Welfare Officer Candidate: Sharon Murray

Interviewed by Sorcha O’Connor

Why are you running for election?

Personally comes from my own background, I’ve had to use the services and I felt it wasn’t until someone had notified me about them that I really understood their uses. They were fantastic! I ended up in first semester of second year, I was homeless and literally had nowhere, packed my bags and went home to Mayo. I didn’t know what was going to happen and straight in there, Jimmy was brilliant. He got me into the accommodation office and got me immediate funding and got me a roof over my head. It was fantastic.

I feel like I am a new voice, I have an open approach. I have people who feel like they can come to me and confide in me. I literally love helping people, it’s my thing, I just love it. I’m highly motivated, like getting a result when I know that someone is in need is what really, really drives me. I will neglect all avenues until I get that result. I have years of experience dealing with students, I am the current auditor of the Law Society and I’ve been in that since I was in first year. In secondary school I was the class rep and I’ve continued that role in college. I’m a current class rep for corporate law students and I feel like, I want to listen to the students of NUI and get their real issues and get them out there and heard and try to promote different aspects of the services and try to really get their best use out of them.

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

Definitely compassionate and a good listener because you never know what’s going to come through your door. It could be a multitude of personal problems or it could be literally the turning point of someone staying in college and having to leave. So I definitely think if you can engage with students and have that open, friendly approach, be very relatable. Obviously be very compassionate, but not to take everything on your shoulders. You can’t bring everyone’s personal problems home with you but while you’re in the office definitely. Give your all and help and there are so many service I feel people just don’t know about and that’s really important that this gets out there. Be chatty and out-going and of course, available.

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

From a personal level, I think the disability services in a sense of room availability in the library, I myself am a user of that service – I’m dyslexic – and I feel, so come exam times, it’s nearly a march run to get a seat in that and it’s impossible for it facilitate the demand. It’s not being met at the moment.

Obviously the lack of housing has been an issue but there has been addressed. There’s an absolutely brilliant seeing progress being made on that, new student accommodation coming on board!

Financial pressures is a massive fact. I have students, some of them friends of mine, coming to me at the moment, still no grant got. We’re in second semester, one lad he’s dropping out of college because he literally cannot continue. So, I know there’s only so much the college can do but if it can help send students through the year and it’s fantastic in that sense.

Quicker or more efficient access to counselling services is definitely [a main issue]. I have two friends that were at a very unstable time and they were turned away, they weren’t getting the help they needed because they weren’t at the threshold that was evaluated as immediate help. But like, that was the difference in them not being heard and they felt like their voice wasn’t being heard. So I feel like that’s very important.

Could you outline your main objectives if elected?

Definitely more student involvement. I know myself from previous experience and in societies, when you open the platform for students to be heard, they love it!  They absolutely love it. They won’t come to you and give you ideas unless you go out and engage with them. And I’ve gotten some wonderful ideas from students, just ask them, take the time, it doesn’t have to be a formal meeting. It could be just like a little chat. They’ll give you fantastic feedback. So definitely, more student engagement. More outlets to let students give their views, if it’s a survey, like open up an area, call in and have a cup tea. Just completely casual.

I also think to educate on the side effects of drugs. There’s no dismissing the fact that there are issues there. It’s used, we have to accept that fact, it’s a thing. So I think rather than, ‘oh no banish them, they’re never going to happen we’ll get rid of them’, basically that’s not working. So I think to educate students, mainly first year students. If you tackle that on, give them a workshop and educate them on side effects. The safe use I think, is an important issue.

What are the key points of your manifesto?

One act of kindness per month across the campus. So, one day where I will go out and just a random act of kindness. I’ve seen it done and it uplifts people. You can see the expression on their face, they’re absolutely delighted. Might be having a crap day but a bar of chocolate literally uplifts them.

Drugs awareness; workshops, understanding the use of them and the safe use of them.

I know there might be something like this going on, a student out of hours running a console-like helpline, but ran by students who have participated in the assist workshop. I myself have completed assist and I find that it’s absolutely fantastic. You never know what situation you’re going to find yourself in. If it’s run by students, you’re on a more even playing field and students are more open to other students. So once out of hours, I think that’s a more vulnerable time during the week. It’s definitely something.

Then from just like a more academic point of view, I’m a final year doing law and there are no tutorials. Absolutely nothing. That’s definitely something I’d like to see be pushed. It’s due to say, funding, but I think if they’re doing it for first years and I think definitely in your final year if you’re not grasping something in a lecture, it puts more pressure and stress on students who can’t get it. And then again it’s only a small thing that might go a long way.

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