Human rights working group – Bill of Rights for Northern Ireland.

For the past couple of months, a group of QUB students, including myself, have been part of a working group on human rights in Northern Ireland. We are focusing particularly on the need for a Bill of Rights in Northern Ireland, as provided for in the Good Friday Agreement 1998.

The Good Friday Agreement 1998 included the commitment that the upon the establishment of a Northern Ireland Human Rights Commission, it would be asked:

“…to consult and to advice on the scope for defining, in Westminster legislation, rights supplementary to those in the ECHR, to reflect the particular circumstances of Northern Ireland, drawing as appropriate on international instruments and experiences. These additional rights to reflect the principles of mutual respect for the identity and ethos of both communities and parity of esteem, and – taken together with the ECHR – to constitute a Bill of Rights for Northern Ireland.”

This commitment was subsequently reflected in the Northern Ireland Act 1998.

As the 19th anniversary of the Agreement recently came and went  against a backdrop of continued political stalemate and inertia, we feel it is time for the Bill of Rights to be prioritised.

A Bill of Rights for Northern Ireland, which would take into account the particular circumstances of Northern Ireland, would ensure legal recognition and protection of the human rights of all our citizens. Human rights has become topical here since the very announcement of the March election, let alone after the smoke cleared and the parties sought to interpret the results delivered by the electorate. As the political situation rumbles on, with legacy cases and Irish key issues, and as the outcome of Brexit remains uncertain, it is time for a Bill of Rights to be realised for the benefit of all.

Bills of rights provide legal recognition and protection of rights to all citizens, but it applies particularly to those within marginalised and vulnerable groups. This is of relevance to Northern Ireland, where human rights issues have been raised in relation to children and women in detention, women accessing reproductive healthcare, equality for the LGBT* community, and the Irish-speaking community. Adopting a Bill of rights would ensure a defense for these communities, and provide legal protection of their rights and redress for violations of same.

A Bill of Rights for Northern Ireland is not a new proposition. Since the 1960s, there have been calls from across the political divide for a Bill of Rights for Northern Ireland. The common argument is a Bill of Rights would provide for a stable, shared society built on equality and non-discrimination. As part of a constitutional foundation, it would ensure no matter who was in power, human rights would be respected.

It’s been an utter pleasure to work with fellow students on human rights in NI, and I am looking forward to our future work!

We have written a blog post for Rights NI, an online platform for the discussion of human-rights based issues, entitled ‘QUB student working group calls for renewed consideration of NI Bill of Rights‘.

We are currently working on a report which will merge together our individial research and research papers on the subject. It will ultimately conclude that it is time for a Bill of Rights to be realised and implemented.

I am tasked with overseeing the report, and have spent the a couple of evenings after work merging the documents together. It has been fascinating work, and I cannot wait to see where we end up.

Wednesday and the tale of woe(nrolment).

Another new academic term looms on the horizon: I start my Masters in just over one week. It is a weird and wonderful feeling, as this is something I have always longed to do, but equally so I cannot believe the day is drawing near. Goodness, I must be getting old (she sighs wearily).

I cannot wait to commence my studies in conflict transformation, transitional government and law, and social justice. I always thought I would study Human Rights at a Masters level, but then I came across the Masters in Conflict Transformation and Social Justice. I was hooked from the start. It promises to be an interesting and intriguing course, spanning across various academic disciplines. It reminds me of the liberal arts colleges in America: studying different disciplines enables you to gain knowledge and awareness of the same issue/topic but through different perceptions. It is fascinating, and I look forward to studying political, legal, historical and psychological modules.

However, no new term is complete without the infamous process of online registration and enrolment. Yes, a new term brings excitement and speculation (what module? Which lecturer?). It even brings a touch of nerves and a twinge of fear (what if I hate this module? What if I spend all this money and become disillusioned? What if I prematurely age from stress?). But come what may, it will always bring the joys of enrolment on a computer system which seemingly delights in taunting your nervous system. (Or maybe that is just me).

This year, I was due to enrol as a part-time postgraduate student on Wednesday 14th September. It was a bundle of laughs, let me assure you.

Thrice have I used QSIS. Thrice have I had tales to tell after using it. This year marked the fourth time of such larks.

Firstly, you should consider yourself fortunate if you are able to successfully log in to QSIS. Due to the sheer volume of students attempting to register and enrol, the servers have an alarming tendency to crash, with the result being students may fail to even log in. Should you be one of the lucky few to log in, you may fall at the second hurdle, that being actually clicking on the registration button – many who reach this step fail, as the server crashes and they are unceremoniously logged out. Once you commence the registration process, you may find that your screen freezes, you are logged out and so have to fight the good fight to log back in, or you constantly have to resubmit information. I generally end up resorting to threatening my laptop and/or the QSIS programme. It really is the Hunger Games of university registration, I kid you not.

