The road less travelled
Julie Dukes, a member of the Travelling community, had to overcome many challenges on her road to graduating from DCU.
Julie Duke is proud of her Traveller heritage, but she was nervous about going to third level, particularly as she had left education when she was 14 years old. She expected that as a Traveller she would “stick out like a sore thumb,” in the university environment. “The biggest eye opener for me was the acceptance that I got. I was a DCU student. I was there to learn and there was no difference between me or any other student doing the course,” she says. Julie completed her Certificate in Peer Support working in Mental Health and says of her classmates: “They were all very accepting and friendly people and very understanding. That got rid of some of my anxiety, and we all supported each other on the course. I made some really good friends through the course and we are still in contact.”
Her journey before going to DCU included leaving secondary school at 14 and marrying when she was 16. She had her daughter when she was 17. Her marriage broke down and Julie and her daughter went to live with her parents. She experienced mental health difficulties including depression, chronic anxiety and social anxiety. But she availed of supports and completed several courses before deciding to return to education. “I always wanted to do something, but my confidence and lack of knowledge was a barrier. When I found out about the DCU course I found it really interesting because of my own mental health difficulties.”
Among the general entry requirements for the year-long course is that the students have a previous history of mental health problems and that they are in recovery or recovered. The application process involved Julie sharing her mental health history. She also researched mental health among Travellers and the high rates of suicide in the community. “I have a close friend who supported me throughout my recovery and in making the application to DCU. I spoke to her about how I could work with my own community around mental health and be a support to them if I did this course.”
“It took courage to stand my ground in what I wanted to do,” she says. “I was going to change and offer my daughter a better life if I could get work out of it and be able to support her.” She says that, due to anxiety, she didn’t sleep the night before starting her course, but she was still up bright and early the next morning and hasn’t looked back since.
“Going to DCU impacted my life in a very positive way,” she says. “It gave me an unbelievable amount of confidence and independence which is a great thing to have as a woman in the Travelling community.”
“I have my own independence, I am my own person and I learnt how to use my own voice. It has made me realise how important education is and want to learn more in education.”
Julie is the first person in her extended family to go to college and says, “the course was the making of me and helped me in more ways than one.”
Julie, who is from Cavan town, now works for the HSE as a peer worker for the Travelling community, supporting members of her own community who have mental health challenges.