University College Cork Will Hold Its First Ever Welcome Workshops For LGBT+ Students This Week.

By Seamus Whelehan

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Photographed at the announcement are Suzanne Buckley, Support Officer for International Students, UCC President, Professor Patrick O Shea, Sara-Jane Cromwell with Nóirín Deady, First Year Experience Coordinator, Admissions Office and Katalin Meagher Albert, Admissions Office. Photo By Tomas Tyner, UCC.

The Freshers Fest workshop is designed to support students who are coming out or transitioning, during their time in college, and help them to focus on their studies, as they struggle to deal with all the issues that might otherwise distract them and negatively impact their exams.

The LGBT+ Workshop will be held this Saturday 7 September and is targeted towards LGBT+ students, their families and allies.

It will be held in the Creative Zone at the Boole Library on the Main Campus and run from 1-3pm. Refreshments will be provided during the event. The President of UCC Professor Patrick O’Shea will open the workshop and introduce the speakers.

The group discussion is being coordinated by a Cobh woman who played a significant role in Ireland’s 2015 Gender Recognition Act, delivering equality for all people identifying with a different gender identity.

Ms Sara-Jane Cromwell will deliver the UCC seminar, supporting students with different gender identities by discussing the Do’s and Don’ts of transitioning while at University.

Born with Gender Dysphoria, in Dublin in 1960, she has teamed up with the institute, to help students who identify as gender dysphoric, transgender, nonconforming, and non-binary.

After attempting to end her life by suicide on numerous occasions, Sara Jane finally, at the age of 43, received her diagnosis of gender dysphoria and began to transition into her true identity.

The LGBTQ+ activist, says atop of the strenuous academic expectations and pressures, students who come out or transitioning while at university face additional challenges.

She said as a result they are far more likely to experience mental health problems than their peers and more likely to attempt suicide and self-harm.

Perceiving an unmet need within an underrepresented student population, the workshops form part of the Fresher’s week programme.

Partnering with members of the UCC Faculty, Ms Cromwell is organising this historical event. As Sara-Jane put it:” UCC is determined to make all its LGBT+ students feel welcome and safe and to be able to focus on their studies and enjoy the overall experience of college life.”

A longer-term aspiration of the programme is to provide one-on-one coaching and mentoring for students, who struggle to come to terms with coming out and transitioning while in college and while juggling college life.

“UCC have a Student Peer Support Group, Student Union Welfare Officers, and the LGBT Society, which are all student led. What has been missing up until now has been a more proactive engagement from the faculty” said Ms Cromwell.

“What is unique with this initiative is that we will engage in ongoing research over the new term and collate the information we receive for the purpose of identifying ongoing needs and the resources required to meet those needs. Also, we will be checking in twice with the students during the academic year, once in November and once again in March to see how they are getting on and what types of issues arise that will be need to be addressed by faculty going forward” said Ms Cromwell.

The Cobh woman also mentioned the role of the chaplaincy service on campus who are very supportive of the workshops and their own contribution in providing spiritual guidance and support to students.

The successful business owner and author has said she shares the concerns expressed earlier this year by Professor Donal O’Shea, Head of the Gender Dysphoria Clinic at St. Columcille’s Hospital in Dublin, which is to do with an exponential increase in the number of young people self-declaring and identifying as being non-binary or gender fluid. “There is a lot of peer pressure to be special and different from one another. It’s happening amongst people who are often not emotionally mature enough to fully understand the complexity of where this can actually take them, especially were some of the decisions made during transitioning cannot be reversed.” said Ms Cromwell.

Ms Cromwell’s achievements over many years on behalf of Transgendered/Gender Dysphoric people in Ireland is only now coming to light and they are very significant indeed. It is through her many initiatives and public transitioning that she has made it possible for us all to have a better understanding of what it means to be transgendered/gender dysphoric and in doing so she has made it possible and safe for countless others to be open about their own gender issues. Her work has unquestionably helped save many lives, both in the present and in the future. But as she is quick to point out: “much more needs to be done.”

For further information contact Sara-Jane Cromwell, LGBT+ Workshop Coordinator, at sarajane.cromwell@ucc.ie, 086-8838513.

Photographed at the announcement are UCC President, Professor Patrick O Shea and Sara-Jane Cromwell. Photo By Tomas Tyner, UCC.
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