Anyway, I eventually managed to confirm that my name, DOB, address etc have not magically changed after a year, and that all the other information on file was still accurate. I flexed my fingers, for the next step is that of ‘Academics’, otherwise known as ‘Supermarket Sweep: module edition’. (As a toddler I adored that zany programme, for reasons I have yet to fully comprehend. Should you not know of this veritable gem, please do Google it.)

Now, as someone works part-time, I am restricted as to what modules I can study per year. I knew roughly what modules were compulsory core modules, and I knew the number of optional modules I was eligible to study and the number required per School. Knowledge is wonderful, dear reader. Success depends however on the application of such knowledge, or rather, can the online system agree to my choices? I knew what I had to do; I just did not know whether QSIS did too.

My fears, sadly, were well-founded. No sooner had I entered the Supermarket Sweep of class selection, ready to seize upon my chosen modules for the new academic year, than I was presented with a message saying that I was not registered for the year. Glancing to the pile of enrolment leaflets posted to me by my university at my side, and the official letter of confirmation of my acceptance to the course, I looked to the Heavens, and sighed.

It was going to be one of those days.

Of course, just like the Labour party campaign theme of 1997 – ‘Things Can Only Get Better’ –  irony was at hand. Scrolling through the rest of the registration process, I discovered that I could not tell the system that I was set to graduate in 2018, and I apparently did not owe the university any money. No matter how many times I logged in and out, refreshed the page, or entered details, the message re my apparent non-registration stubbornly remained. Cue repeated telephone calls to RegHelp, being transferred, being transferred again, before having to leave a voicemail message and send off – a cry for help – an email. Phew.

Oh, and did I omit to mention that this fantastic tableau of me bearing leaflets and letters and the weight of QSIS-inspired frustration on my shoulders took place as I was sitting in the dentist’s, awaiting an emergency appointment for the Erupting Wisdom Tooth? Not only that, this was unfolding as I was preparing to head into work, with Assembly Committees awaiting me. Truly, I am the living embodiment of Murphy’s Law.

Mercifully, my proverbial silver lining took to the stage. Whilst in the office, I received several lovely emails from a clerical officer working in the relevant School, saying that she was working to resolve the issue and not to worry. By afternoon, I was informed the problem had been fixed and I was now able to select my modules and complete online enrolment. And dear reader, that is what I did.

I have now sorted out my timetable for the next two semesters. I have opted to study two core and two optional modules this year, and then can study the remaining two core and two optional modules plus my dissertation next year. Autumn term 2016 will see me study Global Concepts and Practice, and International Human Rights Law. Spring 2017 will see me study Conducting Research in Conflict and Theoretical Criminology. Essentially, despite having graduated from my undergraduate Law degree this summer, I am keeping with the Law theme with my optional modules. (You can take the girl from Law, but you cannot take Law from the girl…)

When I received the confirmation email of successful online enrolment and payment of course fees, I smiled. Sometimes the best feeling is that which comes after stress and frustration. A mellow, sweet wave of calm and tranquillity.

Of course, this could just be the calm before the (commencement of Masters) storm. With me, who knows. It’s going to be a ride over the next two years, but sure – who doesn’t love a challenge?

*Erupting Wisdom Tooth is set to be extracted on the 23rd September. I am due to attend my first seminar on the 27th. The living embodiment of Murphy’s Law am I indeed.

Extreme Examination Blues.

The horror of examination season – we have all been there. Summer time to many is a time to unwind, enjoy the sun (unless you live in Ireland like myself) and even if you are working, you and your colleagues can have summer-inspired lunches and breaks. For many others however, summer is simply a season of woe.

Yes, should you be a student, summer stands for revision cards, mock essays, highlighted textbooks and frantically reviewing past papers. I graduated from Law School this past July, and I can confidently say that the final examinations of final year Law placed me in meltdown mode. There is something different about your very last undergraduate examinations. There is the added nervousness about degree classifications, the added anxiety of knowing three years of studying has suddenly boiled down to a handful of days of assessment. For me, it felt more surreal as I had been thrown back into the hectic studying of Law after a year abroad studying in the US. I had been studying Business to American academic standards, and no sooner had I adjusted to the American methods of assessment I was back at Law School. So the summer of 2016 was an important date for me. It was not simply to test my knowledge of my final three modules, or my endurance over the years. I felt that it was a test to determine my resilience between different classrooms in different continents, and whether I had made the right decision to study abroad for a year. To prove that I am the living embodiment of Murphy’s Law, the timetable of assessment from the Law school seemed to mock me: I had three methods of assessment crammed within two weeks within May. The balancing act between coursework deadlines and examination dates is never an easy one, but thankfully I emerged victorious at the end of May.

I had a hideous Law of Evidence exam to tackle, because in order to gain that longed-for QLD in Northern Ireland, Law students here must study Evidence – unlike their counterparts in the Republic, Scotland, Wales and England. However, not only I was buried under lecture slides and past paper questions pertaining to whether Brian had suffered entrapment by the police, or whether as a prosecuting barrister I could avail of bad character evidence, I was double-dosed with research articles. Between analysing the role and functions of human rights bodies to comparing and contrasting the Sunningdale Agreement and the Good Friday Agreement, I often found myself sitting in my bedroom and asking myself was all the stress going to be worth it.

