Coinciding with the recent SU elections, Jack Mc Cann takes a look at the role of the Welfare Officer and speaks to those who have benefited from their services.
College is not all fun and games, everybody will go through some form of low whether it is mentally, physically or both at some point during their time at college. Many will be able to handle it quite well some won’t.
For those who can’t, what can they do? What’s out there to help them through this rough patch?
There are loads of services out there, and your college Welfare Officer is one of them.
The Welfare Officer is a student in your college who is one of the ports of call for students if they have any trouble with a myriad of issues, including financial, mental, physical and sexual health among others.
Why is the Welfare Officer in any college important some may think, do they even do anything like any of the other sabbatical officers?
Maeve DeSay, the current UCD Welfare Officer says that the position is important because, "What I have is a space that students can call a safe space for them, where they won’t be judged and where they don’t have to apologise for how they feel."
She ran for the position a year ago as she, "just wanted to help turn what could have been the worst week of a student’s life into something more manageable and to show them they didn’t have to do it on their own."
The Welfare Officer is of vital importance. They are somebody who can relate a lot more easily to the student body in a way that a counsellor, doctor or psychiatrist cannot, as they themselves are a student.
I never availed of the Welfare Officer, or any other part of the UCD SU, in first year or for the first half of 2nd year. However, going through a very rough period as I write this has meant that I have gone to the see the current Welfare Officer in UCD a couple of times since the turn of the year. I can say without doubt that Maeve has been vitally important in helping me on the road back to a safe place.
She sat through the whole time I babbled to her about all the things that had been bothering me and was then able to make me realise that there was so much support around me. She made it feel like a normal conversation, even thought I had been putting off going to see her for a couple of days as I felt it wasn’t normal, that I wasn’t normal.
Laura Mulqueen, has had a similarly positive experience when it comes to the Welfare Officer in Maynooth: "The Welfare Officer at Maynooth University, Síona Cahill, commits one hundred percent of her time towards the students. The difference between the work she invests compared to her counterparts is unbelievable.
"I have yet to have a bad experience with Síona when approaching her with an issue about college, neither have I heard any other student protest the amazing work she does on campus. This academic year has been chock a block full of campaigns and events by the Welfare Officer, whether it be the marriage referendum, #KISS week or disability week. Síona ensures that the student’s voice is heard loud and clear."
A Welfare Officer helps make things as easy for the student they are talking to as possible and helps them realise that the issue that they have been thinking about isn’t as bad as they fear. In the case of our Lifestyle Editor Dáirne, the Welfare Officer ticked all those boxes when she plucked up the courage to go talk to them.
"The Welfare Officer for me, was Steph Fleming. I was in my third year of college in Trinity 2010/2011 and I went to see her and she was so lovely. I thought the issue I had was small and probably a bit stupid, but she really helped. I was having trouble sleeping, something that has raised its head many times since then and I figured a chat with her might help. I was grateful when she told me that many students had the same problem I had.
"You want your welfare officer to normalise things, but they need to be a listening ear and she was. I felt a lot better leaving her office and I'm grateful to have had such a positive experience that I can share."
The Welfare Officer is voted in by the students of that college for a reason, to help the students during the year. No matter how small, big or unimportant you may think the issue is Dáirne would, "encourage anyone to see their Welfare Officer about anything that is troubling them. They don't judge, they listen, offer support and can put you in contact with support systems that can help."
To finish, UCD Welfare Officer Maeve believes that, "The role of the Welfare Officer is so important because no one gets through life without needing a bit of help and that’s all I’m here for, everyday day."