa Plunkett is a third year midwifery student and is Mature Students Coordinator for the Students’ Union. She is running for the role of Welfare Officer.

As Mature Students coordinator, Melissa Plunkett has focused on reinstating the childcare grant for student parents in the past year. “I’ve done a bit of work with the Mature Students’ Society, in just coaching them in how a society runs and how to keep it going, and I think they’ve done a really good job this year. I’ve been in talks with Eoghan and Barry about the crèche and trying to get that grant up and running again, just for them to be aware that there is a crèche there, that there are student parents and they do need support.”

Plunkett is well versed in the many duties and boards the Welfare officer sits on, “such as ESHTE, the Eradicating Sexual Harassment in Third-level Education. They sit on GA, quite a few officers sit on GA, Governing Authority. They have a role with health in UCD.” Being an active member of the Students’ Union council, she has formed opinions on mandates that have been passed through council over the years. When asked about UCD joining USI, she responded, “I think it’s suited towards smaller colleges and universities. I think it costs an awful lot of money to rejoin USI. I believe it’s like, so I’ve been told it’s like €100,000 to rejoin. I think this money could be better spent in providing services for UCD.”

Plunkett wants to offer ‘Welcome Packs’ which would be sent out to students before they start attending UCD.

Part of her manifesto focuses on incoming students, Plunkett wants to offer ‘Welcome Packs’ which would be sent out to students before they start attending UCD. “I think the union can put together something just informative, getting information out there of what the union is, who the people are, and what they can do. That is a step in the right direction of getting people engaged.”

If elected Welfare Officer, Plunkett would be responsible for the running of Sexual Health Awareness and Guidance (SHAG) week in UCD. Critical of how the week was run in the past, she outlines that the focus should not just be on STIs. “I’ve realized that people don’t actually understand the basics of safe sex. So, the basics of contraception, what kind of contraception is available, why contraception works and doesn’t work. So, I think there is no point in telling people what can happen, when they don’t understand the very basics of sexual education. We need to start with the foundation before we build upon it.” Open to including all groups as part of SHAG week, Plunkett has been speaking to members of the LGBTQ+ society about providing LGBT-focused events during the week but has yet to form a concrete idea.

Another issue Plunkett wants to address on campus is the provision of free condoms, dental dams, and feminine hygiene products after hours to students in residences. “My plan is not for them to be free-range… What I would like to see, is that the RAs that are on duty would have them, then if somebody on residences needed them, they could access them.” When asked if she was concerned students might be too embarrassed to ask for the products, Plunkett does not see that as an issue, “At the moment, they are in the union office, so you still have to come in and ask for them anyway.”

On the topic of Residences and Residential Assistants (RAs), Plunkett strongly believes that RAs are in need of more training. “I know that they get basic first aid. I believe senior RAs are ASIST trained, but I believe that is something all RAs should have. So, SafeTalk is one thing, but I think if they are going to be the point of call for students on residences when there are no other supports, ASIST training is essential.” Plunkett believes it should be the responsibility of UCD to provide this training, Plunkett is willing to “shame UCD saying ‘The union will provide it if you don’t.’

”On the topic of Residences and Residential Assistants (RAs), Plunkett strongly believes that RAs are in need of more training.

Having no mention of accommodation in her manifesto, she still believes it is a huge issue which not only affects UCD students but affects everybody. “Unfortunately, prices are ridiculous, landlords are taking the mick, but I do not have a magic wand to fix accommodation, it is definitely an issue, it is definitely going to be highlighted.”

One of her main focuses, as detailed in her manifesto is to introduce ‘Video Docs’ and online counselling to relieve the long waiting lists to see a counsellor on campus, “We must remember that this service is being provided by medical doctors and are licensed to practice in Ireland. They are fully trained, competent doctors and I think they would provide a valuable service. I think they would relieve some of the strain that is on our health centre at the moment.” Addressing the current system of counselling on campus, Plunkett states, “I think that online counselling is fantastic for students that want to do it in the safety of their own personal space, their own bedroom, whatever it is. I would be in favour of it and I know at the moment the union are in talks with the Health Centre about it.”