The current wave of industrial action is set to take place over 8 consecutive working daysJoe Cook

CUSU Disabled Students’ Officer Jess O’Brien has formally apologised for causing confusion regarding the support services available to students during the ongoing UCU strike. 

During last night’s lively CUSU Council, O’Brien was challenged over a message which she shared on Facebook, encouraging students not to attend counselling appointments in solidarity with striking staff, asking “if at all possible” that they “rearrange appointments to outside of the strike period”, because both the Disability Resource Centre (DRC) and University Counselling Service (DRC) would be behind a picket line. 

It was later clarified that the Bene’t Street entrance to The New Museums Site, where both services are housed, will not be behind a physical picket, so as not to inhibit students from accessing these vital services, but will, nevertheless, be behind a ‘virtual’ picket line. 

At CUSU Council, O’Brien read from a prepared statement: “I apologise wholeheartedly that this lack of clarity has caused distress for some students, and I will make sure to make statements as clearly as possible in the future, since my post gained such traction.” 

In a second Facebook post clarifying her position, O’Brien explained that her “first priority is and always will be the welfare of disabled students,” and encouraged all students to prioritise their health and welfare, and attend DRC and UCS sessions as needed. She noted, however, the importance of considering long term goals, emphasising that both DRC and UCS staff are striking due to the fact that these are “underpaid, underfunded services and staff are burnt out.”

Jess O’Brien added to Varsity that herself “and the DSC still actively discourage students crossing any picket lines, including virtual ones, unless necessary for their health/wellbeing. This includes the DRC/UCS and we would ask students to consider rearranging appointments if they are able.”

This apology came following a motion, tabled by the Homerton JCR Vice President, to condemn O’ Brien’s original Facebook statement. He said that he had received powerful messages from distressed students, many of whom have waited several weeks for appointments with support staff. He said: “What my students want more than anything else is an apology for the distress they have been caused.”

The DRC regularly suffers from long waiting times. According to the DRC’s 2017-18 annual report, the ratio of permanent Disability Advisers to disabled students in July 2018 stood at just 1:650, which represents a  ‘significant case load’.

CUSU President Edward Parker Humphreys said: “This issue of the DRC and UCS being behind picket lines was raised at the College forum by JCR and MCR presidents. We talked to the UCU to see if there was a solution, and we worked very hard to make sure students have access to those vital services. The UCU completely understands these issues and that’s why there isn’t a [physical] picket line there.”


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“We would never expect students to put their own health at risk, but it’s important for students to be aware that other support staff are on strike as well as academics, like support staff in DRC and UCS. I do understand the confusion and I think it’s important to make CUSU’s position clear to students.”

The Homerton JCR Vice President said that none of his original motion was meant as any form of personal attack against O’ Brien, a comment that was met with laughter from a few members of the audience. He said: “As a disabled student myself, I think it’s abhorrent that UCS has long waiting times, but what we wanted was a clear-cut apology that we’re very happy to have received from Jess in her original statement.”

Updated 26th November, 2019: This article was edited to add an additional quote from Jess O’Brien on the DSC’s position. 

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