Welfare Officer Candidate: Megan Reilly

Interviewed by Heather Robinson

Why are you running for the election?

Well, the simple reason is because I feel ready. I’ve basically been involved with the Student’s Union for a few years and this job that I’m doing right now has just given me so much experience to run so many campaigns and I’ve met incredible people and I’m kind of at that point where I want to take it further. I mean, in terms of from a personal point of view, I’ve been that person who takes someone to Health Unit for mental health issues or finds someone having a panic attack outside of a lecture you know? While it’s a horrendous situation to be in, being able to point someone in the right direction, or even just help them in some way, or kind of be there as a friend, there’s just no putting words to it and I kind of feel like I’ve been doing this for years for people who might not even know me that well, so it’s something I’ve always been passionate about anyway, and like I said, I feel completely ready to take the next step.

What key skills/personality traits should a Welfare Officer have?

Yes. I think empathy and compassion are the two main ones for me. Not to be like absolutely drowning in it to the point where you can’t see past someone else’s problems, but to be able to empathise with a student, or anybody, on a human level. To say ‘God I know’, even if you’ve never been in that situation before. To be non-judgemental and just kind of like ‘that must be hard’ and of course, compassion, it’s just vital to be able to see all these issues. I think there’s other elements to it as well, I could probably talk a lot on this, but I think organisational skills are very important because the Welfare Officer co-ordinates the Welfare crew and the SU Volunteers, so there’s a lot of organisation involved in terms of like getting campaigns run on time like SHAG Week and Mental Health Week. The third tier of it, I would say, is advocacy because you have to sit on these intimidating university committees and basically be the voice for students, when students are being forgotten about at the table. I think I’ve sat at one of those scary university committees this year, so I think I have experience in the advocacy section as well and I’ve run a lot of campaigns this year like I said.

What are the main welfare issues affecting students in NUI Galway?

I mean, there’s so many because sometimes something like an accommodation crisis is very much a welfare issue. At the risk of sounding clichéd, mental health is still one of the biggest issues facing Ireland today and I think it’s a cliché for a reason. I think that all other aspects of people’s health, just like not knowing how to look after your physical health or your sexual health is going to impact on your mental health and I do worry about students not being able to look after themselves properly or going through a rough time. Then, I mean, you worry about drug and alcohol abuse or gambling addictions and things like that, but I think all of this feeds into mental health. We live in very precarious times as well so I think we could do a lot more on that, just encouraging, not even encouraging dialogue around it, but letting people know about all the different options that are out there outside of counselling, like medication is an option as well.

Outline your main objectives if you were elected

The whole premise of my manifesto is that I want to make things simple. As in a lot of people don’t understand what welfare is and if you started talking about all the different sections of it, they’d start getting very bogged down in it. So, I want to say that I think there are some very tangible things that the Students Union could do to put in place on campus. So, basically, I took a tangible kind of view of it and I said let’s get more microwaves and water coolers on campus and let’s do out maps of those, because people don’t know where the water coolers are. And the microwave thing is a big issue for me, because currently, there aren’t really microwaves on north campus and they’ve removed some in the engineering building as well and up here around Aras na Mac Leinn. There used to be one near where the Hub is, but there isn’t anymore. So, I just think this is an issue that feeds into mental health because if you’re bringing lunch to college, or you’re trying to stay hydrated during the day, just not having a place to eat a warm meal, or be able to heat it. I think we need more nap spaces on campus as well; as in like relaxation spaces, instead of people trying to slump on the cold concourse floor. There’s comfy couches in the engineering building.

Just creating somewhere if people need to flake out, or say for students with disabilities, some of them might need, even invisible disabilities, might need to take a rest somewhere throughout the day. There aren’t a lot of places on campus that just the average student could go and relax in, that isn’t a restaurant, or a very packed area, so that was another one of my points.

Self-care workshops was something I wanted to do, and I think this would be particularly important for first years coming in on orientation, and also for people who are about to go on Erasmus. That, once again, is the all-encompassing thing about your health. As in, knowing what to do when things get tough. Not even, who to turn to, but what to do for yourself. Self-care can be something as simple as taking out an adult colouring book, or for other people it might be taking your medication on time, or knowing when you need to step back and take a rest you know? Some people use physical exercise and things like that, so I would love to roll out those workshops for people. I think as part of that, Trinity do a body and soul week, which is kind of about self-esteem and self-confidence and I would love to bring something like that here, which would kind of come into the whole self-care thing as well.

Themed weeks are great and all that and let’s have more of them. Often, people only hear about the Student’s Union when they’re on. The more themed weeks the better because if you could pull off something big, like photo and video campaigns can be very effective,  it’s not always about going out and talking to people, which is also very effective but it’s about creating something that sends a very strong message.

(Key points of manifesto covered in this answer.)

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