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Meet Your Officers: Grainne Gahan

Welfare Officer Grainne Gahan

Grainne Gahan is the re-elected Welfare Officer and a neuroscience graduate. She talks about her biggest achievements over her tenure so far and her plans for the year to come.

Q: What does the Welfare Officer do for students?

A: The Welfare Officer looks after non-academic concerns that students might be having. When students are having issues are having issues outside of their academic life, that's where I come in and give a hand. It's a broad role; it includes accessibility, mental health, student services, exceptional circumstances, as well as consent and sexual violence. My job is also to represent students in university meetings and at decision making bodies to make sure student voices are present and listened to.

Q: What big accomplishments have you made over the last year?

A: I've had a few things that I am really proud of. I introduced a drug testing kit scheme, where you can get a little kit to test MDMA and cocaine to make sure it hasn't been adulterated with toxic substances. We know students are going to take drugs and we don't want to take a zero-tolerance approach. We want to make sure that if you are going to take drugs that you are doing so as safely as possible. Those are available now from Reception with some safety and some signposting information. We've done a soft launch of it so far and it has been quite popular and we're going to launch it properly in September for Freshers' Week and I think it'll be quite big.

Another thing I'm quite proud of is re-writing the University's mental health policy to make sure there are clear guidelines for staff when students disclose a mental health problem to make sure they are getting the right support that they need and to make sure that students and staff are on the same page when it comes to what support is available. Linked to that, there is a big review happening into the provision of mental health services on campus and I'm feeding into that to make sure that money and resources aren't left out of that conversation and that it's clear that when the recommendations are made that the biggest thing that needs to happen is for investment in student welfare, mental health and student services.

Q: In your manifesto, you pledged to launch a new welfare rep scheme. How will that work and what progress have you made so far?

A: I'm really excited about it! I want to link it in with the current student rep scheme, because there are academic reps already for every school but I want there to be one welfare rep from each school and then a postgraduate taught welfare rep and a postgraduate research welfare rep. They will sit on the Student Experience Forum and report on welfare issues they are having within their schools, such as overassessment or exceptional circumstances. Through the Student Experience Forum, they can report any issues to the Students' Union and the university's Director of Teaching and Learning Claire Mackie, as well as their heads of schools, and come up with proactive and productive solutions. It will be a really good opportunity for students to gain experience of being representatives and taking on smaller welfare roles.

Q: Accessibility was also a key part of your campaign. What plans do you have for the next year to improve accessibility on campus?

A: Something that I am really really proud of in achieving this year is that there are plans going forward now to get an accessible ramp into the Library, which is something that Student Union officers have been asking for for a really long time. This year, I pushed the university to make that become a reality and now there are plans in place to make that happen. It'll be a change from the current 25 minute 'accessible' route into the Library, which is not accessible; it's just step-free. I'm also going to be making sure that the new campus map has all accessible routes outlined on it, including dropped kerbs and audio loops for people with hearing aids. I will also be making sure that all general teaching space has accessible routes into it, as well as making sure that the atmosphere of those spaces, such as the lighting, is also accessible to those with disabilities.

In terms of academic accessibility, I will make sure that students are getting the reasonable adjustments that they need and continue working on making the panel that make those decisions fairer. I will also be trying to foster a greater cultural awareness, respect and knowledge about disability within the university, because it is really important.

Q: You also mentioned in your manifesto plans to bring back 'puppies on campus' events. Beyond the gimmick, why do you think this is such a popular event with students?

A: I think it is a little bit of an escape from the scary exams and assessments. Most people I know love dogs and just want to pet them and there's something about a puppy's face that makes everything great in the world! I think it also prompts people to think about their well-being and why they might be feeling stressed and to think that they should be taking some time out for themselves and to take regular breaks.

Q: What advice do you have for new students starting at Sussex?

Get involved in sports, societies and campaigns that you care about. Sometimes when you move into halls it can be a bit scary and you might feel like you have much in common with people, but if you find something that you love doing, then you're going to meet people who want to be friends with.

You don't have to be into loads of partying and drinking to have fun at university! If you prefer to have a quiet night in with a movie, that's okay too.

If you're feeling scared or nervous, you're not alone. Everyone is in the same boat when they have just started, so make sure you reach out if you need support. You can come and talk to the Student Union and there are people out there that really want to help you.

Also, just enjoy Sussex because it is such a wonderful place full of love!

You can find Grainne on Facebook, Twitter and you can email her. Her manifesto is on our website.


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