And that is the question many students from all degree disciplines ask themselves: will the hard work and effort across many years of studying be worth it? Will these years of work be realised in the final examination period? There is nothing worse than working to a consistent standard over several years, and then stumbling at the final hurdle because of a particularly tough paper. I actually had a moment when I thought the end was nigh during the examination season this year.

I had prepared selected topics for my Evidence exam; I was reasonably confident in my predictions having trawled through six years’ worth of past papers, analysing questions and assessment patterns. So, brave academic warrior that I was, I opted to – Heaven forbid – ‘cherry-pick’ my revision around the pattern I had identified and in addition to my favourite topics. Students are warned against doing this, right from the moment they prepare for public examinations (I can recall a particularly lengthy sermon on the matter from my GCSE Triple Award Chemistry teacher). Students however have other ideas, which should be understandable given the scope of subjects to be examined in and the restricted time in which to study. I highly doubt I was the sole Law student who selected certain topics to study for this Evidence exam, which was framed around answering three questions, including at least one essay and at least one problem question. I had opted to study Bad Character (and, because I was lost to the examination madness, I kept saying ‘bad character’ to the tune of Bon Jovi’s ‘Bad Medicine’. I might have giggled at one point in the hall) and the Burden/Standard of Proof. I had prepared for both in such a way that I could answer problem questions and essays. I walked into the hall, steeled myself for my final ever assessment, and opened my paper when instructed to discover… Bad Character was asked only as a problem question, not as an essay and thereby diverting from my identified pattern which was of several years in the making. Ignoring the chaos in my head – I visualised having to resit in August – I soon discovered I could answer the unexpected Burden/Standard of Proof problem question in lieu of the MIA Bad Character essay. It meant I was going to have to answer two problem questions and an essay when I had planned for two essays and a problem question, but such is life. I was somewhat consoled by the fact I answered all three in good time, and later was to discover a group of students complaining they had only been able to answer two.

See? Examination blues happen to us all, and you cannot escape them. I passed my Evidence exam, passed m research articles and graduated. Despite the heart-stopping moment during said exam, and the stress and panic examination season generally conjures, I was okay. I was certainly in a better situation than the students of Lewis & Clark Law School in the US, who have recently been informed their examination papers were apparently stolen.

On 13th August, Law students at Lewis & Clark sat the MPRE (Multistate Professional Responsibility Exam) which is a very challenging and competitive examination. It seeks to test the applicant’s knowledge of the appropriate lawyer behaviour under either the American Bar Association (ABA) Code of Professional Responsibility and/or the ABA’s Model Rules of Professional Conduct. Students will spend months preparing and studying for this multiple choice question examination, which is a requirement in nearly every US state for admission to the bar. Most students will take the MPRE prior to their graduation from Law School. Some students will sit the bar exam in the state of their career choice, and will have to wait upon the results of the MPRE before they are eligible to be sworn in. So spare a thought for those students from the 13th August morning when they began to wonder about the delay in receiving their results.

The rumour mill began to generate: apparently an assistant Dean of the Law School allegedly left completed test materials in their car, which was broken into with the tests duly lifted. US Legal website Above The Law had received what it deemed ‘disturbing’ information form an apparent insider about a mysterious incident involving the MPRE test papers from that Saturday morning. The website covered the story and the allegations of theft. The website then contacted LSAC, the organisation that administers the MPRE, which seemed to confirm the rumour of stolen test papers. The organisation also indicted there was an ongoing investigation into the incident. Meanwhile, Lewis & Clarke were not available for comment and the students involved became more anxious and concerned. What a horrible situation to find yourself in: the uncertain mess of what exactly happened with a test you worked so hard for, and which the commencement of your legal careers rests upon.

The Law students in question were soon put out of their misery, but most likely felt increased frustration as a result. For by the 11th August, an email was sent out (at 4:15am, believe it or not) to all students confirming the theft. This email seemingly suggested that officials at Lewis & Clark Law School and at LSAC had known since at least the Monday following the weekend examination that the answer sheets from Saturday’s administration of the MPRE were stolen. The email did not just confirm the theft, and inform students they would be refunded for the examination. It also informed students that they would have to re-sit the MPRE as they would not mark any founded papers: “to protect the integrity of the scores, we will not score these answer sheets even if they are found.” And to top the whole sorry saga off, there is some salt-rubbing: the students fear their social security numbers may have been compromised, as they had to enter their social security number on their test paper.

I have to note the irony in the LSAC email when it states ‘to protect the integrity of the scores. If officials are so concerned about the integrity of test scores, however did they manage to have system in place in which papers could be stolen?

As Above The Law wryly put it:

But the potential irony of a professional ethics exam being stolen is almost too perfect, perhaps better suited for mediocre heist movie than real life.

