The ethical ambiguity of awareness challenges

Aoife Horan

Roughly the weekly allowance of an asylum seeker in Ireland.

During any university awareness week or campaign, there comes a merky feeling of discomfort and unease when your hard-working, kind and generally well-meaning Students’ Union takes on some form a challenge, be it financial, physical or otherwise to highlight the plight of fellow students on campuses less fortunate than themselves.

Members of DCUSU took on the challenge at the beginning of the semester of living on €38.30 a week, the weekly allowance of an Asylum Seeker in Ireland. This challenge was taken on by four SU members of staff as part of DCU’s Refugee Week which is part of its commitments as a University of Sanctuary.

However, €38.30 is not even the budget of an asylum seeker in Ireland, at least not until March, it still currently sits at €21.60 and considering there are 42 University of Sanctuary students in our university, there are 42 students living in direct provision under these budgetary constraints.

Surely, the most plausible thing to do would be to pass the mic and hand their various social media platforms over to our University of Sanctuary students to talk about what it’s like being in direct provision and attending university here.

A similar ethical questioning sprang to my mind when, in Trinity College, a university student led charity Disability & I set up a wheelchair challenge in 2017, 24-hours of mobile people trying to access their campus in wheelchairs. Surely as opposed to placing yourself in the shoes of someone with a physical disability, you could instead allow someone with said physical impairments to speak on it themselves?

It seems a difficult question to ask and perhaps it seems hyperbolic to find this a source of unease but in taking on challenges of the disenfranchised as opposed to giving a voice to those people, knowing you can, at the end of the day, week, or however long you’ve set yourself, go back to spending with comfort, or you can go back to standing up. Your charade of vulnerability goes away and you can continue in your position of privilege.

“The most important thing we can do at the moment is get people talking and if actually it’s one person turning to their mate who doesn’t know much about direct provision calling the SU President an a***hole for making a mockery of the whole system so be it, that person has still heard about the atrocities,” explained DCUSU President Vito Moloney Burke when I questioned him on the ethical ambiguity of the challenge at hand.

While it is wholeheartedly true that the more people who understand the issues faced by those in direct provision, the better, the question for me ends up being: “Is it enough to make people aware?”

In choosing this kind of challenge as opposed to handing your platforms over, there is a missed opportunity to share the spotlight with the people you’re trying to help and give a voice to. Share your platforms, pass the mic.

Aoife Horan

Image credit: Carrie McMullan