Meabh Cullen is a third year Environmental Science student who is heavily involved with the Disability Service within Trinity. She serves as both an ambassador for the Disability Service, and as a Part-Time officer for Students with Disabilities in the Students’ Union. As well as finding the work hugely rewarding, Cullen mentions “Active Listening”, and being able to discuss her disability in a way that was helpful for other people, as two skills that she has learned from these positions.
Having come to Trinity via the DARE scheme, and having found the services in College essential to her, Cullen wants to give back. To her, becoming Welfare Officer is the next stage in this process.
When asked what the role of the Welfare Officer is, Cullen says: “The TCDSU little piece on it is to ‘look after students’ physical, mental and sexual wellbeing’. And I think written down on paper, it sounds so much colder than it really is.”
Instead, Cullen emphasises the importance of being a visible, friendly face in the union. “They have to be able to listen to what people are saying, and take on board what students are facing and what problems they’re having.”
Of current Welfare Officer Aobhinn Loughlin, Cullen comments: “I think there’s so much involved in the role, that everything that she’s put her mind to, she has helped with as much as she can. She’s a lovely person. I really think she has tried her best to represent all students.”
Feeling that Loughlin has focussed on issues such as consent and gender neutral bathrooms this year, however, Cullen would like to see a shift back to mental health as a focus of welfare officer. “The only thing I would change is I would talk about mental health a bit more because it hasn’t been discussed as much this year as it has in previous years.”
Speaking of the relationship between student body and the SU, Cullen says “I think there is disengagement. When you enter college, you’re automatically part of the Union, whether you want to be or not”.
A unified stance is key to Cullen, especially on matters such as Repeal The 8th. “The union at the moment have a stance where it’s pro-choice. They support the Repeal the 8th movement, which I agree with and think is great. I think the more people they can get involved the better, and I think it’s important all the students in the union agree with it and are happy to move forward with it”
Recognising that some students on campus are pro-life, Cullen would like to see the option for students to opt out of the Union, even to do so on particular issues. It is important to her, however, that the college continues to address national issues.
“As a college, Trinity is central in Dublin. It is one of the most well-known colleges in Ireland, and it’s important as a college we stand up for national campaigns and we get our voices heard. Students can be ignored, but if you have a whole institute behind us, it gives more fire to what we are saying and makes it more prevalent.”
When asked about Bob Geldof’s recent dismissal of gender neutral bathrooms as an important issue, Cullen responded: “I think he’s a gobshite. Lovely artist in terms of his music, very good. He’s done a lot of great humanitarian work but I think because he stands on such a vocal platform he shouldn’t be dismissing issues such as gender neutral bathrooms because it is an issue. If it’s something that we’re talking about then it’s important.”
While she recognises there are properly national issues to be addressed, there are “more local issues” like fees that students need to focus on too.
“It’s a free education, but we’re already paying 3000 euro a year to go to college. That’s not free. And we’re still here, but first year science students aren’t getting a chemistry lab every week. Like, I don’t know. I need to think more about the issue, but it is something I want to address”
The college service most in need of improvement is the counselling service, she says. She feels that different fundraisers could help alleviate some of the pressure citing Ní Lochlainn’s introduction of a coffee machine whose proceeds go towards funding the counselling service.
One improvement to the counselling service Cullen suggests is addressing the issue of gambling. “A Fourth Year student texted me last week, that him and his friends have experienced gambling as an issue in college. A lot of young male students who have access to different gambling websites and stuff will use them, and end up in a lot of trouble with it, and without realising will become addicted to it.”
Another priority is on-campus accommodation for those in the disability service. “I’d like to guarantee that some of the rooms in Oisin house are reserved for students with disabilities.” At the moment, there are 50 rooms out of 645 on campus reserved. Cullen would like to see another 50 of the 250 at Oisin House set aside to house disabled students.
Continuing through her manifesto, Cullen explains her Safe Drug Policy. “What I want is a section on the website. A lot of students coming into first year don’t realise the impacts drugs will have […] because it can have such a severe effect”.
Cullen feels that providing information is key to keeping students safe. Her suggestion of achieving this is an online, anonymous forum where students can report suppliers who sold drugs that had a negative effect on them. She would combine this with a blog that provides safety information such as “Know to have water with them, take the drugs in a safe place, be with someone you know and trust, be with people aren’t taking pills. Chew chewing gum. It won’t be that it promotes drugs, but if you do choose to do drugs it’s done in a safe way.”
Linking into this is Cullen’s promotion of mental health. Linking back into the reengagement and unification of the Union, Cullen discusses two ideas: “Mental Health Mondays” and healthy recipes included in the SU weekly email.
Mental Health Mondays would see societies contributing every Monday to try and promote positive mental health among all students, not limited to those who suffer from mental illness. “Mental health is something that everyone has. It’s not something that is solely for people that suffer with depression or anxiety have. We all have it, we all need to make sure we’re looking after ourselves properly.”
Summarising, she adds: “The main reason you should be voting for me is I want to make a visible difference. I want to be a presence in the Union that people know they can rely on. I want the students to know that I’m here for them.”
While she recognises that the role of Welfare officer isn’t “a miracle curer for students”, Cullen feels she can bring an approachable, friendly face to the role of Welfare Officer. “I want to be the part of the Mental Health Mondays where everyone can see me jogging around campus, sweating ten minutes behind everyone else. I want to be the reason you’re making pasta carbonara on a Wednesday night because I’ve given you the recipe for it. I want to be there for the students.”