Examination blues. We students – especially we band of Law students – have all been there. But the theft of papers and the consequential requirement of a resit? That’s extreme indeed. Perhaps my nightmare scenario of MIA examination questions isn’t so bad after all.

New Jersey’s new proposal: the Distracted Walking Bill

Envisage the scene.

It is half past eight in the morning. I have spent half an hour in my university’s library, no doubt printing an Amazon-forest worth of documents, and I am now on my way to my internship. This requires a ten minute walk through Belfast, through some busy streets populated with commuters, yawning students and the odd rally driver-esque cyclist. The walk requires me to avoid car drivers sneaking down little alleyways who care not for pedestrians. The walk also requires me to ensure any words not fit for overhearing are muttered under my breath, as I come to the conclusion it must be genetically impossible for the people of Belfast to walk at a decent pace, or in a straight line. (Do you remember the video for Bittersweet Symphony, when The Verve’s Richard Ashcroft walks straight ahead down entire streets? Consider me the 2016 equivalent, sans moody glare and Nineties’ hair.)

Now, I do not mind the early morning walk. I actually enjoy it, because it helps me wake up and there is something soothing about seeing a city come to life in the morning. What does bother me, however, is the modern technological equivalent of the primary school game, ‘heads down, thumbs up’: texting and walking.

I am a member of Generation Y. I grew up using technology which was constantly developed and updated. I watched as mobile phones in particular went from being veritable bricks, to flip phones, to touchscreen smartphones. Just because my generation witnessed the growth of the smartphone and its daily necessity status in our lives does not mean I am willing to overlook those who commit the ultimate sin amongst pedestrians. The amount of times I have had people walk into me, or witnessed others suffering a similar fate of being ruthlessly and mindlessly mown down by those with their gaze firmly affixed downwards is incalculable. Forget the laws of the road. There should be a movement to establish the laws of the street.

Honestly, I have had enough of people who are so devoted to their mobiles that they cannot spare a thought for those around them. This is especially true in the mornings, when we are all just trying to reach our desired destinations in our respective weary states. Blearily we stumble from one road to another, walking for traffic lights to change colour. When we do not have to avoid cars, we have to dodge those with mobiles surgically attached to their hands.

My favourite personal story involves a professionally-garbled lady exiting the local train station, her mobile in one hand and the handle of her ridiculously tiny wheeled suitcase in the other. She promptly walked into me, before sharply enquiring whether I could mind where I was going. The irony was she was asking me this with her gaze firmly on her phone’s screen – although she glanced at me for all of two seconds, just enough time to permit me to think that if she had have been Medusa, I would have turned to stone. I simply sidestepped, letting Madam Wheelie advance forward, whereupon she promptly collided with another person.

Of course, let she who is without sin cast the first stone: I too have on occasion walked with mobile in hand, but more often than not I am reduced to carrying it as it is a sad fact of life that women’s coats suffer the scourge of faux pockets. (But that is a rant for another time.) Otherwise, I make a point of not replying to a text or whatnot until I have reached my destination, and can sit down out of people’s way. This is not me being a sanctimonious so-and-so. This is me being considerate of those who are walking the same streets.

Now, note my words above regarding the establishment of ‘laws of the street’. Apparently I am not alone in this, for a politician in the US state of New Jersey recently introduced a bill which seeks to ban texting whilst walking.

The proposed ‘Distracted Walking Bill’ would seek to ban pedestrians from walking and texting simultaneously. The measure was introduced by New Jersey Assembly Congresswoman Pamela Lampitt, and aims to reduce the number of pedestrian deaths as a result of distraction from mobile phones.

The law would ban people from walking while texting on any form of electronic communication device unless it is totally hands free. Those caught could face fines of up to $50 (£35), 15 days imprisonment, or both- the same penalty as jaywalking.

Assembly Congresswoman Lampitt believes her bill is necessary in terms of accident prevention and also in raising awareness of the dangers of texting whilst walking. She has recently argued that:

“Distracted pedestrians, like distracted drivers, present a potential danger to themselves and drivers on the road…

“An individual crossing the road distracted by their smartphone presents just as much danger to motorists as someone jaywalking and should be held, at minimum, to the same penalty.”

She added that half of the proposed fine would be used for ‘safety education’ about the dangers of walking and texting. She also cited a National Safety Council report that shows distracted walking incidents involving mobile phones accounted for an estimated 11,101 injuries from 2000 through 2011.

The study found a majority of those injured were female, and most were aged 40 or younger.  The most prevalent activity at the time of injury was found to be talking on the phone, whilst texting accounted for 12 percent. Nearly 80 percent of the injuries occurred as the result of a fall, while around nine percent occurred from the pedestrian striking a motionless object. The most common injury types included dislocations or fractures, sprains or strains, and concussions or contusions.

Experts have claimed distracted walking is an increasing problem around the world, with people becoming more and more dependent on technology for both personal and professional reasons. They have also noted that pedestrian deaths have been rising in recent years.

