Boosting the “community feel” in College: Rachel Skelly, Welfare Candidate

Getting students physically active, widening conversations surrounding consent and sexual assault and promoting a better environment for student wellbeing in College are key priorities for Rachel Skelly

Rachel Skelly is a Junior Sophister Single Honours Geographer from Clontarf, Dublin. Last April, she was elected the Students’ Union’s Gender Equality Officer. Along with society tasks and work on gender issues, Skelly has also participated in a number of art projects round college such as face-painting, drawing on her experience as a children’s entertainer.

When asked what qualities she felt made her the best candidate for Welfare, Skelly says she is regarded within her circle of friends as the one to go to when a problem needs fixing: “I’m used to dealing with people and helping people.” She also says her experience working on SU campaigns such as “Consent” and “Repeal the 8th” have given her expertise in gaining visibility and student engagement for an issue.

Skelly feels the SU needs “better engagement” with students to improve its welfare role. She says many sections of college ignore the SU as they see it as a clique, citing the monopolisation of Student Council discussions as an example: “When you go to Council and it’s the same people talking all the time, it’s very difficult to build up your confidence to actually voice your opinions and to represent the people that need you.”

Skelly says one of the SU’s best recent initiatives was the introduction of the sexual consent workshops offered in Halls. She praises both the Union, and college staff for getting involved despite the “negative feedback from the media”, adding that it was inspiring to see senior College staff giving up their own time for these workshops.

By contrast, Skelly says two of College’s greatest weaknesses concerning welfare are its neglect of the Counselling and Health services which, she says, are “vastly underfunded.” She criticises overly long waiting times for regular and emergency counselling, which can run up to eight weeks: “When you’re going through a difficult time, being told that ‘your issue isn’t important enough for us to deal with now’ adds insult to injury.”

Skelly mentions how one of her friends tried to book an emergency GP appointment through the college. Her friend was forced to wait outside in the rain for hours merely to get a place in the queue and then only to be turned away in the end. Lobbying for greater counselling and healthcare funding is, Skelly argues, one of the most important issues at the moment: “We need to push for greater funding for these services because at the moment they’re drowning.”

Although Skelly’s manifesto doesn’t formally have a point on accommodation, she says her Geography course on urban planning and development has helped her to understand it as “a long-term issue”. She recounts how her family inherited an apartment from her grandfather, which gave her an understanding of “the ins and outs of owning and renting a property, what renters can ask for, the regulations around that and how to improve your accommodation”.

Skelly is a member of the Repeal the 8th campaign, has stood at its stands in college and is one of the founders of the Strike for Repeal TCD committee which will be demonstrating in March. However, she says the campaign’s image can make it difficult to reach out to undecided members of society as “people are afraid to speak out against it”.

One of Skelly’s promises is to set up an anonymous platform so people can debate or ask questions in a non-judgemental environment. Skelly says an inclusive debate is not only important for those who are on the fence, but the campaign’s image as a whole: “To allow people the opportunity to have their questions answered and to learn more about it in a positive and accepting way is really important for the campaign at the minute.”

Another of her promises is to lobby government to ratify the UN Convention of Rights for People with Disabilities (UNCRPD). Ireland signed the Convention in March 2007 but is now the sole remaining EU member state not to have ratified it; something Skelly thinks is “honestly ridiculous”. Skelly puts this down to lack of exposure, saying ” it’s something people don’t really know about”. She argues “more protests and vocality” are required to pressure government to ratify the Convention.

Skelly has also been involved in promoting sexual education and positivity. Her past projects include organising sexual consent workshops and hosting tea-stands where people can receive information. Skelly says the student response has been “hugely positive”.

The culture of silence around sexual assault and rape is changing rapidly, says Skelly as she recalls how she felt unable to speak of her own experiences with assault when she came to college. She says through talking with students, she found that many still did not understand the boundaries between consent and non-consent, and thus did not recognise when they had not granted consent in the past.

Since then, Skelly says, greater public awareness has made students more comfortable discussing consent: “The conversation is really spreading and it’s incredible – it’s a word that students aren’t afraid of anymore.”

Skelly also says that many cases of sexual assault and rape fall outside the more well-known “male as perpetrator, woman as victim” scenario. She adds that transphobic violence in particular is often ignored, and promises to make it a theme in her newly-established sex classes: “It’s heartbreaking to be honest. I don’t know how I would be able to deal with being assaulted and for society to regard that as unimportant.”

One of Skelly’s manifesto promises concerns spreading positivity, which she expands on by speaking of the college appearance. Skelly says college is “kind of grim-looking” and the buildings do not reflect the creativity of the students. “You could walk through and it could be a banking sector,” she says.

Skelly hopes to bring “more colour and innovation” to this appearance through monthly poster runs. The posters would be designed and submitted by students. Skelly said this would not only encourage the college creative community to become more involved with the SU, but could also prove a mood booster for anyone passing through campus.

Another area in which Skelly aims to boost positivity is sport. One planned innovation would be the creation of a 5-a-side football league among societies. Skelly says the Geography Society’s team, the Globetrotters, has helped boost camaraderie within the society.

Skelly explains the aim of this initiative is more about bringing people together rather than physical exercise, meaning those who aren’t usually athletic are equally welcome: “It’s really beneficial because you’re outside, you’re getting fresh air, you’re cheering people on, you’re seeing your friends. It’s a really good social environment.”

In her manifesto, Skelly promises to promote and support societies. She proposes adding society member profiles to SU noticeboards, as they could display the efforts people go to attracting more members to their societies. Such a feature would, according to Skelly, boost the “community feel” between societies and the SU as promises in her manifesto, as “people put so much of their time into societies. That’s their [lives].”

Capitated bodies such as the Central Societies Committee (CSC), Dublin University Central Athletic Club (DUCAC) and Trinity Publications have suffered budget cuts in previous years, with 5% of funding cut in 2014. When asked how she would deal with such an occurrence so to protect societies, Skelly says working with College to find an alternative was “the best idea”.

Skelly said such cuts often occur because College does not consider how they will negatively affect students. Resistance was the best deterrent to such an attitude: “It’s really important to stand up and say ‘No, no, no, this is really important’ and cut out something that’s not going to affect students in the same way.”