Clare Austick served as VP Welfare & Equality Officer and as President of the Students’ Union before being elected as Welfare officer of the USI.
By Ellen O’Donoghue
Former Vice President/Welfare and Equality Officer and President of NUI Galway’s Students’ Union, Clare Austick, has put her name forward for the Presidential position of the Union of Students in Ireland. She is the only person on the ballot.
The Women’s Lead event which Austick was lead organiser of, was the final factor in her decision to run, saying that afterwards she realised, “this is what I want. I heard so many incredible women speak from my previous experience of those who led USI.
“I could just see myself in it, and even thinking about the challenges that students are going to face next year with like, are there going to be potential funding costs to services? What is it going to look like in terms of online blended learning?”
Explaining why she wants to run for the Presidential position, she said “I love the work that I do, I love being able to run campaigns that improve the lives of students, even just in the welfare remit around consent and ending sexual violence, I wanted to be able to do that across the whole student experience.”
Clare Austick has been a member of NUI Galway’s Students’ Union Executive since she was in second year, having been elected as a class rep after initially being too afraid to put herself forward for the position during her first year at University.
“When I was a first year I didn’t know like what a Students’ Union was, I didn’t know what a union was, I didn’t know what our Students’ Union did. I didn’t even realize that Class Reps were actually part of the union, I thought it was like an academic thing that it was part of the classes, rather than the Students’ Union when they were electing Class Reps.
“And I remember sitting there and I really really wanted to put myself forward, but because one of the requirements to do that was to like, you know, give a 10-20 second pitch as why people should let you because there’s 10 people who put themselves forward, I was too shy and too scared”, she said.
Explaining how vividly she remembers the experience, Austick continued, “And I said, no, I’m not doing it, and I remember sitting in the Kirwan Theatre. And I remember just thinking I want to do it, but I can’t, because I’m not going to get elected and people aren’t going to vote for me, I’m not going to get to be the Class Rep, and then I made a promise to myself that day that if I still wanted to be a Class Rep the following year that I would put myself forward which then happened.
“I attended SU Council. I saw all the motions that were brought forward I saw the campaign’s that the Welfare Officer was running, and I just thought it was really cool and I couldn’t get over that. Like I said, I had no idea that this student activism existed.
Opening up to SIN, she said she had lost her first election in student politics. “I had ran for Science Convener and didn’t get elected. And then I realized that when I ran for part time equality that that’s kind of like where my passion really lies.”
“You know, it was right for me to be elected the Part-Time Equality Officer the following year rather than Science Convener, because my heart wasn’t really in it. And then when I ran for equality and I saw all the great things I could have done and all the great things that I did do and had the kind of potential to influence. It made me want to run for Welfare and Equality, and then when I became Welfare and Equality officer, I think it really opened my eyes because I was meeting students every day, and you know like different backgrounds – they shared their stories with me.
“Having them come forward and show their bravery, that just really inspired me and wanting me to do better and be better as a person, but also for the Union to support them as best as we could. So, then I ran for President, then Welfare of USI. And then, I guess that passion and initial dedication and commitment and just a love for helping people stayed with me. And yeah, here I am!”
If elected, Austick would like to focus on mending the flaws in the Third-Level system that have been highlighted by the Covid-19 pandemic, while also not forgetting the additional challenges students are facing.
“We’ve always been calling for core funding, Sustainable core funding that’s allocated annually, but which just hasn’t happened, or reduction in the student contribution change, but there’s been additional pressures and stresses now, with like the losses of part time jobs, or paying for accommodation, and then not needing it. There are so many different challenges that students have faced this year.
She has also called for student wellbeing and mental health to remain at the centre of everything the USI does, “that it’s considered and that it’s given the attention and time that it deserves. By implementing this to mental health and suicide prevention framework recommendations or ensuring that wellbeing campaigns are run out locally and nationally, but that also staff are trained in the relevant areas so that they are best equipped to deal with different challenges that students are bringing to their attention.
“There’s like 15 different things that I can talk about all including like accommodation or Postgraduate students or Gaeilge or cross border engagement with our trilateral agreement with the North and NUS USI or any NUS UK, but the main thing that it boils down to at the end of the day is supporting students during our post Covid-19, ensuring that their education is protected that they still have accessibility to their education, and that their wellbeing is as best as it can be in these times.”
Talking about Marie Lyons’, who had initially put her name forward for election, before taking her name off the ticket, Clare said that she would have loved if she ran too, as “it would have been great to have two women run against each other”, however Clare is uncertain as to why she withdrew the nomination.
“I think she was thinking about it, and then someone nominated her so she had her name on the ballot and then she decided to withdraw, but I’m not 100% sure. Marie and I are really good friends, and we would have supported each other the whole time!”
Discussing her campaign ideas, and the way this campaign will differentiate from other years owing to the pandemic Austick hinted that she is “definitely going to try and engage in creative ways online to try and get those different points across.”
Although appreciating how challenging the campaign will be, she also mentioned the positive aspects of having an entirely online campaign; “also I think it might be able to increase the kind of engagement in a certain way as well, in a different way so I suppose the availability of manifestos, for example with NUIGSU now being able, all students being able to have a fair say.”
Running for USI President was never on the horizon for Clare Austick, and is still a shock to her in some ways; “even thinking about it, I’m like, what am I doing? It just does not seem real because it was never on my like horizon!”
Speaking on the recent controversy surrounding NUI Galway student’s usage of social media, she added that she wishes people would spread kindness instead of hate.
“The message that people are promoting on social media platforms, you know I’m always for, promotion of being kind to one another, supporting each other and trying to understand a person rather than trying to spread hatred or attacking another person, and I think basic human compassion and kindness is what’s needed, particularly during Covid and everything that’s happened this year.”
However, Austick did also mention that “the college need to really look at their disciplinary policy and the structure that’s in place.
“I think it’s really unfortunate that this is happening, and I hope that those people have been affected or those who are struggling receive the support and care that they need, that hopefully in the next coming weeks that it can be resolved.”
A jack of all trades, Austick did however reveal that she too struggles with it all from time to time. “I feel like the last while I’ve definitely always prioritized work which I suppose is good in a way. It’s allowed me to do so many great things, but also sometimes it’s resulted in me almost reaching burnout or that, so I think how I do it all, I think just because I care so much, I’m so passionate and I just love the work that I do.”
She also mentioned that it is her passion for helping people and making a difference that makes what she does on a day-to-day basis, seem so easy.
“There’s definitely been times where I’ve been under pressure or stress. And sometimes, you know different things impact on me as well. There’s definitely been times this year as well with Covid where you know I’ve missed my friends, or I’ve missed my family.
Know that like, hopefully things that are maybe bringing me down will pass. Or I’ll focus on things that bring me joy and happiness, and so you know, trying to balance everything is a lot, but I think , if your heart is in the right place and you care you’re doing it for the right reason. It just comes across, because if you’re doing it for the right reason and not for personal gain or anything.”
Central to the former Chemistry student’s message is the idea of spreadinf “kindness and compassion,
“Bring light to a dark room. That’s what I try to do, and just try and treat everyone with kindness and basic compassion.”