This noted rise in deaths coincides with other US states introducing bills targeting pedestrians and/or bicyclists. For instance, a bill pending in Hawaii would fine someone $250 if he or she crossed the street with an electronic device. Similar bills have, however. also failed in Arkansas, Illinois, Nevada, and New York.

Douglas Shinkle, the transportation programme director for the National Conference of State Legislatures, summarised the legislative landscape: ‘thus far, no states have enacted a law specifically targeting distracted bicyclists or pedestrians.’ However he added that ‘a few states continue to introduce legislation every year.’

In relation to the bill proposed by Assembly Congresswoman Lampitt, there have been those criticising what they see as unnecessary overview by the state government. Generally, opposition to the bill focuses on the question of how easily the law can be enforced by authorities who will have more serious matters to deal with.

A hearing on the proposed measure is yet to be confirmed, but it is intriguing to see that there have been responses to the problem of ‘distracted walking’, seeking a solution through legal means.

At least, that has been the response in the US. In Europe, a different solution was sought. In Antwerp last year, ‘text walking lanes’ were introduced for a trial period for those pedestrians who walk the walk whilst texting the talk.

The scheme involves providing these pedestrians with their own designated lanes, which are marked with ‘text walking lane’ in English on a number of busy pedestrian shopping streets in the city centre. The plan is to determine whether the creation of these lanes will lead to a decrease in the number of accidents which occur due to distracted walking. Should this be found to be the case, the designated lanes will become a permanent feature of the city.

I have to admit that despite my frustrations with my fellow walkers of Belfast, I do not feel that moving to legislate against so-called ‘distracted walking’ is the right solution. It seems too heavy a reaction to criminalise those who rely heavily on their mobile phones. Whilst proposing such a bill would ensure raising awareness of the dangers around walking and texting, criminalisation of same would surely be a step too far. Besides, as my study of jurisprudence last semester showed, sometimes people simply do not take heed of the law -underage drinking is a good example.

Would I advocate Belfast emulating Antwerp, and establishing designated texting and walking lanes? Goodness knows, Belfast has enough issues with lane designation as it is. Simply mention ‘bus lanes’ to a car driver, and Hell hath no fury. Should there be an introduction of another designated lane, there may just be open revolt. Perhaps someone would even take a photograph of the lane whilst merrily walking by, and not in it it, and upload this photograph to social media with the hashtag ‘#breakingthelaw’…

Of Canvassing and Campaigning.

Well. What a week that was!

Allow me to elaborate: you may have been aware that I was running for the position of Equality and Diversity Officer in the Queen’s University Belfast Student Elections as part of the REUNION ticket of fellow committed activists seeking positive change for all students. Two weeks ago marked the commencement of canvassing and carrying out the campaign within the public sphere, aka engaging with the student electorate. Two weeks agoalso marked the three days of voting, and results night. And what a week it was.

Now, before I launch fully into this blog post, sharing my campaigning experiences, I will state that unfortunately I was unsuccessful in my candidacy. I lost by 372 votes in a tight contest which I am proud to have taken part in, and even more proud to have had such an opponent in the eventual victor. I know that the post will be in safe hands next year, for all that I will no longer be at QUB to see it happen.

Truly, I know not where to start in regaling my readers with my tales of campaigning and canvassing. Honestly, the days seamlessly blurred into one, or so it feels to me. I found myself running from one area of the QUB campus to another, delivering numerous lecture shout-outs and constantly being on my feet as I spoke to one student after another. I found myself running a social media campaign, posting on behalf of the ticket on both Twitter and Facebook. I found myself surrounded by the greatest, most dedicated and passionate team of canvassers any aspiring candidate could dream of, and I cannot thank them enough for their enthusiasm and assistance.

But first, let me start from the beginning of the election season at my university.

I found myself on Wednesday 24th February making my way to the SU Marketing team to be filmed for short promotional clips, which would be disseminated online via Youtube and also through Snapchat story. The university was undertaking this filming for all candidates, and it marked the first time that such assistance was provided to candidates in the SU elections. It was a wonderful experience, albeit it initially felt quite surreal to stand before a white screen and be filmed whilst discussing my main policies. You can access the video for the Equality and Diversity candidates here.

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Snapchat story time!
Thursday 25th February, exactly one week until Results Night, marked the official commencement of sorts of the 2016 elections. It is an infamous day in the university SU calender, known informally as ‘Poster Apocalypse’. This day essentially is the day when candidate posters shall hitherto paper the walls of the Student Union at my university. Certain walls and areas are more visible and as such more cherished. Thus it is not unusual to see candidates rally their troops in the early hours to camp out, guarding jealously the prime locations. The ticket I was running with had wonderful stalwarts who were sitting in the SU from eight in the morning until late afternoon; I found myself joining them in the afternoon and camped out myself. In addition, all candidates were required to attend an Equality and Diversity training session/general SU Election meeting that evening where we were informed as to election regulations and procedure in relation to campaigning and canvassing. Upon the conclusion of this meeting, we were provided our the campaign materials the SU kindly provides. Our names were randomly drawn, and one by one we were allowed to leave the room… And sprint to the nearest team canvasser and begin sticking our posters to walls, borders etc. I must confess that I never thought I would see the day when I would run down several flights of stairs, my arms filled with posters, and frantically tear and roll Blu-Tak as though my life depended on it. (It felt as though this was the case at the time.)

poster plastering
Poster Apocalypse!

