Welfare & Equality race: Cúnla Morris wants to “work for the Welfare Officer that comes after”

The final year Irish student wants to focus on reform, over-subscribed services and signposting

When asked how they would describe themselves, Morris said they are “someone who has always cared about people” with a “diverse Trinity experience”. The final year Irish student has engaged with Trinity College Dublin Students Union (TCDSU) since their first year in college and is one of two candidates running to be next year’s Welfare & Equality Officer.

This candidate is no stranger to the student’s union, having been a class representative twice in 2018/2019 and for this academic year. They were also an ordinary committee member of the TCDSU Disability Committee in 2018/2019 and currently hold the same position on the TCDSU Welfare Committee.

Morris cites their close relationship with several of TCDSU welfare officers as a reason why they are attracted to the role. Their recent hands-on experience on the Welfare Committee has, in their view, prepared them for the challenges of being a sabbatical officer: “What I would like to see in [future] Welfare Committees is more training. People on these committees could get more responsibilities.” They believe “welfare officers can have issues of not delegating tasks” and “from what [they’ve] seen, the more willing a welfare officer is at reaching out to people, the more successful they are at their job”.

“The more willing a welfare officer is at reaching out to people, the more successful they are at their job”.

Morris poses that they have a unique view on student life in Trinity due to the fact that they took a year off books: “No one really discusses what it is like to be a working student but not academically engaged.” Morris explains that: “This experience exposed me to a lot of gaps that exist when it comes to student supports. Once I came back last year, I realised that returning students can be forgotten about.” They note that “it can be difficult to make friends, to reach out to people”.

The promotion of accessibility and use of the Irish language both are prominent in Morris’s manifesto goals. The recent news that Teach a Sé will have a lift installed by 2024 was immediately brought up by the Welfare & Equality candidate during their interview with Trinity News. They pledge to “make sure that [the lift] is installed by then, if not sooner”. In terms of how they plan to make their office hours accessible, Morris indicates that they will follow the trend of hosting office hours in areas like an unused office on the ground floor of Teach a Sé, the Hamilton or the Arts Block and will also offer sensory-friendly as well as bilingual office hours.

As for Gaeilge, Morris notes they will encourage fellow sabbats to promote the use of Irish in their services. Having served in Oifigeach na Gaeilge from 2018-2019, it is clear that Ireland’s native language is very close to their heart.

According to Morris, the welfare & equality officer should focus on continuously making change happen and setting achievable goals: “I don’t want to turn the role into a vanity project. I want to work for the welfare officer that comes after me.” They highlight “continuing with the period poverty efforts and gender-neutral bathrooms” as “very important” to them. Morris also points out that fees and debt are a significant strain on student welfare and well-being. If elected, they plan to push for more nationwide efforts to lower student fees, similar to the Union of Students in Ireland’s (USI) Fuck the Fees campaign: “A big part of radical change is to continue the job and make sure it doesn’t stop happening.”

Other achievable goals that Morris will focus on is improving the tutor system, encouraging increased awareness of student supports, and using social media to promote council reports.

When it comes to health supports on campus, Morris has plans to not only secure more funding for the student counselling service (SCS) but also wishes to arrange Dialectical Behaviour Therapy (DBT) training for counsellors. Morris describes DBT as “Cognitive Behaviour Therapy, but upgraded” and explains that it will allow for students who suffer from disorders like Borderline Personality Disorder to “get the long-term support that they currently cannot access”. The candidate indicated that although current awareness of the SCS is great, waiting lists must be tackled. “Through acquiring more funding and improving the quality of therapy available, I think we will see a huge improvement in student mental health,” Morris explains. They note that “most student services, like the SCS, like the health service and the Academic Registry are oversubscribed and understaffed” and “we need to think about adequate reform before anything else”. They believe there is “a significant lack of communication”. Part of Morris’s manifesto also focuses on acquiring free and accessible STI testing for all Trinity students.

Regarding recent concerns around gender-based violence and safety on campus, Morris emphasises the need for an ongoing conversation around dignity and respect on campus: “It all comes down to education at the end of the day and I will heavily collaborate with the Gender Equality Officer, the President and the Equality Committee to make sure that it is discussed on a union-wide level.”

When asked what their main goal for their term as welfare & equality Officer would be, Morris takes a few moments to think before emphasising that making individual differences when it comes to casework would be the most important part of their job. “From what I’ve heard from previous officers, that is what they’ve all said is the most rewarding part and I think I will definitely relate to that,” says Morris. They note that they are an extremely organised and approachable person and “hopefully this will translate into students feeling extremely comfortable with coming to [Morris] for help.” Morris also emphasises that they would love to run college-wide events to help students adjust to in-person education: “I think I can make students feel comfortable on campus, happy to be in college. And that would be more than enough in terms of me being satisfied.”

Campaigning for sabbatical officer elections will continue until March 3. Voting will run from March 1 to 3. Students have until noon on March 1 to register to vote.

How are you planning to vote in the election? Fill out Trinity News’ poll and help us understand how students feel.

Eva O'Beirne

Eva O'Beirne is the Deputy Life Editor of Trinity News and a Junior Sophister History student.