Trigger Warning: Assault/Sexual Assault.

A UCD alumna took to Twitter yesterday to share her communications with UCD in which she asks the university to recognise the dangers and effects that certain mandatory retreats have on students who have suffered sexual abuse.

In September 2020, Fiona Healy O’Neill sent a complaint to UCD in relation to the lack of support offered to her as a student suffering through the aftermath of sexual abuse. In 2016, Fiona was undertaking an MSc in Mindfulness-Based Interventions and attended a mandatory retreat, during which she experienced flashbacks to the “sexual violence” she endured.

In her email, Healy O’Neill notes that “it is now more well known that retreats of this nature can present a significant risk for individuals with a sexual trauma history”. By making the staff aware of this, Fiona believed she would be “signposted or given some advice on how to adapt” so she could continue the course. Instead, Fiona was asked to defer in what she describes as a “highly ambiguous and disingenuous way” for “difficulties affecting” her learning.

Fiona also asked the university to employ its expertise to adopt a sensitive response to “complaints” that are actually requests for help and support. When she was told that there was no procedure for Restorative Justice within the University, Fiona asked to sit and talk on how to bring change as “adult professionals”, however, this request was also denied.

Speaking with The College Tribune, Fiona suggested that and isn’t respectful to stakeholders such as the DRCC and NWCI with respect to trauma-informed processes”.

In response to Fiona’s tweet, Aoibhinn Ní Shúilleabháin, Assistant Professor in the School of Mathematics, expressed her apologies to Fiona and stated that the response from UCD is “not good enough”.  Ní Shuilleabháin received a public apology from university President Andrew Deeks last year after she was repeatedly harassed by a fellow UCD professor over a two-year period.

Last week the Governing Authority of UCD notified the University Secretariat about Fiona’s case, from which she received an immediate response saying that despite sending the email to the correct address, the email was not received. In asking why this was the case, Fiona was provided with a link that the Dignity and Respect consultation had taken place. 

UCD’s policy of Dignity and Respect outlines the key principles of the policy which include:

  • Ensuring the university has proactive measures in place to promote a positive culture of dignity and respect,
  • Ensuring that when complaints are made methods of resolution should be provided for colleagues, students, and people managers, 
  • And to create a positive working and learning environment that includes good communications amongst people managers, colleagues, and students. 

If you or someone you know has been affected by the issues in this column, the following supports are available:

Dublin Rape Crisis Centre – 

Women’s Aid –

Cosc The National Office for the Prevention of Domestic, Sexual and Gender-based Violence 

Student Counselling: 

Casey Conway- Assistant News Editor