The weekend of that week was packed with planning, researching and drawing up canvassing schedules for the following week. Not to mention team meetings, too. I suppose I realised at this point that it was going to be a long couple of days until Results Night, involving travelling between my home and Belfast repeatedly, many a taxi adventure and long nights of chats, and engaging online with potential voters. I did however reach another moment of realisation: that of being part of something bigger than myself, an inspiring idea. It was certainly something to see the election material around the SU, and to see my manifesto online on the SU website. It was the feeling of having achieved something; of drawing people’s attention to issues I feel passionately about and desire positive change in.

This feeling was heightened upon the commencement of election week itself. For on Monday 29th, it was Candidate Question Time! This was an event for all students to take to the stage, and to answer questions from the floor and submitted online. All candidates had a maximum of five minutes to speak; I used my allocated time to outline my motivation for running, including mentioning the parallels I feel are forming between the US higher education system and that in NI, namely increased tuition fees and reduced government assistance which is only to the detriment of students, both present and future. Then, it was on to answering questions, and here I must say that time was a flat circle; my opponent and I must surely have been on the stage for over forty minutes. The questions covered topics as diverse as how to address women’s reproductive rights, to representing disabled students to tackling ‘political influence’ in the SU, and finally to whether we would try to lobby to protect the Mandela Hall (a well-known venue within the SU which is allegedly facing destruction by the university.)

I never thought I would be taking to a stage, talking about issues affecting students, and promoting rights and respect for all students. But being able to talk about mental health awareness, consent workshops and LGBT* recognition and the importance of a self-identification for trans* and non-binary students was a remarkable feeling. I feel grateful to the SU for affording a passionate activist such as myself that opportunity to talk about all students at QUB, and to stress the need for an inclusive and respectful campus all students deserve. (It also marked the busiest my emails/social media accounts have ever been; with so many mentions and comments about myself being posted online!)

After a long afternoon of hustings, I was then to take to Queen’s Radio to be interviewed along with my opponent as part of the annual Student Leader Election coverage covered by the Queen’s Radio team. This was again such a surreal moment; I never thought I would be interviewed on radio whilst at university, being granted the chance to discuss issues I care deeply about. It was a memorable and indeed exciting experience which I enjoyed. You can access the radio interviews conducted with all candidates here. (Personally, I do rather like the comment within the summary of the interview: ‘Leah Rea was quick to quell any accusation that her place on the Reunion ticket is a form of tokenism’. That is a story for another blog post down the line.)

Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday: a succession of days which seamlessly blended into a whirlwind of canvassing, leaflet dropping and student engagement. From lecture shout-outs on Tuesday, to canvassing around the student residential area of Elms on Wednesday and then being based all day in the SU on Thursday, I was scarcely sitting down. Nor could I avoid seeing my face staring back at me, whether on posters, leaflets or t-shirts! But it was a great feeling to be part of a movement to put students first, to campaign for change and to ensure respect and equality for all.

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On the campaign trail.
Again, I have to reiterate how fantastic our team of canvassers were. They so kindly gave up their free time to come along and canvass for us, something which I am most appreciative of. Not to mention that we had a lot of chats and laugh along the way, which surely kept us all going over the three long days of campaigning. I believe I came away from that week with many new friends.

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Posters became our close companions for three days.
Before we knew it, it was Thursday evening, and thus canvassing and campaigning drew to a weary close. SU election policy is that results cannot be released until all election material has been gathered and disposed of, so cue a frantic dash around all university buildings to take down posters, and bundle up leaflets. I suppose it was quite the fitting conclusion: after commencing the campaign with a frantic sprint to affix material to the walls, it seemed only right to end with a similar frantic dash to take down aforementioned material.

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The clock struck five, and so all election material was duly collected.
In due course, we soon began to make our way towards the Mandela Hall (yes, the very place where I was asked whether I would oppose its alleged planned demise during Candidate Question Time; evidently my life operates in a cyclic manner) in preparation for Results Night. I had two fantastic friends at my side, and I thought that irrespective of the ultimate result, I had been able to speak about issues such as mental health awareness, and the need to reconsider consent on campus, and that was a success in my eyes.

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And here we go…
And so we waited.

Results night part two

(‘RON’ stands for ‘Reopen Nominations’, an election mechanism whereby should students prefer additional candidates to enter the political fray, or do not like the current offerings, they vote RON.)

