Views From House Six

An interview with Aoibhinn Laughlin, SU Welfare Sabbat Officer


“The idea was that we’d run it for first year students in Halls, which is about 700 of the 1000 students, and after that we could try and expand it to all first years, and after that we’d try get them for the whole college.”

The welfare office in House 6 is a space where students can go to feel safe; to talk about whatever is on their mind and to know that there is someone there to listen and to care.

I began by asking what drove Loughlin to run for Welfare Officer. She revealed that she was interested in the role because of previous work she had done and that she “had a good insight into the struggles that people have”, leading her to believe it would be something  she “would be really interested in doing, and that [she] would get a lot out of.”

Her daily schedule consists of three or four meetings, from sitting in on college committee meetings or working on larger projects which: “work towards consent workshops, different policies, supporting different minority groups, and things like breastfeeding and alcohol use.”

Loughlin went on to reveal the inner workings of her internal meetings with the other sabbatical officers where they discuss their individual projects or campaigns. She also spends time working with student committees such as the welfare committee and student council. From this, she then has a lot of independent work to carry out also. She added that: “people come in now and again for casework. It could be meeting people to talk about something that they think is quite small or that might be something the effects them quite a lot.”

Next, I asked about the consent workshops that were given at Trinity Hall this past September. “Last year at SU council a mandate was passed for the Welfare Officer to organize mandatory consent classes for first year students in Halls. Because it was such a huge project and we’d never done anything like that before, it was a pilot project. The idea was that we’d run it for first year students in Halls, which is about 700 of the 1000 students, and after that we could try and expand it to all first years, and after that we’d try get them for the whole college.”

We discussed some of the goals listed on her page of the SU website, including assisting students in distress, promoting student safety and health, improving student environment, and the running of student services. Loughlin mentioned the importance of mental health, focusing particularly on men’s mental health.

“Last year, when I was running for election, I did put a bigger focus on men’s mental health than gender non-specific, and that was because the suicide rates among men are much higher for our age group. Suicide is the biggest killer of men our age, which is shocking.”

Loughlin provided insight into her ways of tackling mental health issues by using a variety of different techniques such as “neuropsychiatry,” as well as her “own personal research.”

One of Loughlin’s main focuses in her manifesto was the Peer Support system. “Peer Support in itself is an S2S initiative. Peer Supporters are highly and extensively trained in active listening and other kinds of listening techniques, they touch on a lot of different subjects from mental health to LGBTQ+ issues, to loneliness; there’s quite a few themes.”

Loughlin explained the rigorous 35 hours of training which the Peer Supporters must undergo. She noticed last year that at times the welfare office would have a queue outside the door. Loughlin is looking to have a Peer Support available to stand in for her when she is absent as a result of meetings. She also highlighted that there would still be the option to be referred onto her if that’s what the student would prefer.

Seeing as drug use has always been a discussion point, I asked Loughlin what she was working on in terms of drugs. When asked about the campaigns outlined on her website she said: “the way that we have been educating people on drugs up until now is very similar to how we used to educate people on their sexual preferences and attraction which was ‘abstinence, abstinence, abstinence’.”

Loughlin expanded her point by saying: “as a society I think we’ve come to realise that a lot of people do decide to use drugs, and although it’ll never be completely safe to use any kind of drug, we think it is a lot more dangerous for people who will be using drugs anyway to use them with very little knowledge on how to do so or how to be safe about it.”

Loughlin told me about the drug campaigns to be organised by the Union of Students in Ireland and the hope to bring that into Trinity as the year progresses.

“So because there are a lot of campaigns we run, it’s going to be a more ongoing campaign. I don’t think drugs are something that you can necessarily fit into a week (but neither is mental health, mind you), but it’s something that we’ll be focusing on around particular times that students might be using drugs.”

I then mentioned the rumour of the nap rooms. “There is one coming in very soon,” promised Loughlin. “It’s going to be in the Parlour, which is in Goldsmith Hall. Most of the work is kind of higher level work within the college and getting these kind of things approved, rather than just going and buying loads of cushions; that’s not really how it works.”

I brought up the grey area between the role Welfare Officer and the Student Counselling Service (SCS). Loughlin explained it as such: “the main difference is that I am a student and they are trained professionals. They are clinical psychologists who know a lot more about active listening and things such as cognitive behavioural therapy and other psychological techniques than I would.” She pointed out that she has a supervisor from SCS and is constantly learning from them.

The Welfare Officer provides “confidential and non-judgmental listening services, the idea is that they would come to the Welfare Officer first, and then if I don’t know what to do, I’ll know what route they should go down. For example, if it has to be through counselling, or if it’s through the disability services, or if it’s college health, or Dublin Rape Crisis Centre, it could be a wide mix of things, or it could just be we have a wee chat and things are ok by the end.”

It became apparent that the Welfare Officer works on a lot of logistical and practical things such as accommodation, student loans, and other services like child care, the Senior Tutor’s office, and the Student Hardship Fund. She finished by noting that “the Student Counselling Service is much better for ongoing assistance, and also the idea isn’t that you go to them once, but you go again and again.”

Another interesting point she listed on her aims is the green light system for office hours. “They can check online whether I’m there; it’ll be a green light if I’m here, and amber light if it’s a Peer Supporter, and a red light if there’s no one here. That should be coming into effect hopefully after Christmas, but it’s taking awhile to organise.”

To close, I gave Loughlin the opportunity to disclose any additional information she feels Trinity students should be aware of. “I think I’d like them to know that they’re not alone, and there’s so much information given to students about what to do when something goes wrong. I think that students must know that no matter what it is, or how serious it is or unimportant they might think it is, if it impacts them negatively then it’s important to me.”

Loughlin finished by stating that she is “always here to listen if they need anything at all and that it’s always better to get in touch.”

You can get in touch with Aoibhinn Loughlin by emailing her on [email protected] or calling her on 083 847 3215. Her office hours change on a weekly basis and can usually be found on the TCDSU weekly email distributed on Sunday evening.