Aisling Leen, a fourth year English Literature and French student, is the sole candidate in the race for the position of Welfare Officer this year. After an uncontroversial campaign with a few blips, she looks set to have a strong win, receiving 81% of first preference votes in the Trinity News poll. She is currently the fourth year class rep for English TSM, and the Treasurer of DU Meditation. Leen is also the Volunteer Coordinator of the Welfare Committee, has previously served as Secretary of the Welfare Committee, and was part of current TCDSU Welfare Officer, James Cunningham’s campaign team during the 2018 elections. Leen identified her involvement in the latter, and in that of TCDSU President Shane De Ris’ campaign last year, as igniting her interest in running in this year’s elections. Welfare Officer was an obvious choice for her, she says, as she finds the personal award of having “cheered someone up or helped them with an issue” very rewarding.
The topics of mental health, sexual assault, and consent dominate the discussion. However, Leen stated that there were many more issues which she is still passionate about “learning so much more about”. Questions on topics such as gambling have emerged in hustings, to which Leen appeared unprepared for but promised to look into.
Having been heavily involved in the Take Back Trinity campaign in March and a keen supporter of Repeal, Leen emphasised her passion for campaigning, saying that she thinks that “campaign weeks can be very far reaching”. As Volunteer Coordinator of the Welfare Committee, she highlighted her involvement in the welfare campaigns this year, including Mental Health, Body and Soul, Disability Awareness, and Rainbow Weeks. Body and Soul Week was a campaign which particularly stood out to Leen as it is one which serves as a “good opportunity to get involved in things you wouldn’t necessarily talk about openly” and, further, it “is a lot about confidence and body positivity”, which she is very passionate about. However, despite her involvement in such campaigns, she believes that there is “more scope for ongoing campaigns as opposed to weeks” and expresses concerns about how “sometimes it’s all thrown at you with weeks”.
On the topic of campaigns, Leen holds the view that “only a handful of people will attend events but if you achieve good publicity online, you can reach people who never have any involvement in the SU”. This is in reference to her manifesto where Leen expresses her intention to create a video series on harm reduction in order to inform students on how to stay safe should they decide to take drugs. Further, although she will be following Cunningham’s lead on drugs awareness, she states that she will be taking a different approach. While she intends to continue placing focus on ensuring that information is available on safe drug use, she feels that more of an emphasis needs to be put on “the after effects of drugs, the comedown [because] that’s when people experience the worst mental health crisis of their lives”. She thinks it is “counterproductive to tell people how to take drugs safely and not tell them how to mind themselves in the coming days”.
Consent is another area of priority for Leen and she seems to be aware of the significance of the problem and the commitment which is required to tackle it: “Consent is a big campaign and is going to be for years”. She plans to introduce “bystander training to go alongside consent”, outlining what to do in a situation where you may witness harassment or assault.
Leen has served as treasurer for DU Meditation for the last two years, which won Most Improved Society at the CSC Awards last year. She acknowledges the scope of mediation and outlines how “it isn’t all about mental health, it’s about spirituality sometimes”. She is proud of “having that space for people, to equip them with tools to help with their stress and sadness, not only just medical conditions”, such as anxiety and depression. She accredits a lot of the skills which she has learned from her role within DU Meditation as having equipped her for the role of Welfare Officer: “Meditation attracts a lot of mature and international students – without my society involvement I wouldn’t have had that wide perspective.” In her manifesto, Leen also outlines her intent to incorporate meditation more directly into the role, putting forward her plans to hold weekly meditation sessions for students on placements and to provide such students with a safe space to “discuss traumatic or upsetting experiences they have witnessed or been involved with during their time spent in clinical settings”.
It is clear that the de-stigmatisation of mental health issues is a huge priority for Leen. She believes that a tiered system will be the best approach for this as, although it is “difficult for [her] to have this perspective because [she is] so well versed in mental health”, she understands that “some people aren’t at that stage and they need to be taught that it’s okay to talk about your feelings”. She views this as fundamental first step before more formal means of dealing with mental illnesses, such as medication, are used.
While Leen intends to prioritise the tackling of sexual assault policy, she is also aware of the importance of case work in the role. She thinks that it all boils down to “organisation and time management, so that when you get a lot of case work it doesn’t set you back in terms of organising campaigns”. She also emphasised the importance of striking a balance in this respect as “with case work, you can do an amazing job and really help one person but with a campaign you can reach 18,000 people”.
Leen will also be following Cunningham’s lead on student finance, stating that she intends to ensure that space remains available to act as emergency accommodation for students on campus and in Trinity Hall. She also plans to continue the provision of a food bank to provide for more basic needs of students who are struggling financially. She noted that, in creating her manifesto, she struggled to find what she could actually do to tackle this issue of finance: “[I]f someone has a health issue you can send them to counselling or to a doctor and there’s always a route to take, for finance it’s more difficult when there isn’t a route to take”.
When questioned about disengagement with the SU, Leen acknowledged the complexity of the issue, one she says she can actually empathise with due to her own initial lack of engagement. She believes that the solution lies in ensuring that the SU does not “[run] away with themselves with the politics of it and to focus on the day-to-day issues”. She also outlined the importance of openness within the Union: “It’s essentially five people doing their best and the union tries its best to be open…Anyone is welcome to go to Council, anyone is welcome to run for President and that’s important to me”. Equally she believes that “a better relationship between the Union and college newspapers could benefit the Union in terms of making it feel more open to people”.