As the unsuccessful candidate, I had to make my concession speech first, and so cue me skipping to the front and taking to yet another stage. I remember feeling very calm and relaxed; I think I was just grateful that a tiring campaign was officially at an end and pleased for my opponent. I simply reiterated my gratitude to the team for placing faith in me as a candidate, my appreciation for the kindness and support of the canvassers, and I urged any listening to be involved in student politics and activism. I also stated my happiness for the victor, knowing him to be truly sincere and zealous in his belief for equality. Truly, I lost to a wonderful fella and I could not have asked for a better opponent. And with that, I exited stage left (thankfully not pursued by a Shakespearian bear) and rejoined my friends. The rest, they say, is history.

And thus concludes my retelling of my 2016 campaign! I never would have expected to have undertaken such an experience; had you said to me in the summer of 2015 that this would be the case I would have laughed. But it was an enlightening experience, informing me about student politics, and educating me in people and trust. If anything, I think it has taught me that whilst there are those who will write you off, see your in their own terms and perspectives, life is about proving these people wrong. You must show that there is more to you than meets their eyes, and be proud of who you are and what you stand for.

Respect, Empowerment and Action: my campaign for QUBSU.

As I have written previously, I am standing to become the next Student Officer for Equality and Diversity at QUBSU. I believe in, and desire to see Respect, Empowerment and Action at my university. I am so excited to run with the dedicated team of fellow activists and campaigners with whom I share the same passion and interests as part of REUNION.

I know it is going to be a long couple of weeks of canvassing and campaigning. But I am nothing if not determined. I have issues to raise, and topics to raise awareness of. No matter the ultimate outcome of the campaign, I know that I will try my hardest and do my best, and ensure the issues I care deeply about are raised and acknowledged.

I thought to write this evening to share my manifesto with you all to keep you updated on the campaign. This comes after a week of juggling meetings and my internship with classes and campaigning, and in light of the canvassing and hustings this coming week. But seeing both my ticket and individual manifestos launch this week was a proud moment. I suppose it was a moment of realisation, knowing that my team are so passionate and determined to bring about positive change for all QUB students.

Leah Rea – VP Equality and Diversity

~  Respect  ~  Empowerment ~  Action ~

Leah Manifesto 1

I believe equality is recognising we are all human, and entitled to the same access to education, opportunities and experience. It is realising we each should hold the same status, and rely upon the same rights and freedoms. It is respecting your fellow students, accepting everyone as your peer irrespective of background, nationality, culture or religion.

Diversity is understanding that alongside our shared status and rights, we must recognise each student is unique. We must recognise and celebrate differences of both group and individual nature. I am passionate about supporting and protecting diversity because by valuing individuals and groups we create a vibrant and enriching community of equals. By eliminating prejudice and stigma, we foster a climate where equality is the reality and mutual respect is intrinsic.

At QUB, we are fortunate to participate in a diverse society. We need to be able to respond appropriately and sensitively to this diversity, ensuring all students feel valued, motivated and treated fairly.

Our current VP Equality and Diversity Officer has worked hard to ensure this, and I would welcome the opportunity to take over and build upon his work.

For there is so much more to be done.

Barriers still exist. Stigma is still present.

In the face of additional cuts, and threats of tuition fee increases, it is more important than ever before for all students to unite in opposition to plans that would prevent many from continuing their education in the subjects they love, or being denied an opportunity to experience the student life.

It’s time for this to end.

In sum: I aim to ensure all students realise their importance and dignity. I want to empower all students to utilise their voices and realise their rights. And I will pursue this through active campaigns the development of an inclusive and respecting community, where we can learn alongside and from each other.

I will uphold equality and diversity through:

Respecttimes may be difficult for higher education, but cuts should not mean accepting inequality.

Better recognition and understanding of mental health issues, greater inclusivity for international students, greater support for students re-entering higher education, better signposting for students of faith, increased positive awareness for sexual consent, greater recognition of self-identification for trans* and non-binary students.

Empowerment students are not blank chequebooks. The adopted financial stance of the university should not deter students from having their say.

Creation of Inter-Group Forums to enable various student representative groups to come together and unite on shared issues, greater recognition of female student autonomy in relation to contraception and choice, visible platform for LGBT*QIA students, establishment of visible roles for international students for greater inclusivity in the student community and politics.

Action Words alone will not create the inclusive community QUB students desire. Campaigns will bring about positive change for all.

Raising awareness of pronoun importance, greater promotion of Human Rights Week, greater awareness for LGBT* Month, better recognition of positive consent, increased awareness and promotion of International Women’s Day, raising awareness of derogatory language and slurs.

About Me

I am a passionate Human Rights advocate, student activist and volunteer. I believe it is vital and necessary to speak up, help others and desire change. I firmly believe we all have a voice which deserves to be heard and respected.

Throughout my time at QUB I have been involved in fantastic societies, campaigns and volunteer work. I have discovered that it is through collective involvement with students of similar thoughts and aims that positive change can be achieved. I know one student alone cannot truly be representative of our diverse student body – I seek to be the facilitator, the medium through which students can be heard.

Upon returning to QUB this year after studying in America, I saw that the university was becoming more business-focused and money-orientated, much to the detriment of students. I also saw that the SU was seeking to oppose such rhetoric and practice by becoming a passionate hub of student activism. I thus joined other committed activists in Campaign SU in order to defend fundamental rights and freedoms of all students. I desire to run for office to ensure this platform of activism and empowerment continues, existing to serve students both present and future.

Experience 

QUB

‘Are Ye Well?’ mental health awareness training (2013)
Mind Your Mood CBT training (2014)
After-School Study Support tutor and mentor (Sandy Row Community Centre, 2013-2014)
First Year Law Buddy/workshop facilitator
Typhoon Haiyan Aid campaign volunteer
Young City Leader Communications Officer 2013-2014
International Buddy Scheme
Children in Crossfire committee member
InnovateHer participant 2015-2016
Inspiring Leaders Class of 2015
Campaign SU

USA via Study USA scholarship, 2014-2015

Coe College Human Rights Advocates committee member
Coe College Mental Health Awareness committee member
Alpha Omicron Pi: empowering women through leadership and philanthropy
‘Yes Means Yes’ campaign activist
International Club/Multi-Cultural Fusion member
Coe (LGBT) Alliance

Vote for Respect, Empowerment and Action for Equality and Diversity.
Vote REUNION #1 from the 1st – 3rd March via Queen’s Online.


 

You can find the REUNION ticket on Facebook, and also follow us on Twitter for campaign updates.

 

 

Election season, or why I run with REUNION.

It is rather funny how experiences can change you as a person. You can be interested in issues, be passionate about causes, and desire to see genuine change. Maybe you undergo an experience, or suffer from an illness which gives you a fresh perspective. You want to raise awareness and tell your story.

But maybe you feel scared about speaking out. You feel that you will not be listened to, or understood. At worse, you will be laughed at, or too readily dismissed.

Or perhaps you think that the time to sit on the sidelines is up, and it is time to step forward and challenge the status quo on your own terms.

I have always been passionate about activism, and advocacy. I have volunteered, undertaken campaigns and training across various subjects over the years, because I always want to ensure people feel safe, respected and empowered. But I suppose I forgot to do the same for myself. It was not until I went to America for a year that I  increased my confidence and independence, and realised that instead of shying away from my personal experiences, they could be used to help others in similar situations. I realised I truly do believe in working together to overcome problems and tackle issues.

Which brings me to the subject of this blog post.

This time last year, I was the sole Northern Irish student on an American college campus, fighting through Midwestern snow banks from classes and meetings. I juggled sorority membership, a legal internship, student organisations and volunteering in a new culture and country. It was a fabulous experience, and thoroughly eye-opening. When in my dorm room, I was watching and following political campaigns from back home in the lead up to the Westminster elections.

Now I can announce I am to participate in my own campaign this year -hopefully without snow. I am excited to announce my candidacy to become the next VP Equality and Diversity for QUBSU, as part of the REUNION ticket of fellow committed activists seeking positive change for all students.

When I arrived at QUB as a first year Law student back in 2012, I did not know what would be in store for me. I soon found myself undertaking mental health awareness training, working with younger students, tutoring primary school children and running voluntary campaigns. It was rewarding, it was enriching, and it felt amazing to say that I was able to help others.

In time, I was studying abroad in the US. As an international student, I became a mental health activist, consent awareness raiser and human rights advocate, whilst also being empowered through my AOII sisters. I finally felt proud to be a woman, and proud to be a committed activist in promoting respect, empowerment and acceptance for all my fellow students.

Yet upon my return to QUB this year, I saw how the university I love was becoming more business-focused and money-orientated, much to the detriment of students. But I also saw how the SU was seeking to oppose such rhetoric and practice by becoming a passionate hub of student activism. I thus joined other committed activists in order to defend fundamental rights and freedoms of all students through protesting against the cuts levied at QUB. I desire to ensure this platform of activism and empowerment continues, existing to serve students both present and future.

As a working-class female student, I want to ensure the opportunities and education afforded to me continues to exist for all. I desire an inclusive campus, and a shared, accepting learning environment free from prejudice.

So I believe that it is time to make QUB the university all students deserve, and it is time for a reunion of students to unite in the face of increased tuition fees.

I’m Leah, a final year Law student and past Study USA adventurer, and I am standing to become the next Student Officer for Equality and Diversity at QUBSU. I believe in, and desire to see, Respect, Empowerment and Action at my university. I am therefore excited to run with the dedicated team of fellow activists and campaigners with whom I share the same passion and interests.

It is going to be a long couple of weeks of canvassing and campaigning. But I am nothing if not determined. I have issues to raise, and topics to raise awareness of. No matter the ultimate outcome of the campaign, I know that I will try my hardest and do my best, and ensure the issues I care deeply about are raised and acknowledged.

Let’s do this.

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You can find the REUNION ticket on Facebook, and also follow us on Twitter for campaign updates.